Antisocial Gaming

My brother recently got Titanfall which means that I got to go a few rounds at it. That game is fun. It’s also unique in that there’s no traditional single player mode; the only way to play is competitive online multiplayer. It makes sense. There are plenty of games out there where the single player campaign is often passed over in favor of the far more popular multiplayer. But here’s the thing aboutTitanfall: only one person can play per console. If you want to play with a friend, they’ll need their own copy of the game and their own console and tv to play.

What strikes me as odd is how opposed this is to what gaming used to be. When video games first went mainstream with Pong back in the ‘70s, the arcade cabinet was designed so that when people were playing it they’d be forced to be almost shoulder to shoulder. In this brave new world of digital gaming there would still be interaction with other people. Sure, single player games against AIs were there too, but there was always the option to play a game with someone.

I’ve always loved playing video games with someone else. Sometimes this would mean scrambling to find my cable so I could battle that kid’s Pokémon team with my own. I have many fond memories of hours spent playing Crash Team Racing and Bomberman Party Edition while growing up. Heck, we even found ways to make single player games in the Mega Man series multiplayer by taking turns every game over/level.

In recent years this could be four of us yelling and taunting each other while playing Fifa or the hilarity that inevitably ensues when playing Super Smash Bros at four in the morning. Then there are the hours spent playing Halo in one form or another, or running around Lego New York with a friend in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes. Sure, these games can be played alone and you don’t necessarily even need to be in the same room as someone else to play with them, but there’s something special about sitting on the couch and playing against or with those around you. There’s a shared enjoyment for the comedy of what can play out on screen, or even the simple knowledge that someone saw that awesome move you just pulled.

Social-on-the-couch-with-your-friends-gaming probably hit its peak with Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Those games let you live out your rockstar fantasies and were that much more fun when you have some friends playing members of your band. You could play on your own, and it was still fun, but the experience was enhanced by having people with you. These games were designed around sociality. By having the controllers be plastic instruments rather than tapping buttons on a gamepad, players were encouraged to really immerse themselves not only in the game, but in the fantasy of being in a band on stage. And c’mon, if you’re gonna play a cover of “Livin’ On A Prayer” you can’t do it alone.

But as those plastic controllers have gotten dustier it seems that less and less games are aiming for that on-the-couch interaction. No, not all games need to have local multiplayer. Some do very well without it: The Last Of Us’ incredible atmosphere works best when it’s only one person using the television. But even then, when racing games with local multiplayer are becoming less and less common, it’s worrisome.

Don’t get me wrong, I think some of the stuff that’s happening in games is great. Titanfall making the campaign a competitive multiplayer is a cool idea and Destiny’s amalgamation of the FPS and MMO genres is not only unique but a hell of a lot of fun. Destiny in particular fosters a sense of togetherness by letting you team up with other Guardians roaming the wastes. It’s fun, especially if players have other friends with the same game and console. I just want there to always be games for those of us on the couch.

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