Joystick: Digital groundwork important for online play

Published 10:18 am Thursday, February 7, 2013

Despite the myriad villains and baddies in video games, there is one opponent nigh unbeatable. It’s there whenever you go online, and more often than not you can’t defeat it by yourself. It’s a faulty Internet connection, more commonly known as lag, and it’s still an issue.

I was reminded of this the other night playing “Anarchy Reigns,” a fun beat-’em-up with an exciting, if limited, online component. The game has about 12 different modes you can play, but none of that matters if you play against people with a somewhat weak Internet connection.

I was playing a four-on-four deathmatch with some friends, and we ran into a team with significant lag issues. How does that translate in the game? I died, multiple times, without anyone around me. The other players wouldn’t register on my console, so they would attack me while I had no way to beat them back. The game slows to their pace, and those of us with good connections face a severe handicap whenever this happens.

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It’s a common complaint throughout online gaming: from “Street Fighter IV” to “Call of Duty,” faulty Internet connections pose serious issues to an online game’s overall experience. Moreover, it’s just one symptom of the Digital Divide, the theory that people with higher incomes are able to access computers and the Internet more often, while lower income people are often unable to raise themselves out of poverty since they can’t afford the same quality Internet or computer access.

It’s an interesting problem to consider, seeing as more companies make an online connection mandatory when playing games. Companies like Ubisoft and Blizzard, which mandate a constant online connection for some of their games, have been criticized for essentially putting up a barrier between people with shoddy Internet connections and a form of entertainment, essentially making gaming an exclusive enterprise.

It’s frustrating, but the problem will only be solved when projects like Austin’s Vision 2020 or the Google Fiber initiative find ways to create community-wide Internet access across the country. Just remember the next time you find yourself frustrated with lag, it’s not the other person’s fault. It’s a bigger problem than one person’s connection.