Electronic Holiday #2: Party Playola

Mark Scott Updated on by

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Parties can throw up the most unlikely of discussions. Debating the merits of various whiskeys may seem a relatively aimless activity, but not so when it produces nuggets of knowledge that may otherwise have passed you by. Did you know that Southern Comfort is in fact, not a whisky at all, but a liqueur? I certainly didn’t, until one such drink-fuelled verbal frenzy at a friend’s recent birthday bash.

Nor too would I have extensive knowledge on the inner workings of halls of residents but for hormonally imbued pre-pillow ambling (students, gotta love ’em), or have realised just how isolated I am from that particular facet of the community in my preferred musical tastes. And I certainly wouldn’t have slurred my way through conversation with a Frenchman, but for my attendance at the aforementioned get-together, on the veritable ins and outs of Xbox Live.

Fabian. That was his name; I remembered that much in my blurry post-hangover haze. It had begun innocently enough, trading names of acquaintances. Then, somehow, a passing remark on him being a journalism major conspired to move the subject to videogame journalism, and from there his adoration for Microsoft’s online infrastructure had spewed forth.

My friend Johaness – who speaks different languages – began cheekily lamenting Fabian in his native tongue (incoherent to my own uncultured ears), while his tagalong (Gary, Gareth, Garth, or something like that) unsubtly and, as it turned out, unsuccessfully, attempted changing the subject. No such luck. Instead what followed were light hearted arguments pitting Dangerous Skies against PSO, and Counterstrike against Rainbow Six 3. Arguments uttered solely in the discourse of the hardcore gamer – unintelligible to anyone listening in on the discussion.

And such a discussion, of this type, at a party, of this nature… I felt surprised, but gleefully content… all attractive single girls had gone home hours ago, there wasn’t much worth sticking around for, yet amidst the idle chit-chat and feeling wholly underwhelmed, I was actually pitted in the first decent conversation of the night.

Gary didn’t share our optimism, but that was okay. We ignored him.

Fabian clearly feared my Halo skills.

I soon altered the direction of the conversation, elaborating into my vision for an online future; progressive worlds that look after your character when offline; AI that defends bases from enemy attack when left to its own devices; traditional RPGs with online abilities, allowing players at similar points in one huge narrative to team up and play through the tale together. Fabian wanted to find his clan online, any time, anywhere – on PC or Xbox – using MSN, while word processing, playing on or offline. Johaness wanted to play a drum peripheral in one country, and have Xbox Live pipe the sound to his band practice overseas… an online-enabled, instrument-based Singstar, of sorts. These were but the tip of the iceberg traversed by a night that had begun with a sinking feeling, but ironically ended very much afloat.

Other notions were wider-ranging; Teleconferencing, online voice-chat rooms, one-to-one videophone… ideal for a student body often split between affording a phone line and broadband connection. These ideas would form the basis for a Broadband think-tank I attended a few months later. Useful indeed, though at the time, we were more interested in drink, game-talk, and the bewildering fate of duly departed Gary. We looked round; he had definitely vanished; as it turned out, collapsed on a bed in the next room. Alone. Asleep. Unlucky for him, we continued to converse.

I decided that I would destroy Fabian at Halo. He decided that he didn’t agree. We decided to agree to disagree, each downed another double of the good stuff, then swapped Gamertags before being thrown out with the stragglers and stumbling to the bus stop. Aren’t parties wonderful.