When Halo 5 was first announced, my excitement for the next game in the legendary game franchise sky-rocketed. Oh, what a lovely day. I felt a rush of nostalgia for those years of staying up all night playing with friends, drinking unhealthy amounts of Mountain Dew and tearing through pizza after pizza. Those were the golden days.
Upon hearing about Halo 5 years later, I looked forward to the fun of gaming with my friends: in person, on the couch, in the same room. As the release of Halo 5 approached though, the fan community was struck with some divisive news.
343 Studios, the team behind Halo 5’s development, announced that the newest installment of the series would not include split-screen multiplayer. For those unfamiliar with video game lingo, that basically means my childhood and young adult memories of playing Halo on the couch with my friends on the same TV would never be replicated.
I was heartbroken. How could they do this? How could this studio knowingly take out the most beloved aspect of their game? Immediately I started looking for a scape goat, and I found the perfect culprit: the internet and social media. Dun dun dunnnn.
Technology has seemingly connected the world more than ever, and yet in my eyes it has simultaneously pulled us apart. I see our generation’s constant connection to social media and think it’s to blame for this atrocity against video game enthusiasts. If we look around at our peers walking to class or waiting between lectures, phones are out, Tweets and texts are being sent and the physical world around us seems to disappear until we are ready to reengage with it.
In all honesty, I was angry. I’m a big fan of physical interaction over words sent through a screen, and I want the old days back. As I see it, in the words of South Park’s Kyle Broflovski, “the living room is dying.”
What bothered me the most was that I was being robbed of my choice to play with my friends in the same room or online with random strangers. Interestingly, as the news of 343’s decision began to circulate the web, fans were divided between frustration and support for the decision. One group fell in my nostalgia camp while the other focused on the promise of shiny new visuals as a result of the cut. All in all, the conversations (or arguments, more accurately) did little more than fuel a war of personal preferences. In an effort to try and better wrestle with the internet, I reached out to UW-Madison Instructor Andrew Peck, a member of the Communication Arts department, to grapple with my own thoughts while gaining some perspective.
While I would label myself a dystopist when it comes to social media and the internet, Peck considers himself an utopist, believing that these technologies make our lives better. “I think one of the main things we need to think about here is the role of four-player split screen gaming in our lives. For me, it was playing Goldeneye on an N64 with friends in high school. Many people used this type of gaming in the dorms as a way to make and maintain friendships,” Peck said. “Four-player split screen represents a certain type of experience that many people currently in their 20s and 30s remember fondly. But we also need to think about why this type of interaction was useful. When I was in high school or college, playing Super Smash Brothers was an easy way to hang out while doing something. Split screen multiplayer was a necessity if only because there was no other reliable way to do it.”
Peck went on to discuss his now-busy lifestyle and that the couch co-op mode of interaction isn’t as useful as playing online with friends who are now farther away. “While in-person multiplayer is good for people you’re close to, this focus on internet connectivity is one of the main things that has kept me in close contact with my buddies from college,” Peck said. “The easy ‘play for an hour and go to bed’ gameplay of things like Diablo 3 lend themselves much more to not only my busy lifestyle but also to a social network that has scattered across several states.”
Considering I’m still a college student with a majority of friends that live down the street, making the extra effort to meet a friend and play games in person makes sense. For people not in that boat, I could understand the draw of online play.
But the question of our endless connection to the internet and social media was still on my mind. While I tend to shake my fist at the anti-social whippersnappers glued to their phones, Peck offered compelling thoughts about the positives of our new mode of connectivity. “I think it actually says some really good things about us that we’re so driven to hang out with friends at all hours and in many new contexts,” Peck said. “Despite what some technological dystopists believe, this generation may actually be much more social than previous ones. I actually think social media and the types of connection and expression it enables has been a net positive for society.”
Although Peck admitted he hedged more towards a positive view of the internet and social media, he did raise some concerns about what the amount of media apps could be doing to users. “My biggest worry about social media doesn’t have as much to do with isolation as it does with enforced extroversion. As a lifelong introvert, the thing that makes me most uncomfortable is the social pressure surrounding social networking,” Peck shared. “Not only do I need to have a Facebook account and a Twitter presence and a website, I also need a presence on more niche platforms, like Academia.edu. I think social media is great as an option, but I’m less enthused with it becoming effectively mandatory.”
After considering Peck’s ideas on social media and reconsidering my own, I moved from grandparent-land more towards a hip-adult middle ground, where I can acknowledge the many ways in which the internet has changed the communication game. That said, I think there is room for us as a society to find more opportunities to remove our “internet extrovert” hats. I’m still not happy the bros and I can’t slumby while playing Halo 5 on the same TV, but we can play together thanks to the internet. Even after degrees are earned and families are started, Halo 5 could be the bridge that connects my friend group in life after college. While social media can never replace physical friendships, it will be the technology to keep distant relationships lasting.