Brace yourself, now: I loved Far Cry 3’s Jason Brody. I don’t think anyone else did, but we were smitten. We went hang-gliding together, made ourselves a backpack out of shark, blew up a pig with a landmine – a solid, five-out-of-five on TripAdvisor. Never once in those halcyon days spent on the Rook Islands’ beaches or splashing coquettishly together in the shallows did Ubisoft suggest I was a loser for not wanting three of my mates milling in the background, throwing grenades at a sand castle or skeet shooting the seagulls.
But that’s the only way I can take a post on Ubisoft’s website for The Division, which grudgingly concedes that: “It’s important to note that The Division is fully playable solo. So you lonely types, go on… play it as you like. But for the rest of us, The Division promises a rich, varied and seamless multiplayer experience…”
You see, the bitter truth is that all the time we’ve spent thinking we were having fun with single-player games has been nothing but pitiable self-deception. A Matrix simulation to distract us while the Machines harvest our souls. The tabloid press was right all along: playing videogames alone is what you do when you’ve got no friends, in between downloading pornography and plotting a series of grisly murders.
Ubisoft’s snarky camp counsellor tone aside, it’s the disingenuousness of this everything’s-better-with-friends marketing twaddle that ruffles my bristles. I don’t begrudge anyone their multiplayer-only games. But suggesting they’re the gilded passage to a social gaming Utopia is – and really we all know it is – utter claptrap.
Before Evolve came out, I spent some time playing an early build with the people at 2K. Over and over again, I was advised that the key to playing well as the Hunters was communication. “Use your headset – talk to your team,” they reminded me, gently, every time I was eaten by a carnivorous plant on the wrong side of the map. In the time I’ve owned Evolve, I’ve heard three people use the headset. I don’t even know where mine is.
And so it will be for The Division. I watch that E3 footage of the four players co-ordinating with mics and try to imagine what any of my friends would say if I were to unironically order them into a flanking position, or to, “watch my six,” or anything other than, “shoot that d*ck over there with the machine gun.” Just imagine barking that at a stranger. That crinkling feeling under your fingers is me cringing at you through the pages.
That’s if you can find any friends online to play with in the first place. I know in the glitzy Sliders universe of videogame console TV adverts we are all besieged by legions of supermodel friends, none of whom have anything else to do, ever, except bleach their teeth and play videogames with us. But in real life I have fewer than a dozen people on my PSN list and most of them have jobs. So I’m going to be playing The Division with strangers plucked at random from the aether who will, based on my experience with other multiplayer components, speak only in profanities, or not at all.
‘Playing solo’ doesn’t make me lonely, Ubisoft. It makes me discerning. We must resist the self-interested jostling of the marketers. ‘Single-player’ is not a dirty word – no matter what publishers and all their cool friends might say.