Playing the Same, but Separate Games


With all the discussion about subterfuge and the nature of multiplayer games on recent podcasts, it got me thinking about how often people playing the same game are actually playing their own separate games. Everyone is playing the same game, but with their own separate goals or understanding of how the game is supposed to be played.

Everyone probably has personal anecdotes about this, I have a friend whose main goal in multiplayer games is often to cause as much chaos as possible, regardless of any communal goal or win conditions. That said, I’m sure plenty of you have also noticed clear divides in entire multiplayer game communities about how games are played.

I wanna hear about your thoughts & experiences on this, cause I think the way that we understand “play” in multiplayer games, both on an individual and group level, is really cool.


GTA Online seems like the ultimate example of this, whilst on the one hand it is designed as an anything goes sandbox. The other places it as a pay to win/broken economy simulator. You can have fun whatever way you play the game even with no investment of external funds. It does fail when you attempt to introduce co-op missions along with ever increasing in game financial requirements within DLC.

Heists operate on a scale which whilst doable without communication do encourage those not “playing the same” to actively hinder those who are trying to progress. Originally it was incredibly easy to play in a more destructive way though at this point of the lifespan I feel that has changed.


I think you can also judge a multiplayer game by how well it handles personal win conditions. Weirdly enough, lite shooters like COD necessarily handle this well - unless you’re in a party, everyone is always playing in their own little world. The goal is to get the most points, but really the goal is to get 20+ kills and fuck anything your teammates are doing. I’ve often wondered if this was a conscious design choice for CoD, as the fun of the game would likely disappear if it relied more on teammates being on the same page.


It feels like old hat now, but Overwatch was a breath of fresh air in emphasizing teamwork and roles in a match. In a way, each member is playing a different game. Damage based characters are trying to rack up kills, tanks soak up damage, and healers restore health. And each role is graded on their own metrics and success is different as well. Granted, in the end the ultimate metric is win/loss, but there’s just so much under the hood that it never feels as binary and lonely as CoD and its ilk.


Both my friend and I had put hundreds of hours into Civ 5, and we were talking about our strategies. Over the course of our conversation I had to ask him what happens when you nuke someone and he had to ask me to remind him what the requirements for a cultural victory were. To him Civ V was a military strategy game, but for me Civ is a game where I curate museums, spread my religion and make friends while trying desperately not to get conquered.

He asked me to play against him and I declined because he’s a goddamn warmonger.


This is every multiplayer game my wife and I play together. I’m playing a loot shooter, or whatever, and she’s playing a combination of Excel and The Sims (this is probably why she inevitably ends up with better gear than me).


The multiplayer game I’m kinda obsessed with right now is Ring Of Elysium, a Battle Royal game with a twist on it’s win condition.

The goal of ROE isn’t to be the last one standing, it’s to be one of four people to board an escape helicopter. What I find interesting about this is the clear divide in the player base’s understanding of the game.

To some, the goal of ROE is to get on that helicopter, regardless of how it’s done. To others, the goal is to kill everyone possible. These two kinds of people playing together has resulted in a similar style of play, killing everyone you see, even if there’s enough seats on the helicopter for the remaining players. After all, how do you know the others aren’t going to gun you down regardless of the fact there’s enough room?

Ultimately, one part of me is disappointed the game doesn’t give players more avenues to engage in the prisoner’s dilemma that is boarding the helicopter, outside of a voice-chat no one uses and murder. The other part of me is just endlessly delighted that the jackasses who just want to see others lose have shaped play.