Some folks have been gaming for almost their entire lives. But others are new to it, and maybe would’ve never considered a console before social distancing and self-isolation became a must. Gaming with friends (or random strangers) is one way of keeping in touch with the wider world. If you’re just dipping your toe into the waters, here’s the best way to get started.
What you need
If you want to play games with other people, online or multiplayer gaming is available on just about every gaming platform out there (though it often costs extra). For most titles on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles, for example, you need to pay a monthly subscription to unlock the online multiplayer aspects of the games.
Both PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold will set you back $US10 ($17) a month, though both offer discounts if you pay for a few months or a year in advance. Aside from access to online gaming, you get other benefits too, including free games every month.
For the Nintendo Switch, you need the aptly named Nintendo Switch Online service, which costs $US4 ($7) for one month, $US8 ($14) for three months, or $US20 ($35) for a year at the time of writing.
There’s no general fee for going online and playing with others on a Windows PC, though individual titles might impose one on you. You could consider gaming on a PC rather than a console, though there are plenty of pros and cons on both sides.
Taking on opponents or working with friends online, rather than gaming in isolation, also puts more of a demand on your internet connection. At the very lowest point you’re going to need at least 3 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload, though the faster the better, especially if you want to increase frame rates and resolutions.
What’s even more important is latency or ping rate—how quickly your button pushes are beamed to the gaming servers—which can be the difference between (virtual) life and death. For best results, you need to get a ping rate of less than 100 milliseconds. An online speed test like this one can give you all of these details.
To boost speeds and reduce latency, serious gamers will invest in dedicated gaming routers and work out ways of connecting up their consoles or PCs with Ethernet cables. If you’re just getting started with online gaming, through, your current setup will most likely do just fine.
Tips for beginners
If you’re new to online gaming, you’ll probably run into experienced pros. Don’t get discouraged! Either ride out the initial wave of defeats, or just pick games that are a little less competitive. Put in enough practice, and you should be holding your own before too long.
And don’t let a few negative experiences with other gamers put you off, either. As in actual life, you’re going to come across all kinds of people in your multiplayer exploits, and some of those won’t be all that friendly. A lot of games will let you pick and choose who you interact with, so you’re not suddenly going to be exposed to the worst characters online.
You’ll find a virtually limitless supply of real-time streams and game highlights on sites like Twitch and YouTube, and these can be invaluable in helping you know what to expect in advance (and to decide if a particular game is for you in the first place). Watching other people play games is one of the best ways of picking up tricks and techniques.
There are a variety of online gaming experiences out there—fast-paced, slow and sedate, relaxed, intense, competitive, cooperative—so don’t give up on online multiplayer gaming until you’ve tried the style of gaming that speaks to you.
As with everything you do online, keep privacy in mind. Don’t share anything more than you have to, whether that’s in the username that you pick or something you say in an online chat. It’s important for a variety of reasons that the people you encounter can’t work out your real identity while you’re gaming together.
Keep an eye on your emotions, too. Be wary of allowing online gaming to become too competitive, or too frustrating, or too soul-destroying. Adding other people to your gaming experience is always going to make a difference, so it may take you a while to adjust to the variety.
Games of note
Some games were designed to be played online with other people. Fortnite is the most obvious recent example, which might suit you if you enjoy frenetic, cartoonish action. The main game mode is a battle royale fight to the death, and you can play it on phones as well as consoles, mostly for free. (You do need Xbox Live Gold for playing on an Xbox, though you can play on the PS4 without PlayStation Plus.)
Rockstar’s games typically have strong online components that are worth checking out, provided you enjoyed the main game in the first place. GTA V and Red Dead Redemption 2 are two examples of Rockstar games that have grown online long after their original release date. The multiplayer options bring with new features, new experiences, and new characters.
First-person shooter games made multiplayer gaming popular, and these remain some of the best in the field, from the long-running Counter-Strike series to the well-established Rainbow Six: Siege, which really puts your ability to cooperate with other players to the test.
Minecraft can provide an altogether more relaxing experience, if you need one, and is an example of a game that works equally well whether you’re playing in a group or on your own. The brand new Animal Crossing: New Horizons, meanwhile, shows how online gaming can be as much about building community as competing against each other.
Sea of Thieves shows how multiplayer gaming can bring people together, as you form a crew of pirates looking to explore and rule the oceans; and Destiny 2 shows how it can bring you an endless array of human opponents to square up against. You’ll need to get good very quickly.
In other words, whatever type of gamer (and person) you are, there’s an online multiplayer gaming experience for you—it’s just a question of finding it. And if you find that playing with other people isn’t your jam, you can always go back to your own private gaming sessions.