When we talk about games, we normally use the language of conjunction, whether through accompaniment ("to play with") or conflict ("to play against"). Whether for competition, collaboration, or socialization, multiplayer games aim to connect people in the act of play itself.
Between takes on a very different charge: it aims to remind players of the abyss that forever separates them from another. In the face of this gulch, the best we can do is to attempt to trace the edges of our cohort's gestures and signals, as players of Between do when they interpret the origins of the weird, mottled colored patterns that appear as if from nowhere on their screens.
If most multiplayer games are conjunctive, Between is disjunctive. It is a game that aims to disturb notions of cohesion rather than to create them. And if any common sympathy arises from the experience, it is a feeling of comfort in the commonality of one's inevitable isolation.
Herein lies the weird logic of Otherness: apart from death, it is the one thing we human beings all share. And in so doing, it joins us even as it pushes us apart.
Before you conclude that the disjunctive multiplayer experience of Between is limited to the domain of weird independent art games, consider another, very different title that also employs disjunctive multiplay: Spore.
When Will Wright first began talking publicly about his "SimEverything" title, one of the ways he described it was as a "massively single player game." The game's many editors would allow players to create their own creatures, vehicles, buildings, and even planets.
To construct a rich, credible universe, these objects would be uploaded silently to a server, where they would then be deployed into other players' games.
Unlike purely generative stuffs, some semblance of coherence would be insured, since human hands would have created each object to be shared. But unlike so many popular user generated content websites, Spore's various matter would not promote individual creativity as its first goal.
Rather, it would serve as the Other in Spore's vast galaxy. The creatures, vehicles, and buildings that the game draws from a common pool become the beings, conveyances, and shelters of alien species.
As in Between, Spore's players do not work together, nor against one another. Instead, each player's creations, so familiar and transparent to the individual player, become the aliens in other player's games.
"Alien," a word that literally means "other," evokes anxiety because it suggests something utterly unfamiliar, making the alien creatures of Spore an effective source of disjunctive play.
In today's world, everywhere we turn we are enjoined toward commonality. Facebook wants us to see the same groups our friends join, the same ads others like us click.
Amazon.com and Netflix help us understand what others who liked what we like also bought or borrowed, and YouTube and Flickr help us see what graced the retinas of others who watched or looked at what we just encountered.
In the face of such obsession with commonality, disjunctive multiplayer experiences remind us that no matter how similar cultures, marketplaces, or communities might make us, some aspects of other people remain ever out of reach.