Last Updated on May 7, 2023
The Atari STe was the first home computer to arrive at my family home, via a brother who had chosen the machine over the all-popular Amiga. I think he chose it because it offered more programming opportunities, but I had other questions at the time.
Mainly: how do you play games on it and why are home computers such a hassle compared to the console market?
My heart has been in schism with computers in the many years since, and to this day it remains a badge of my ineptitude that I have never played a single game online. Not out of spite but rather a lack of common communication.
About 15 years ago a friend of mine made action to rectify my position by preparing an online session of whichever PGA Golf title was big at the time on Xbox 360. I said it wouldn’t work, but he assured me that despite my deficiencies he had been playing the game online for months so I could just go ahead, take a chill pill and stop grumbling while he set it up.
A little while became a long time as he double checked connections that weren’t going through and dropped a few choice phrases on his way to giving in and suggesting that I had some sort of electromagnetic displacement inside of me. I was the problem.
When I suggested that the problem was that making consoles play online was mating them to PCs and that was unholy, he suggested that we just play Pro Evo offline like usual and I did then chill-pill, or whatever it was that he was after from me. That was the last known time that I had attempted to play online and I have been chilled ever since. But now, as I furrow ever deeper into the beige of my middle age I wonder about how online gaming never happened for me, and perhaps more solemnly, whether I should try to pick up the pieces and see if I can build some middle ground?
Modem? I barely met ‘em
My formative experiences of multiplayer gaming had been of the local, proper variety. Good-time, old-timely stuff like a split-screen session on Super Mario Karts which ends in accusations, rage and a fight. Or a cooperative effort on Fifa International, wherein I provide back-up and savage sliding take-downs.
Multiplayer games were live’n’local and it wasn’t until gaming media was getting moist about the mouse for the upcoming PC titan, Quake, that I began to take notice of online multiplayer gaming I wasn’t particularly interested in Quake, as it looked like every shade of a filthy mud pie, but apparently it was a game changer; the moment that PCs overtook consoles in both power and potential. Whatever, I still thought that the keyboard’n’mouse control combo looked ridiculous.
Quake came though, and conquered, and how. But I was past paying attention and all my resolve was bent towards the import market of the late 90s. I bought a Japanese Dreamcast soon after release and then a PAL machine when it hit, and that one came with a modem that Sega encouraged us to use for their online games. Which would arrive, they assured us.
Whether or not Sega actually followed through with those games is likely up for debate, but it would be one that I could not take part in as I was still not paying attention to online gaming. Multiplayer on Dreamcast was about throwing furniture around in-game on Powerstone and then, having lost the match, throwing furniture around IRL. Phantasy Star Online looked lovely, and I’m not knocking it, but I absolutely had no interest.
Closer to the heart might have been taking ownership of one of my brother’s cast-off PCs, which came with a pretty nifty-running copy of Quake 3 Arena. Now, this would have been about the time of the millennium, and I lived in Suffolk. If there had been an internet then it would have closed early on Thursday, like all the other local shops.
X marks regret
A couple of years further into time, I got my podgers all over an Xbox, and online play was being much heralded about this console. Now, we’d heard this before, but Microsoft were taking the steroid approach and using only fibre opticals. Sounds fancy, and it was. I still didn’t have an internet and fibre opticals might as well have been a new cereal for all I knew about it. Plus Halo played absolutely bangin’ in split screen so who cared?
Microsoft did, and once their Xbox Live platform got going, alongside the already behemoth proportions of the online PC market, there wasn’t really any stopping online multiplayer. By the time Xbox 360 came to market a few years later, it would hit a stride that only someone like me could ignore.
The Xbox 360 was set up from the get-go to be online and send you into a hub world of opportunities as soon as you switched on the machine. I didn’t want this. Mine was never online so there was always a tone from the machine that, ahem, you appear to not understand how to use me. Really? No, I do, I am simply choosing to ignore you.
Confirming in the menu hub that the game inside the tray was the one I wanted to play? Goodness me, why else am I here!? Yes, yes! Please do! Adding online functionalities on top of this sort of sub-menu attitude was adding insult to the injury of my time. Something in the sympathy between us broke, or else as I see it, online gaming went away to play its own tune and take the fun away from just putting a game on. DVDs were as bad. Yes, I do want to play this film, that is why I put the disk in. Presume that and we can do the questions later if we must, which we aren’t.
Why did the ones-and-zeros start getting all questioning? I know why. Because someone asked them. Someone started asking and the computer started talking back. Well, thanks a bunch.
But there are always exceptions that prove the rule. Unfortunate things which can be alloyed to the good, like Super Tilt Bro, the NES cartridge which does Wi-Fi magic and lets you download games into the cartridge. It sounds pleasantly simple. A bridge between worlds. The middle ground. You can find them on Kickstarter.
John is a writer and gardener. He comes with various 90’s Sega attachments and is the author of The Meifod Claw and other works. His favorite tree is a copper beech and he would like his coffee black without sugar, thank you.