Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Gaming
By James Holloway
Updated September 22, 2017
The Internet has been a gaming medium for almost as long as it has existed, as early users quickly adapted email and newsgroup technology to create online versions of classic board games or roleplaying games. Since the early 2000s, the growth of broadband Internet has brought new generations of gamers online; in fact, you can't play some modern games such as Titanfall offline at all. While there are a lot of advantages to online gaming, it does have a seedy underbelly.
Gaming with Friends
More than anything else, online games have brought players together, forging people with a shared interest into a community. Whether cooperative or competitive, online gaming makes it much easier for gamers to play with their friends or make new ones. Guildmates can play together in an online role-playing game or sports rivals test their skills even though they live thousands of miles apart. Friendships can develop in online games between people who would never have met otherwise. Recent research even shows that children who play online games are more likely to develop positive attitudes toward people from other countries and cultures.
This doesn't mean that online society is all sweetness and positive attitudes: anonymity, a tense competitive environment and a low barrier to entry can encourage bad behavior among some players, including both disruptive gameplay such as griefing and abusive or intimidating out-of-game messages. In some extreme cases, this can include bullying or threats. Game makers and community moderators do their best to limit this kind of behavior, but it still plagues some online communities. Luckily, most games offer a way to ignore or mute other players if you are encountering a barrage of insults.
Whole New Genres
Online gaming has enabled group play on a never-before-seen scale, spawning whole new genres; the immersive worlds of MMORPGs and the endless creativity of open-world games would never have been possible without online gaming. The first MMORPGs developed from older RPGs in the 1990s and really took off once home broadband connections began to become common. While some early online games were afterthoughts bolted onto single-player games, the online multiplayer game is now an important genre of its own.
Modern online gaming is usually a very smooth experience, but the technology still has its limits. Small delays in internet connections can result in "lag," a delay between when you press a button and the action occurs in the game. In input-sensitive games like first-person shooters or fighting games, this small delay is the difference between victory and defeat.
Internet connection charges can quickly add up when playing online: Gamers whose ISPs impose data caps may find themselves using up their bandwidth quickly. Players may also have to pay monthly for online accounts or spend money per item on in-game purchases, and the costs can add up quickly for unsuspecting players.
Competitive gamers are among the biggest beneficiaries of online gaming. Previously, most players' knowledge of the competitive scene was limited to a local group such as an arcade or a university gaming club. Online gaming -- aided by other online tools such as Twitch and YouTube -- has made it possible for competitive players to share strategies and analyze gameplay like never before, raising the standard of play to a new level and creating an entirely new industry of professional competitive gaming. However, there is a downside to this boom, as new players can often find the high level of play demanded by competitive gamers intimidating, and may not even attempt to play online.
Dr James Holloway has been writing about games, geek culture and whisky since 1995. A former editor of "Archaeological Review from Cambridge," he has also written for Fortean Times, Fantasy Flight Games and The Unspeakable Oath. A graduate of Cambridge University, Holloway runs the blog Gonzo History Gaming.