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Lost in Cyberspace

Want to play? The Internet beckons

This article was originally published on January 12, 1999 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

The Internet is changing the way we play games. Not so much single-player games, although Java and Macromedia's "Shockwave" browser plug-in are making it easier to find a steady supply of new games to play on the Web.

But in the area of multiplayer games, the Internet is having a revolutionary impact – bringing about the kinds of cultural changes sociologists will be studying for decades to come.

No longer must you be on the same computer – or even in the same building – to challenge someone to a little head-to-head action. As in business and media, the Internet is making physical geography irrelevant.

Now, you can play against someone in India – or, in some games, against 7, 15 or more opponents from across the entire globe, all joined together in an digital arena.

Where to go:

Here are some sites where you can get started in learning more about, or participating in, online multiplayer gaming. You will need to have a legal, registered version of these games in order to play, but visiting these sites will give you an idea of what they are about before plunking down your hard-earned coin:

World Opponent Network: The heart of the online gaming community, this free site is advertising driven and offers a solid combination of both support and action. You can pick up hints on playing games such as "Half-Life," "Red Baron 3D" and the new "Tribes," or go directly to playing one of the dozens of multiplayer games supported here. Hosted by game publisher Blizzard Software, this free site features online tournaments for the popular strategy games "Diablo" and "StarCraft" – sometimes with prize money. It's a little short on info, and I didn't see a link back to their home site – which is – where there is a lot more support, including free demo versions you can download.

C|NET This site is part of magazine publisher C|NET's site, and has by far the strongest lineup of news, reviews and tips. It's not strictly about multiplayer games, but given the current dominance of online gaming, there's plenty of info on just about any multiplayer game you can name.

Microsoft Internet Gaming Zone: Yes, yes, an annex of the Evil Empire, but also online host to multplayer games of "Age of Empires," "Combat Flight Simulator" and "Motocross Madness," as well as "The Game of Life."

Links to all the games mentioned:

Action games

Flight simulators


Board games

With the growing market penetration of high-speed (56k, ISDN, cable) modems, multiplayer games can be more sophisticated that ever before – even including the ability to use your Internet connection and a headset to speak to one another.

It's to the point that most of the top-selling games of the past few months have all included Internet and network multiplayer options.

And the multiplayer phenomenon isn't confined to one type of game. You can play first-person shooters like "Quake II," "Unreal" or the new hit, "Half-Life," where you look through your character's eyes. Fly air combat missions in "Red Baron 3D," "Jane's WWII Fighters" or "Falcon 4.0." Or real-time strategy games such as "Age of Empires," "Total Annihilation" or "StarCraft," where you must build cities and create armies before fighting. Or even old favorites like board games such as "The Game of Life" and "Clue."

Most of the new games with multiplayer features allow anyone to host their own game, using their PC or Mac as a server. You can either register with one of the master servers and wait for people to come to you, or keep it private and only tell your friends about it.

Most interestingly, some games can ONLY be played in a multiplayer environment, games such as the new "Tribes" from Dynamix, or "FireTeam" from Multitude, neither of which offers any single-player action at all.

Of course, to give things some perspective, let's not forget that what is widely considered to be the first-ever computer game was multiplayer. Written by some MIT students in the mid-1960s on a Digital PDP minicomputer, "Space War" allowed two users with handmade joysticks to pilot their space ships around the sun while shooting at each other.

And the earliest videogame systems, Atari's Pong and Mattell's Odyssey, both featured head-to-head games of tennis and hockey, right there on your TV screen. And before the explosion of the Internet in the early 1990s, people could already use their modems to play some games – such as "Falcon 3.0" for the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga – head-to-head over the phone lines. CompuServe also hosted a virtual World War II dogfight that owners of DOS-based PCs could play some years back.

So the concept of online multiplayer games itself isn't new – it's the growing sophistication of the games and the online communities being created around them that is changing the way we use our computers for recreation.

Not only are millions of people using the Internet to play their favorite games against other human opponents, but they're creating Web sites devoted to the games – sites where they post the latest news and rumors, along with hints, help files and add-on levels; host live chat areas and message boards; and list links to active servers for online games.

Take "Quake II," for instance. Game aficianados have designed not only new levels, but entirely new multiplayer games – Rocket Arena and Loki's Minions Capture the Flag. People have formed their own teams, who hook up over the 'Net to take on any comers. Sites such as offer a virtual home away from home for players.

This creation of game-based subcultures is certainly not limited to Quake II. Most of the above games have inspired similar sites that nurture their own slang, etiquette and shared values. The best comparison might be to the strategy and role-playing games of the 1970s and '80s, games like Dungeons and Dragons or the war simulation games from Avalon Hill.

These games are serving as catalysts, around which entire online communities are forming – communities that wouldn't exist without the Internet.

The implications of the large-scale formation of online communities, unbound by geography or time, are of course still unfolding as the Internet continues to take shape. As metioned above, figuring all that out will keep sociologists and historians busy for a long time.

But for now, it's enough to simply immerse onself in the excitement of a new form of entertainment, one that the participants themselves are helping to shape.