Multiplayer gaming isn’t for everyone. I’m a prime example: I almost invariably stick to single-player games, preferring the direction of a narrative-based experience to the chaos of multiplayer sessions. I even fly solo when playing sports titles; I’d rather delve into Franchise Mode in Madden than venture online to battle against other people. When I think about some of my favourite memories of video games, I often think of moments from single-player experiences: getting 100% in Jak and Daxter on PS2, grinding through the harrowing final chapter of The Last of Us, or the suicide mission at the end of Mass Effect 2. Solo achievements in games are always sweet, and some moments, as in life, are precious because they are unique to you: some things you just want to keep to yourself.
Of course, this isn’t always the case. We all have memories that we share with others that are just as meaningful as those we keep to ourselves, and shared experiences are often the ones we remember most fondly; it could be a road trip you took with a group of mates, the first time you met your boyfriend or girlfriend, or that time you all got smashed on Jack Daniel’s and poured vodka in your cat’s water bowl (maybe best not to remember that one). Joking aside, my point is that some things are just more fun when there’s someone to enjoy them with, and this often holds true for video games.
Recently I bought Overcooked on PS4. As I mentioned before, I mostly play video games alone, but I wanted a game that I could play with my girlfriend, who rarely picks up a controller. It’s been an absolute joy to play: it’s a fun, silly, couch co-op cooking sim that’s very well made and occasionally fiendishly difficult. More importantly, my girlfriend loves it and we’ve had a blast playing it together; in fact, it’s a game that is almost impossible to enjoy unless you’re playing with at least one other person. It’s a perfect demonstration of the ability of video games to bring people together to revel in a shared experience.
Playing Overcooked prompted me to think of other times when my enjoyment of a game came from having someone else to play it with, whether or not the game was any good. When I was at university I lived in a house with four other guys, but I only knew one of them before I moved in. One of the things we bonded over in the first few weeks of living together was gaming on either the PS3 or the Nintendo Wii (usually accompanied by large amounts of alcohol). Some of the games in our roster were what you’d expect – Mario Kart, FIFA, Call of Duty, and such – but the one we had the most fun with was FIFA 10 on the Wii. This was not a good game. It was a dumbed-down version of a normal FIFA game: the graphics were laughably rudimentary and the gameplay was childishly simple. There were, however, a few gimmicks that made it tremendous fun (again, alcohol helped). Performing skills with the ball built up your “Momentum” bar which, when full, allowed you to blast a shot at goal that the keeper literally could not save, and when you scored, you could shake the Wii remote vigorously in your opponent’s face to blare out an intolerable vuvuzela-like howl. There were times when we had to pause the game because we were laughing so hard, and we still crack a smile whenever we reminisce about it.
Some games that are perhaps better known for their single-player chops can also be great co-operative experiences. I had a friend at school with whom I bonded over a mutual love of gaming; we’d have sleepovers where we would stay up all night playing video games, watching Futurama and eating a ton of junk food. It was as awesome as it sounds. The game that sticks out to me the most from that time is Gears of War on Xbox 360: not the horde mode or online multiplayer, but the co-op campaign. I was never too keen on multiplayer but loved the single-player story, so my friend suggested we do the campaign together in split-screen. He was an infinitely better gamer than I was, so he ended up doing most of the fighting and had to revive my sorry butt every ten seconds when I’d run into trouble, but we still had a ton of fun blasting our way through the levels, high-fiving whenever one of us chainsawed a Locust in half and wheeling out questionable Cole Train impressions. Gears of War was great to play through on your own, but sharing the experience with a friend really stamped the game in my memory.
I think video games have a unique way of bringing people together and encouraging engagement. I love watching TV or movies with friends and getting into discussions about certain characters or plot points; but with video games, you get to share the experience in a more meaningful way because you’re all actively taking part, whether you’re trying to beat the crap out of each other in Tekken or trying not to burn the rice in Overcooked. I’m not trying to make an argument for gaming being better than any other form of entertainment, but I think it’s worth appreciating the unparalleled sense of participation and involvement that video games provide. I’m still mostly a solitary gamer, and that will probably never change, but reminiscing about gaming with friends is making me appreciate the virtues of multiplayer gaming more and more, especially now that I have an occasional gaming partner in the form of my better half.
I’m curious to know which games people remember as being great multiplayer experiences, especially the lesser-known ones. Which games stand out to you for their co-op or competitive nature? Are there any times when a video game forged a bond between you and another person? Is there still a place for getting people together in one place to play games in the age of online play? Answers on a postcard (or, you know, in the comments).