Note: This post is going to be a bit different from my normal opinion pieces. In fact, it’s not so much an opinion piece as a personal account of my experiences with coop games. In other words, it’s going to be a lot sappier and more personal than you might be used to from me!
In the last few years, I’ve played a lot of games. In fact, since I started freelancing and interning at games magazines and websites, I’ve found that I have little time for anything else these days. For better or worse, gaming has become an integral part of my life and much more than just a hobby to me. Consequently, I’ve thought a lot about what I look for in a game and my standard is probably much higher than when I was just playing them casually in my spare time. What I most look for in games these days are deep stories, incredible worlds and immersive gameplay. I find myself drawn to games like Far Cry 3 or BioShock Infinite, games that aren’t the easiest to just pick up and put down without getting invested in. Games like this are great, but what I realised was that In the midst of all that playing and analysing and searching for the next best gaming experience, I lost sight of part of the reason I got into gaming in the first place – to have fun. It took playing with other people to take me back to my roots, to remind me of why I love gaming so much. There’s a special magic to coop games that no other type of game has and I really believe everyone should share this kind of experience at least once with someone else.
Gaming with other people has often seemed like more of a hassle than it’s worth. You have to deal with other people’s play styles, competitiveness (because even in a coop game people find a way), differing levels of skill and sometimes, clashing personalities. I’ve seen friendships tested over games and heated words exchanged over as simple a game as New Super Mario Bros. I’ve generally preferred playing on my own, inside my own little bubble. Since I started playing games more regularly (when I was a teenager) gaming has always been a very personal experience for me. Back then it was purely a form of escapism. My favourite games from around that time were Knights of the Republic 1 & 2, the original Fable and Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. I was a massive RPG fan. I loved those detailed worlds, involved stories and being able to explore and interact with people in the game to my heart’s content. Since then, I’ve played all manner of games from many different genres, but RPGs will always have a special place in my heart.
However, it wasn’t always like this. There was a time when I was young that gaming was an exclusively coop experience or at least one shared with others. When I was a little cheeese toastie, I used to live above my cousin. They had an N64 and NES and I used to go downstairs to play games all the time. Though the memories are already hazy, the feeling it’s left with me has never really died. I think those times we spent together are still some of my favourite gaming memories to this day and is part of the reason that after so many years and so many things have happened in our lives, we’re still best friends. Obviously we shared a lot of other memories together and had fun in other ways too, but those early days of playing games together and trying to beat games together (like Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers) helped instil a lasting companionship and a sense of teamwork and togetherness that only grew stronger over time.
Then the gaming scene changed. Graphics got better, there was a higher standard of writing, characters and quests became more involved and games became more akin to interactive blockbusters than the little timewasters of the past. BioShock Infinite isn’t something I would pop in to play for fifteen minutes to half an hour. So, the second stage of my life in gaming life began and while it was in many ways a lot more fulfilling and exciting than gaming was when I was a kid, it was also a lot lonelier, at least for me.
It was only when I started having LAN parties again with friends that I began to rediscover the joy of including other people in your experience and of just slowing down and taking it easy sometimes. I remembered that gaming doesn’t need to be an intense experience all the time. It doesn’t always have to live up to your expectations or fulfil your gaming desires to be a game you enjoy playing. Sometimes, gaming can just be kicking back with your friends and playing a few rounds of New Super Mario Bros. or Left 4 Dead. Gaming together is also a way that I spend time with my boyfriend (the other Sam from our Minecraft videos). While some people might not think it’s the most romantic thing to do, finishing the coop campaign for Portal 2 with him are some of my fondest memories. Also, we’re clearly still doing the Minecraft videos and hopefully the fact that we love it and have fun shines through, because we are. Actually working together to build something is an amazing feeling and one that despite all our ribbing of each other, is something that strengthens us as a team. That sense of fun, companionship and easy going friendship came rushing back to me in moments like those. I started actively seeking these experiences more and more.
The games I found myself coming back to are coop games. PvP can be fun and most people have that competitive streak that makes winning all the sweeter, but coop forces you to work with other people. The sense of accomplishment I get from beating a level while working with other people is unparalleled. Sure, sometimes people still get competitive, especially when there’s scoring involved, but most of the time you have to depend on each other. Personally, I’ve found that I’ve learned a lot of important things along the way – how to be supportive, how to let things go when things don’t go your way, how to carry people, how to be carried, but most of all how to just let go and have fun.
Coop games reminded me of the most important thing – to have fun. It’s sad that there aren’t more coop games coming out at the moment, because I think they’re a central part of the gaming experience. In a world that’s becoming more and more competitive, as well as more isolated (in both games and real life), I think it’s important to find moments like these, moments that you can share with the people you care about, where you can just kick back and laugh and connect with other people. That power to bind people together I think is what makes coop games so special to me and if you haven’t included them in your life yet, I’d suggest finding a game to play online with a friend or better yet, picking up that phone and inviting him/her over right away.