It's a given that multiplayer games encourage social interaction. It's the standard defense the industry uses against the ill-informed, anti-game radicals, the Jack Thompsons of the globe. I've always taken the statement for granted. Of course games aid social interaction; I play them with my friends.
Only recently however, have I realized the level at which these games have influenced my social life. Through my formative years, games have remained a constant, providing a framework on which to base lasting relationships with real people. They fostered the creation of imagined protocol and decorum, invented in dark living rooms, that helped define friendships
The first true multiplayer phenomenon among my circle of friends was unquestionably Mario Kart 64. It was cartridge shaped crack for my buddies and me. We became hooked on the competition.
School days were a waiting game, ticking the seconds off until we could dash home and play, our bags bulging with the triple prongs of spare Nintendo 64 controllers. Lunch breaks were spent reliving past conquests and planning for future marathon sessions. Our passion for Mario Kart 64 spawned a mythology. Rules and codes developed, seemingly arcane in their source, unwritten, but loudly voiced:
"YOU'RE NOT ALLOWED TO DO THAT!"
And it's true. I wasn't. My elation at discovering a neat glitch on the expansive Wario Stadium track quickly turned into disappointment as my less nimble-thumbed friends informed me that, as long as they couldn't use a shortcut, I wouldn't be able to.
We took a more lenient stance "legitimate" shortcuts. Mario Raceway's famous "wall-jump" method was collectively OK'd because of the difficulty involved in actually completing the leap. Similarly, flinging your karter from Rainbow Road's highest point in a suicidal attempt to reach a tiny stretch of track halfway down the course was also deemed acceptable, as the majority of attempts failed.
Mario Kart 64 shaped the way I play games. It was my first experience of a game truly entering the collective consciousness of a small, tight-knit group, and I loved it. Each of us had our own view, our own approach, but we shared common feelings - it showed me that games could become socially binding.
Leaving home for a university education changes many peoples' life a great deal, yet I discovered that some welcome constants remained. Back in school, Mario Kart 64 had eventually given way to the Nintendo 64's next AAA multiplayer title, the sublime GoldenEye 007. Spending frankly terrifying amounts of time in the split-screen mode drove us to forge a new set of commandments; chief among these was the "No Oddjobs" rule.