I always think online gaming is a good idea, until I actually go out and try it. MMORPGs require too much of a time commitment if you want to get anything out of them, and FPSs are so relentlessly competitive, even (especially?) when you’re playing with a team.

And then there are the people. The liberal humanist part of me says that the communities that form around these games are authentic, sincere, and completely valid, and many of the people I knew when I used to play A Tale in the Desert reinforce that view; the curmudgeonly side of me has to admit, though, that 99% of the people you meet on in-game chat channels are morons and assholes, and that fact always drives me back to the comfortingly solipsistic world of offline gaming.

“Online,” however, doesn’t necessarily have to imply “social” in the mode of Halo or Everquest; it can also refer to “casual” games that can be played in a web browser, like Popcap’s Insaniquarium or Ferry Halim’s lovely Orsinal games.

Most of the top 25 games on Xbox Live are of the competitive multiplayer variety, and that’s why I haven’t been particularly interested in signing up. Xbox Live Arcade, though, gets my attention. The assortment of puzzle games (Bejeweled, etc.) and emulated classic arcade games (Ms. Pac Man, etc.) aren’t anything you can’t get elsewhere, but they’re also lining up shareware-ish titles from smaller studios.

Of course, between the NetFlix and the GameFly and the unemployment, my budget for subscription services these days is pretty much nil, so I won’t be checking this out for a while. But it’ll be interesting to see if Xbox Live turns into a viable channel for distributing small games.