Over at his blog, games writer Richard Cobbett discusses how Hearthstone became his favorite game – not only on its mechanical merits, but as one of the few multiplayer games that are designed to make players with social anxiety more comfortable.
Over time though, I’ve decided that one of its smartest decisions is one that I originally didn’t like – the use of heroes with personality, with the other player’s identity largely pushed off to the side. The downside of things like the lack of chat in most games would be how quickly every round bled into the others – stripped of that personality that reinforces that you’re playing with another human being, most multiplayer games don’t do so great. Nobody plays botmatches any more, even though the level of play to at least the average player is arguably going to be very similar to jumping into an online server for a PUG match. It’s just not the same.
Hearthstone though has its double-whammy. You know that there’s another player there… though I think it would be hilarious if Blizzard ultimately admitted that some 50% of players were actually AI and they just wanted to see if anyone noticed… but all character is pushed through the characters. I don’t just mean the portraits, though that helps. Everything comes together so that playing against, say, Jaina isn’t simply playing against someone with the Mage deck, but going up against the mindset of a mage. It’s the abstraction to keep the focus on the game and world rather than having to think about the other human being involved, with the scope for a shifting metagame that keeps things interesting.
As someone who has difficulty playing games online for similar reasons, it’s a great read. Are there any multiplayer games you’d recommend for players who are dealing with social anxiety? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook.