Let's assume for a moment that we don't know how the technology works. We don't care if the server is busy, broken or bewildered. All we want is a quick game of Street Fighter IV. Or UT3. Or Halo 3. Or anything, for that matter. We don't know what's worse – being unable to connect to the lobby in the first place or being told that we lost our connection to the server. If we ever see that server, we'll be forcibly connecting it to a sledgehammer.
Above: With all that jargon, the button should probably read 'Erm... ok...'
Ironic, really, that the greatest thing about playing online is also its worst. Meeting an idiot in an otherwise stupendous game is more of a downer than a tranquiliser dart to the spine. Yet, sadly, it's pretty much an inevitability.
Sometimes it's people deliberately ganging up on another player (even in a co-op game like Left 4 Dead), or noobs wading in and destroying the best laid plans of tricky raids (Leeeerooooy!). Then there's the Hip Hop guy who plays distorted 'beats' through his headset mic and the kid who insists on singing a made-up, tuneless song to everyone.
Sure, you can add them to your blocked list, but by then, the damage has been done. It's just too easy for a brilliant game to be spoiled by one person.
The easiest way to avoid idiots is to play with people you know (unless you know idiots, then you're screwed). Some games are beautifully simple to use socially. Pretty much anything from Valve will give you a specific 'play with friends' option that lets you connect seamlessly to your online buddies.
But other games are not so easy. Whether it's the procedure of setting up a clan or simply getting the game to connect to your mate's machine, the process becomes a game in itself. IP tweaks here, NAT types there - everyone's working towards a common goal until someone wins. It would be a beautiful thing if it weren't so laden with expletives.
It seems UFC 2009 Undisputed has been particularly tricky to get running online with a friend. This post and reply in the game's official forum sums up the joys of online gaming in one go:
04 Aug, 2009
How not to be a total jerk in Street Fighter IV online
10 tips to help you make friends and influence people
The best griefing videos ever
Playing is one thing, playing to annoy is better
Online gaming's dirtiest tricks
And other tales from the dark side of plugged-in playtime
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