I promise this wil be the last post on this subject in a while…!
This made me wonder, Raph, how you define a single player game?
A game that is not played in opposition to, or in parallel with, or collaboratively with, someone else.
But I suspect that won’t be sufficient, because you will also need to understand my definitions of “game”, “played,” and “parallel.”
To me games nest. There are frequently games within games, and there are always games within spaces. Some spaces are real (a living room) and some are virtual (Liberty City, Norrath).
The boundary of a game is not the board, world, etc. The true boundary of a game is based on where actions that can legally affect gameplay stop. Hence training is part of sports. Practicing in an FPS is OK and generally agreed to be “part of the game,” using an aimbot is not.
Almost all games that maintain a history of player achievement are in some sense nested games. You play the game of Asteroids in the arcade. That’s a single-player game. You play the game of Asteroids competing against a high score, that’s Asteroids embedded within the game of beating the high score. The game of the high score has only one move with two outcomes: you play, and you beat it or you don’t. That’s just about exactly like any turn-based game, which is always a sequential action of seeing if you can do better (towards some final goal) than your opponent did when they last had a chance.
And indeed, many single-player games are played in exactly this way — we call it tournaments.
Parallel play occurs when you play a single-player game at the same time that others do, and you are each competing to beat the others. Footraces are an example; there used to be a genre of obstacle course racing videogames like this too. Each player cannot affect the other, so they are playing on two levels at once: themselves against the game obstacles, and also themselves against the progress of the other player.
Collaborative play comes into the picture when you have multiple people assisting in making the decisions in a game. Someone who is not assisting in decisions is not playing. Games are all about decisions.
Merely chatting about your gameplay choices is not playing a game collaboratively. Making decisions together, as happens in ARGs, in assisting other people by giving them hints, etc, can be. I do think dragons lurk in the waters on this one one, mind you.
A true single-player game is a game designed to have only one person making decisions, not in parallel to anyone else, and not competing against anyone else.
Once you start adding things like high scores, communications channels for receiving advice on choices, etc, you’re definitely, to my mind, blurring the definition to the point where you cannot necessarily call things single-player anymore.
The obvious objection is to say that the real definition is how many players touch the controls of the game. But we have all seen games played where the decision-making contribution of one partner influences the control decisions made by another. Parlor games where your partner plays blindfolded and you must direct them are an obvious example. Adventure games where one person drives, but the other players watching provide the actual solution.
Similarly, many will say that high scores alone not make a game multiplayer. But the Olympics are on, games where the victor in many sports is decided precisely by high scores, in what is decidedly multi-athlete competition.
I am not saying, I must emphasize, that we will cease having single-player footraces, one guy going down the half-pipe on a snowboard, or no more CRPGs with one presumed controller. I am saying that they will get wrapped with trappings of persistence (high scores, etc) that can be used to implicitly make them competitive; and that incresingly, you will play them in manners that involve multiple people assisting in the decision-making, largely just because technology finally permits this to happen even when nobody else is physically present.
Have we “ever” had the single-player game? Yes. But you’ve been playing a lot of them in this fashion, which is why many of you are saying we never really had single-player gaming. But we have. It was always, though, somewhat unusual, relative to the intrusions of these other elements. Even Solitaire, or crossword puzzles, mentioned by many as classic single-player games, are frequently played with someone watching over your shoulder, or giving you the answer when you get stumped.