If you’re of an age that’s anything close to a grandperson type individual, or at the very least on the lower end of the Gen X age range, you probably remember the “good ol’ days” of home console gaming. Hour upon hour was spent sitting in your parents’ living room (in your own room if you were lucky) the shades drawn while sitting in the dark and nothing but yourself and Mario, or Zelda, or E.T. They were the best of times. They were the worst of times. But really, what we all really wanted was to be with our friends.
Back then you had two options. Go to the arcade or play along with friends in the comfort of home. While they both sound like great viable options, ultimately there was a failing in each.
In the first, while yes you did get to be around living breathing 4-dimensional people (we’re including the dimension of time here,) you didn’t get the chance to actually play very many games when it was all said and done. Your quarter at the top of Gauntlet was number 10 in a row of 10. It was going to be a long wait. You knew it. They knew it. Everybody knew it. You went there to play games, but instead you probably only got to play “game” singular. Add to that the fact that actual gaming time (known as AGT even if I just now made that up) was for just a few minutes because you never got to play it enough times to get anywhere close to good, and so yeah, you probably should have just stayed home and played Sonic the Hedgehog and eaten your cereal that also drenched with your very own tears by that point.
Sad, really. But you brought it on yourself.
In the second scenario, you and three of your friends went over to John’s house. But then you realized that while you didn’t have to spend as much time waiting as you would at the arcade, you still had to sit with a forced grin and faux entertainment while John and Steve battled through 20 levels of Contra (dang that stupid extra lives code) while you sat and waited and waited and waited for your turn to play. There were only two controllers you see? And there are four of you. It’s basic math. And math ALWAYS wins.
There IS a third scenario, in which your friends come over to your house to play, but then it’s you that dominates the play time and you become THAT guy/girl. And everybody hates that guy/girl. So let’s just skip that scenario for now.
Time marched on and so with it came an increase in the capabilities and blessings of technology. We all remember it. That magical day. Super Mario Kart with four, count em FOUR players at once. If you lived in the 90’s and had anything over a 20″ TV set, then it was as if you had cracked the Matrix code itself. Your once sorrowful tears into your soggy cereal were now tears of joy, probably shorting out your friend’s N64 controller but still. Oh happy day.
The need for social interaction is a basic primary need of human beings, and even with the start gaming being a solitary pass time, the social aspect couldn’t help but creep its way in to make the landscape of gaming exist as it is today. With the proliferation and access of networking and the Internet, gamers were able to set-up LAN Parties of their favorite games, be they Quake or Lucas Arts’ Outlaws. The number of people that could participate and connect got larger and larger as connectivity technology allowed for it. And because we are social, that is exactly where we gravitated. Because no matter how much fun it is to play God of War by yourself, at the end of the day all you want is a great big hug, preferably from Auntie Mable Sue.
In the past decade the co-op experience has become even more ubiquitous and in some instances mandatory. It’s hard to imagine ever wanting to play Guitar Hero alone. The Wii was popular because someone always broke it out at a party. And now, the bounds of connection can go outside of the home. These days, they will even sometimes bring the experience to you for a party with yourself and 100 of your closest friends, and there is always at-your-fingertips access from your console at home into the rooms of virtual strangers from across the globe.
But along with all of this good is the perceived bad, and the very reason why this article is being written in the first place– to combat that idea that co-op gaming has spawned a legion of stay at home zombies tethered to their machines with no sort of capacity for connection other than to their consoles or PCs (and 10% of the time, Macs.)
Here’s the thing. There is often a stigma with new technology no matter what form it takes. Numerous Internet and Facebook memes depict people with their faces buried in their mobile phones. And yet if you saw the same picture with faces buried in newspapers, we wouldn’t think twice. But who is more connected in that scenario?
Hundreds of years ago the world embraced the printing press and its benefits but some folks also got pretty antsy about some of the results. When radio debuted it was the spawn of some god’s antagonist. When television came along, it was cast as the villain in a role of bringing the thinking capacity of citizens to its knees. And then video games, the Internet, and mobile phones. It’s the circle of anti-life really, but it’s got to stop.
When people dive into their gaming worlds, sure it might seem more advantageous to go outside and play among the living to connect with flesh people, but really what is it that all those people whose faces are buried in their phones and swimming in virtual worlds doing in the first place? They are connecting with individuals on the other end. It’s just hard for us as outsiders to see it, and then we judge and get snooty and then remember the “good ol days.” Gaming today via technology has us more connected than ever before, despite what it might like like on the surface. This is in no way to say that you shouldn’t actually go outside and exercise and get fresh air, key components that the body needs just like social connectivity, but to paint a picture of disaffected screen zombies is to not look at the entire picture.
Really, no matter what new piece of technology comes along that looks like it will threaten to pull us apart, quite like one of the moral messages of Jurassic Park, “life (or in this case, connection) finds a way.”
With co-op games, we are WAY more social than we’ve ever been before. It’s not perfect, but it’s not the end of all things either.
What are some of your favorite Co-Op games and experiences? Let us know in the comments!