Gaming has, over the past several years, become more and more of a social experience for me. Trying to pinpoint exactly where it really jumped to this level of a shared experience isn't easy. I can look back to the days of the Nintendo 64, when games started offering 4-player split screen and multiplayer modes that mattered. There were, of course, good multiplayer experiences available on the PC, but most of my PC days were spent on flight sims, combat flight sims, and Mechwarrior games. I've never played Counterstrike. We didn't even have the internet at my parents' house until I was in 11th grade. So, you can maybe see how I didn't really catch on to the online gaming craze with the PC.
When I moved off to college, multiplayer gaming was more abundant because everybody was around you all the time everywhere. Always. Always there. Everybody. Anyway, we played a lot of 4-player NFL Blitz and Mario Tennis. I bought a Sega Dreamcast that came with a limited time trial of SegaNet. We spent hours switching off the controller playing Unreal Tournament over a dial-up connection. We had a high speed connection in the dorm, but the high speed adapter for the Dreamcast was something I never invested in.
Beyond that I played a lot of Halo with friends, both online via xbconnect (remember xbconnect!?), and in large groups with the Xbox LAN connection. We surprisingly never had much trouble finding 8 guys to meet up, hook up 2 TVs, set two couches back to back, and play Halo for hours. I think this may be where the tide started to turn for me... we were on the cusp of Xbox Live. Actually, through a lot of this I think it was already a real thing, but Halo wasn't supported by it, and xbconnect was free. Xbox Live was very much a luxury I could live without.
WHERE DO I PUT ALL THE LAG?
Then it got ugly... remember all those flight sims I mentioned playing above? Well, thanks a fucking lot Microsoft and Xbox for doing THIS:
I bought this game and a subscription to Xbox Live on the same day. I remember being skeptical. I didn't know that the game was going to be any good. It had airplanes, and I could shoot at other real player over the internet. Sounds good to me! I took those first few timid steps into the world of Xbox Live and it sucked me in full force. I would spend hours every night playing this fucking game. I got good... like REAL good. I was in the top 10% in the leaderboards for most of my tenure in the game.
After Crimson Skies I started in on MechAssault, Halo 2, MechAssault 2, and the like. I even made about a 6 month stop in Azeroth... Go Horde! Late in the life of the original Xbox there were times where some friends and I would use a Halo 2 lobby to chat during different sporting events on TV. This was key to the way things are now.
Fast forward to the Xbox 360 and the introduction of party chat. Now it's rare that my friends and I don't have a chat party open when we're playing games. There are even a lot of times I have it open while I'm eating between games or on a gaming break.
The only time this become a problem during cut-scene-heavy titles. We typically just have a system worked out in which somebody just yells out "cut scene!" and silence is granted. However, even this wouldn't do for Mass Effect 2. We invoked an unofficial party chat ban. It didn't even have to be spoken... we just didn't invite each other into a party.
That being said, it's been awful quiet around the Xbox Live lately. With Barry out of commission and everybody else diving heavily into the Mass Effects 2 there has been no chatting. But now, Chuck and I have finished the first play through, Barry gets his Xbox back tomorrow assuming his neighbor hears the doorbell this time, and Josh's first run won't be far behind.
So with that, I want to say to everybody... welcome back fellas, it's been too fucking long.