The internet is a scary place. It's a place full of information, far too much for any one person to absorb even a fraction. It's a place that caters to every desire, however depraved and esoteric. It's a place full of other people . Isn't that terrifying?
And, more than that, you're expected to interact with these people. Have discussions, comment on articles you've all read, and troll one another. It's enough to make that hermetic ideal of cave living, where you only have to worry about which end of the skunk to eat first, look most appealing. But it's ok, I'm here to help.
Games are perhaps the best way to survive contact with other humans. They let you vent your frustrations, or work together without having to, y'know, have a proper conversation about it. You're hidden and safe behind the anonymity of the internet, and the rules of the game. It's a controlled environment, and so you're probably going to be ok.
And so, allow me to aid you to submerge yourself in the unwashed masses, a toe at first, before the rest of your leg, and then all to follow. Below is a list of games aimed at interaction over the internet, all from within the safety of your browser. Some are short-fire bursts of multiplayer gaming, others aiming for something much more long form and arduous, but oh-so more rewarding because of it.
The overarching lesson of all of these games, though, is that people are probably complete idiots, and will not act in a calm and considered manner. This may or may not be true of the rest of humanity.
You have been warned.
This is the only logical place to start. It's the idiocy of the crowd, in a pure and distilled form. You are a mouse. You want cheese. Cheese is unobtainable, unless you work together with your other mice friends, and your mouse shaman, to get it. Naturally, you act compeltely selfishly and the entire group plummet to their deaths within ten seconds.
The only way I've ever seen a level be properly completed is when self preservation keeps the mice in line, such as being on a single platform, with no possible way to bridge the gap between it and the cheese without the shaman's help. Even then, the instant there's the slightest chance, the mob surges forward, and they (mostly) plummet to squeaky deaths.
Oh, and the best thing about it? Completely, unreservedly hilarious.
From blind, ignorant cooperation to an actively malicious form of it, Everybody Edits is a multiplayer platformer. The catch is that, while the other players can't directly effect you in any way, by progressing through the levels, they screw with you in the most frustrating way.
A few months ago they introduced key platforms into the game, which are tied to a key. Green key toggles green bricks, red key toggles red bricks, etc. And by 'toggle', I mean toggles their existence. So you might be running down a long, presumably safe line of green bricks, before suddenly someone ahead of you in the level hits the green key, and bam, you're back to square one. It's horrendous. And brilliant.
This is all added to the fact that each level is made by a player, and then either locked, for it to be played, or left open, for it to be played with. There are some masochistic bastards out there.
There seems to be a bit of an undercurrent of collective futility going on here, but I promise that it'll clear up soon. MS Paint Adventures is a text adventure/web comic hybrid that essentially allows the audience (players) to vote by democracy on what they want to happen next. In text adventure style.
Each 'scene' is presented with an image and a description, labelling the items in the room and such, before allowing people to suggest a course of action, and then selecting the best one. Ok, not really democracy, but you get the idea.
The main issue with this one is that, while it's a great concept, if it's not one that you were with from the beginning, then you're going to either have to do a lot of homework, or have a perpetually bemused look on your face.
Which, coincidentally, is the default expression when dealing with World of Text. The concept is simple; a giant, communal wall for people to graffiti. The reality is this completely mental assortment of ASCII art and nonsensical phrases, butchered by an errant delete key, or enhanced by someone's twisted mannerisms. And then of course you have the half finished arguments, the childish abuse, and the seas of lols.
The other clever thing is that the standard world isn't the only one. If you add anything to the end of the url, you can create your own World of Text, who's security is derived by the fact that you need to know that specific url to access it. I like to imagine that this is how spies communicate, leaving cryptic messages on some obscure World of Text url, only to sign it with an ASCII wang.
The mysteries don't stop there, because Slavehack has arrived, stealing all your money and pinging itself through a dozen slaves before finally returning to the host, to cackle and sweat. If that's sounding a lot like Uplink, that's probably because Slavehack is explained easiest by calling it a multiplayer version of Uplink. It's all about an obtuse interface and stealing stuff that doesn't belong to you through the wizardry of computers.
