The gaming industry of today is one surrounded by a constantly connected world; social networks see hundreds of millions of messages sent each day, whether it be via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or any other form of the increasingly varied selection of social media. Naturally, this constantly connected lifestyle has permeated gaming and changed the way people play; online multiplayer, whether cooperative or competitive, is seen as a must-have in games by huge publishers, as well as a highly demanded feature by players. Despite a large portion of the gaming community dedicating a considerable portion of their playing time to online multiplayer (1.2 billion hours of Call of Duty: Black Ops multiplayer were played in 2011 alone, according to Activision), one wonders how much the word “community” is a part of that. When people play online, they can choose to communicate verbally with the other players in their game or opt to go silent. While this choice doesn’t affect the actual gameplay, it does alter the overall gaming experience, leaving it up to the player whether that alteration is for better or for worse.
In team or strategy based games, communication between players is, naturally, incredibly helpful. It allows the team to formulate their plan of attack for the match, while providing a relaxed hangout where people can just play their favorite game and have a chat. It can function as a bonding or team building effort, since all the players are working towards the same goal in the game. Taking away this direct means of communication would be taking away the opportunity to meet and interact with other players as well as the potential for memorable experiences between gamers. There are (rare) exceptions to this, with the downloadable PSN title Journey being a prime example. Journey uniquely limits multiplayer communication to little (adorable) chirping noises made by each player’s character, creating an unprecedented level of emotional immersion within an online co-op game. The type of “voiceless” multiplayer seen in Journey doesn’t encumber the experience by making the players worry about telling one another where to go or what to do; on the contrary, it bolsters the player’s level of emotional involvement. Voiceless multiplayer is a boon in this case.
However, take away the cooperative parts of a game and leave players in a purely competitive atmosphere with the ability to reach out and communicate with one another, and players often flock to one of two paths: whoever’s in the lobby maintains some semblance of a positively competitive dialogue, or all the vitriol in the world is verbally thrown around at one another. Unfortunately, the latter is usually the most prevalent. It isn’t to say that a positive, competitive online multiplayer experience is impossible. It simply shows that when players are pitted against one another online, having a “voiceless” multiplayer where the players cannot directly speak to one another is a perk for players who don’t want to get chewed out over Xbox Live. The relative anonymity offered while playing online seems to lend confidence to all the wrong people at times. Whoever winds up at the top of the leaderboard in a match of Call of Duty free-for-all seems to take that as license to verbally degrade everyone else in the lobby. Players do have the option to mute whoever in the lobby they’d like, allowing the insults to fall on deaf ears (or no ears at all, depending on how you look at it). This allows the player to tailor their personal multiplayer experience to make it as voiceless or as social as they’d like, provided they can handle some of the verbal flogging that comes with the latter.
Online multiplayer can be an incredibly fun, positive, social experience between players, as well as an immersive and atmospheric experience. Whether the player focuses on the social aspect of the game or chooses to become engrossed in the mood and tone of the multiplayer game hinges on just how much “voice” they incorporate. More voice tends to shift the player’s focus to the others playing the game along with them, instead of the actual game itself. Eliminating voice removes that distraction, allowing for more of the game to truly take the stage in the player’s mind. Voiceless multiplayer can be an incredible tool when used properly by developers, but is also becoming a preference of gamers who want to remain level-headed after a few matches of CoD.