Grand Theft Auto Online is a game with almost limitless possibilities for fun. Rockstar have not only created an amazingly large and detailed sandbox to play in but given gamers the biggest and coolest set of bucket and spades to have fun with in it.
The limits are a player’s imagination: just yesterday two of my crew were blazing around Los Santos in their car, underneath the cargobob I was swinging them around in. High above the sky scrapers we soared, as a random player attempted to kamikaze us from the plane he had stolen. One of the passengers in the car beneath me hadn’t unlocked the parachute, which made abandoning the car atop a skyscraper all the more hilarious (I wasn’t cruel enough to drop them at sea).
Spend a few hours exploring the state of San Andreas and the imagination runs wild for things to do. Should we Cargobob some diggers to the top of the Maze tower before engaging in robot-wars style combat? How about getting a group of people to parachute out of a helicopter whilst a person in a plane tries to wipe out as many as he can, human skittles style, before they hit the ground?
With so many options for fun then, what are a lot of people spending hours upon hours doing? Either repeating the same short mission or driving a prison again, and again, and again. Although the most recent online patch have stopped people abusing missions with high money and RP rewards, many gamers still choose to sit down and grind short races in an effort to harvest cash and raise their level. Why?
These people may well have a nice big number next to their name in lobbies. They also certainly have a nice collection of shiny cars sitting in their expensive garages but what use are these when the game is being played like a job? Gaming should be an escapism from reality; a way to sit down, shut out the real world and just have fun. The grinders may claim to stand proudly atop the leader boards of levels and money but when the hours they have spent have been a monotonous chore, why bother spending those hours in the first place?
I obviously don’t speak for all gamers here (although I certainly hope my views represent the majority) when I say that I would rather level up slowly but have fun whilst doing so than blast through the ranks playing the game like a day job. Stats and levels being at the forefront in a lot of player’s minds is becoming a growing and worrying trend with modern gaming. At only 21 years of age I am cautious about acting like a pensioner reminiscing of the ‘good old days’, lamenting modern practises, but even I can remember when gaming was all about having fun. Getting four friends around a copy of Timesplitters 2 was a blast, finding areas on each map to best survive infection using explosives and mines.
Fuelled by the explosion in online gaming and constant stat-tracking, winning and improving scores are now more important than enjoying a game. Of course competitiveness is to be expected in an online game but is sitting down in a corner of the map on Call of Duty really worth the boredom just to get that perfect K/D? Objective-based modes in FPS games with strangers is now an impossible task, with people too concerned about their precious K/D stats to attempt to retrieve a flag or capture a base, instead treating the mode like a deathmatch.
Achievements and trophies have also distracted gamers from the simple matter of enjoying themselves. This is not an attack on the system, I am a big fan of achievements and think they push me to complete a game more than I would do previously. Hearing that little ping after completing a ridiculously hard achievement (World at War on Veteran, I am looking at you) is a satisfaction in gaming second to none. Why though people choose to farm achievements is beyond me. Back in the days of Gears of War, when people still communicated with each other over the headsets, many lobbies would agree to be an ‘achievement boosting’ one where players would take in turns to walk to the centre of the map and kill each other in a certain way.
If I ever found myself in one of these lobbies, I would stay in and ruin everyone’s fun. Call me an asshole but boosting like this really wasn’t needed, the achievements they aimed for were 200 kills with weapon x and would be gained pretty quickly with natural play. Why not just sit down and enjoy the game? Yes it may take a week or two more but as I mentioned previously, enjoying getting there slowly is surely a better option that not enjoying a second of doing it ASAP?
Online gaming is losing its fun, if it hasn’t already. GTA Online is an absolute blast with friends or a crew, where you can organise chaos with people you know won’t (often) grief you. Heading online solo can be a frustrating experience, where you are repeatedly killed for no reason by someone with bigger and better guns than you.
The shame is that there is no fix to this and the problem will only get worse. The next generation of gamers are kids of will grow up on Call of Duty and know nothing more than online lobbies and K/D leaderboards. Games like the Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite shows that gaming can still exist to provide fantastic escapism for players to get lost in but the release of GTA: Online reinforces that it is an experience that will never translate to the online world.