The twist, of course, being that it's multiplayer, and thus your computer isn't just the target of security forces trying to stop your thefts, but also other hackers who'd rather break into a computer who's virtual space they won't get prosecuted for trespassing in. It introduces an interesting secondary style to the Uplink formula, forcing you to defend just as much as you attack. Complacency means cyberdeath.
You're probably familiar with the style of Kingdom of Loathing. It's that sort of pseudo-mmo kind of thing, firmly embedded in the web interface, with drop down menus letting you select your attacks, and page refreshes for every new area. It's a little ugly, but Kingdom of Loathing isn't trying to be pretty. It's succeeding at being funny. Really, really funny.
Take, for instance, the classes. They make absolutely no sense, but they're funny because they're pun based. So I'm a Sauceror. I fling hot sauce in people's faces, and they get damaged, because hot sauce really hurts when it gets in your face. Making even less sense, they're Disco Bandits, who dance at their enemies, fuelled by moxie. And this is all before you end up in the Haiku Dungeon, where not only are all the descriptions of your enemies in Haiku, but so are your attacks.
The whole game is consistently absurd and amusing, from the enemy types, to the genre conventions it apes so cleverly. And while you can't directly play with other people, you can steal their stuff, join guilds and interact with them. So that's something.
You might be detecting a slight theme here. These aren't necessarily the happy kind of multiplayer games, where it's all about how much we can help one another and be lovely. I'm not sure whether that's a symptom of games or the human condition, but either way, Neptune's Pride is the epitome of backstabbing, two faced, genuine human nastiness. It's a real time strategy game in the same way that glaciers move in real time, set in space and all about galactic expansion. Up to eight players start with a few star systems, and then expand outwards, until they meet someone else, and either decide to not kill each other immediately, or have at it.
Because the fleets take hours, and sometimes days, to get from star to star, that leaves you with a good deal of time to play the diplomacy game, trying to cement alliances and crumble the foundations of those of your enemies. You try to get them alone, when you know one party is out, and just start to gently wear away at their trust, until they're a human shaped receptacle for suspicion, and before you know it you've got galactic civil war on your hands, and you can mop up the pieces.
Or, I suppose, you could play it like an honourable, decent human being. But where's the fun in that?
No list of browser based games is complete without a zombie game, and I've got two for you. The first is Die2Nite, which is based around the idea of players interacting to create a town fit for surviving the imminent, nightly attacks by hydrophobic zombies. It manages this by getting people to vote on building projects, making you rely on strength in numbers to move freely through the wasteland, and nick one another's stuff when they're out scavenging for the good of the community.
Each town has a forum for them to discuss which direction they should head in, as well as all the amenities that you'd expect. The town bank serves an interesting purpose of not only stocking everything you put in it, but also keeping a record of what comes in and what goes out, meaning that you can start to get suspiscious when Johnny the Rat starts taking all of your weapons and only putting in catfood and dirt. That's probably a good enough reason to exile him to the wasteland.
Where Die2Nite focuses on the human interaction of the desperate times of the zombie apocalypse, Dead Frontier is far more concerned with the actual /surviving/. It's a blend of the abstract web interface overview, and a Unity-powered top down shooter for when you're investigating the zombie-addled inner city. It's remarkably pretty for such a thing, and while some of the animations are a bit stiff, the idea of teaming up with some friends and getting stranded out there, boarding up a house to wait out the night, is certainly an appealing one.
Being free to play, though, means there is a hefty riddling of micro-transactions, but the game itself is completely free, and it's just your advancement into a zombie-killing machine that'll be hampered by your tight wallet strings. Or wallet zip, because you don't live in the middle ages.
One nice touch that doesn't seem to be in enough zombie games is that gunfire attracts the undead hordes, meaning if you go trigger happy with your starting pistol, you're like to end up dead sooner rather than later. Leaning towards your melee weapon might get you injured quicker, but at least you'll only be dealing with zombies in the single digits.
