Gaming Off the Grid: A Month Without the Internet
Ah, the internet. That mysterious, majestic spider’s web of tubes passing information beneath the ocean from one user to the next (I assume). As far as gaming’s concerned, it’s the starches in our interactive media food pyramid. It allows us to cooperate and compete, just in time to catch that revolutionary Torbjörn Play of the Game. The internet gives us unfettered access to new and innovative downloadable titles. Online updates fix parts of games developers forgot to look at before shipping the final product. And in some rare cases, internet connectivity resets the playing field for those affected by a botched retail release.
A study by the Pew Research Center showed that in 2015, 67% of all American adults had broadband in their homes, down 3% from 2013. That’s not bad, but roughly one-third of Americans will tell you that doing without internet is a huge disadvantage to finding a job or accessing key information, let alone trying to play games on a modern platform.
More people are seeing the strengths of having internet at the ready. And looking at broadband for rural and low-income areas (an FCC report showed 14.5 million people without access to service at threshold speeds), that’s a lot of people without a lot of information. A streamer or competitive player probably won’t let themselves go without connectivity. But for many others, going without can be good for perspective.
In an age when internet access has been deemed a utility as crucial to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as electricity, it’s tough to imagine a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One left unconnected to Al Gore’s pièce de résistance. It’s like gaming with the Amish.
Yet, for the past month, there I was --- charging my DualShock with a butter churn.
For fiscal purposes, the apartment I lived at this summer was somewhat off-the-grid. I’m no internet early adopter --- my family household had dial-up until 2010 --- but I had begun to miss this lifestyle to which I was accustomed. But when you can’t cap off a hard day’s work with a few rounds of Overwatch, you learn to get creative with your gaming.
Summer is the time when publishers send out more experimental games that might get lost in a sea of releases come November. The release calendar for autumn is looking pretty cramped. Mafia III, Battlefield 1, Civilization VI, The Last Guardian and Titanfall 2 all drop just weeks apart, and that’s just October. That leaves publishers with the summer for a bit more breathing room to release smaller, more experimental games --- Abzû, Inside, Furi --- or larger, more existential games like No Man’s Sky. It’s a great reason to continue looking forward to that next (pardon the pun) gamechanger waiting around the corner. But what happens when you can’t look forward to downloading the year’s newest games? In my case, you look backward.
In the era of PlayStation Plus, Games with Gold and Steam sales, it’s fair to say each of us has accrued something of a vast collection at little cost. They’re games we download, try once or twice (if at all), then leave behind because we’re fickle creatures. Losing internet for an extended period is an opportunity in disguise; as the old saying goes, when God closes a door, He reminds you to give Hohokum another shot.
My month sans connectivity was a great chance to blow the dust off my collection, to dive deeper into Undertale or finally achieve five-star status in Cook, Serve, Delicious! --- you know I’m always down for some CSD!
Regardless of which games you return to, it’s important not to fall into the trap of playing those games we’ve beaten time and time again. The familiarity of playing Super Mario Sunshine for the umpteenth time can be comforting, and God only knows how many hours I’ve spent trying to 100% the Lego games; but edging out of that comfort zone opens up your tastes to new experiences, maybe even a new favorite series. I didn’t play Mass Effect until years after its launch, and now the series is cemented in my mind.
There are always new games out there --- sometimes they’re just old.
Make a Game Plan for Public Wi-Fi
Some days you just have to get out of the house, and some days you just need a hit of that sweet, sweet Wi-Fi. There’s nothing wrong with needing a trip to a local coffee shop with the sole purpose of a massive download binge. Whether you’ve made the most of your library or it’s just become stale, a couple hours among aspiring screenwriters and a few mochas does wonders for downloading new content.
I’ve found I can get much more out of the Wi-Fi that comes with whatever drink is cheapest by deciding beforehand what needs downloading. Or bring along the ol’ 3DS or laptop and see what’s on sale --- if you’re not paying for internet, chances are you aren’t dropping $40 on the new Monster Hunter.
Don’t overlook updates, either. Free new content might be staring you in the face. And a little extra stability never hurt anyone, especially when the Steam client will sometimes lock you out of offline mode for a missing update.
Just be sure to know your internet connections and what you need. A 3DS won’t have any trouble connecting to a public connection at a mom and pop shop, but verifying your connection at, say, a Starbucks makes the process tricky. Ironically, PC gaming is best for this aspect of offline gaming.
Mooch Off Loved Ones
I so miss the days of trading PlayStation 2 games with my friends in the hallways of elementary school, especially when you had a game that was way too mature for your age, so you didn’t want to get caught, but you also kind of totally wanted to get caught and show the other kids how cool you were. The same goes for detaching the hard drive from my Xbox 360 Fat and bringing it to a friend’s house to play a new Arcade game. That’s why I’m one of those curmudgeons who will go after a physical copy every time.
A month without internet is exactly when you want, nay, need those curmudgeons around. We have our libraries at the ready, complete with card catalog. If you find yourself without Wi-Fi, find those people and mooch like never before. Keep your friends close, keep your friends’ material possessions closer.
Not everyone’s tastes are the same, and that’s a positive in your time of need. Digging through a pile of your friend’s PS3 games might introduce you to bizarre titles you didn’t pick up the first time around. Expand your horizons the easy way: with freeloading. With Ratchet and Clank, for example, I wasn’t allowed to play those games when they came out. I was a kid, and my conservative parents didn’t think it was appropriate for me to play games called Going Commando or Up Your Arsenal. Years later a friend lent me the lot of them and I took the summer to wallow in big guns and double entendres.
Sure, everyone’s internet goes out once in a while. It’s how Comcast reminds us they’re there. And, unfortunately, there’s that third of Americans for whom going without internet is less of a fun experiment and more of a disadvantage.
But when those outages happen, getting creative with your gaming is more important than ever. Think of finding ways to game without a solid connection as a puzzle to solve, a game outside of the game. It’s the skulls in Halo, just with way less confetti.
And if all else fails, read a book. Those have done alright without Wi-Fi for a while.