The past few years, where we've seen the rise of both broadband and the capabilities of technology like Java and Unity, have been good to the browser based game. Realm of the Mad God doesn't particularly look like a step forward, but don't let its pixelated aesthetics fool you. It's actually running in a rudimentary 3D engine, and it's a hard as nails Schmup, if you head into the wrong neck of the woods. It's based in a medieval setting, but you're very much spamming whatever the attack of your chosen class is, firing out in all directions as you try and avoid the incoming projectiles.
It's an odd blend, what with having a proper inventory with potions and armour and rings and different weapons, not to mention on-the-fly quests popping up all over the place, getting you to kill this goblin wizard, slaughter that dwarven king, but the game has more in common with classic arcade titles than something like Oblivion. It could be seen as a Diablo-alike, but that's a likeness born more out of atmosphere and tone than how you play it.
It's also one of the more multiplayer games on this list. You can have almost a hundred people in a zone at one time, all off in their own part of the woods, killing their own bad dudes. Sometimes you stumble upon a few, sometimes you're left alone for hours at a time, but you're constantly stumbling upon the detritus of their passing, in abandoned loot, or just the eerie silence where there once was guys who wanted to kill you.
This is worth playing just to see what can be done in the Unity engine. It's a team based FPS in the vein of Counterstrike, giving you one life to live, and a lot of money to be made by killing members of the opposite team. Money you spend on guns. Like Counterstrike. See?
The impressive stuff is in the sheer amount of graphical fidelity on screen all the time. There's a tonne of foliage, and grenades have motion blur and shockwaves flying off them. Get hit and the screen starts to blur and distort, and the character models themselves aren't too bad. It's important to remember that this is running entirely within your browser, with you not having to download a thing. It's just there .
And, where BeGone has the looks, Quake Live has everything else. It's Quake 3, in your browser, to be played whenever you feel like it. And it's the type of game you just don't see around any more, all crazy fast movement and flying through the air on jumpads. Firing not at your enemy, but where they're going to be , with a vast majority of the guns. It requires lightning fast reflexes and even quicker calculations, constantly figuring out trajectories and likely movement patterns. The human brain is a bloody amazing thing.
If you ever played Quake 3, then this is just that in your browser, and if you never played it, then now's your chance. Obviously, you should have played it, but I'm not here to judge. You can make amends, just click the link.
It's strange to think that Minecraft was ever Minecraft classic. It seems like such an odd thing, going back to it, and just seeing these completely crazy constructs. You need to register to play on the multiplayer servers, but you don't have to buy the Beta. And most of the servers are just filled with utterly absurd and gradiose impossibilities, suspended buildings and insanely tall towers.
Strangely, most of them are filled with these one cube towers that seem to come about due to the ability to jump and place a block directly underneath you at the apex of your jump. It means you can get height really quickly, but you leave this block-trail in your wake that thrusts up pointlessly. It turns these servers into cuboid forests, whatever visual advantage the towers providing rendered pointless by this sea of pillars. Which is a sight in and of itself.
This one's still in beta, but it's interesting enough to find a place on this list. It's a browser based MMO set around a near-future dystopia, where you're quickly dispatching hoodlums and crack addicts. It's heavily instanced, but they're shared instances, so you'll see other people playing with you.
One interesting feature is the use of mercenaries, which are basically AI controlled additions to your party. When your friends are offline, they turn into summonable mercenaries, coming in at a fraction of the cost of stock ones, and letting you access more rewarding areas. It's heavily integrated with Facebook, but anything involving 'friends' does these days, so you can't hold it against them too much.
This is in beta too, and explaining it is going to be a bit tricky. It's a cooperatively centered MMO based around puzzle solving rather than anything as trite as combat. You're in a world made of ideas, that's glitching, (hence the name), and you need to go out and fix the world by solving puzzles and helping out other people. Except that's only about half of what you do.
There's also lots of crafting, and exploration, and customisation. There's bits of the world that seem to come and go as they please, with the bridging between zones seeming to be consistently unreliable. It's certainly compelling, though, and the world is eminently charming.