With the release of Gears of War 4 this week, I wanted to touch on a topic that I’ve been wanting to write about for a while now. That topic is why couch multiplayer is so important, especially in this day and age of cyber bullying, racist twelve year olds, and internet trolls.
For anyone who is uninitiated to the world of gaming “couch multiplayer” simply refers to the ability for a game to be played by two or more players on the same physical console at the same time. AKA they are both sitting on the same couch, controller in hand, ready to murder each other on the virtual battlefield. This may seem like an obvious thing to include but many game nowadays are excluding “couch multiplayer” from their games. Luckily, Gears of War 4, and the other games in the franchise, have preserved the glory days of couch co-op, and in fact, encourage it! However, games like this seem to be the exception, not the trend.
I’d just like to say that I am not a “game expert” or anything, but I have been playing video games to some extent for over two decades so I would say that I can form a pretty well-educated opinion on the subject. As such, gaming is near and dear to me, and it is one of the biggest reasons I have bonded with my closest friends. This brings me to the first topic of why couch multiplayer is so important – having a shared experience and bonding with friends.
Just like going out and playing sports, riding bikes, or running around in the back yard with sticks, playing video games with friends in the same room can be a bonding experience. You may not be sharing the physical experience of what is happening in the game, but you are sharing the emotions, the strategies, the laughs, and the hatred (oh such hatred) of a cooperative or competitive gaming experience. I know that personally this has been the backbone of many friendships. There’s a great satisfaction knowing that you and your friends worked together to defeat a challenging level, concoct and share strategies, or unlock a new mission in the game etc. There is no stronger bonding moment than you and a buddy defeating a final boss and high-fiving in the warm glow of his smoldering corpse.
Next I would like to talk about the important social aspects of couch multiplayer games, and why I think they are extremely important in 2016. As I mentioned, when I was growing up, couch-multiplayer was a way to make friends and bond over our love of gaming. Too often now I see gaming turn into an outlet of online bullying, racisms, sexism, and overall deplorable human behavior. Some gaming communities are more toxic than others but across the board online gaming has become a cesspool of human indecency. The main reason for this, I believe, is the lack of accountability and face-to-face interaction.
The great strength of couch multiplayer is that everyone is immediately held accountable for their actions. Online, we can all hide behind a Steam ID or gamertag. Gamers can say despicable things and there are almost no consequences. The worst that could happen is being muted or ‘blocked.’ In real life, you can’t be “LeetSkillz420Blazeit” or “Harambecles”; you are Steve, and you are sitting right next to me. If you act like a dick you’re going to pay for it.
So, why is this fact so important? I think the main reason is that growing up physically playing games with friends, and being held accountable for your actions while gaming, has trained us to be mindful of the fact that there are human beings on the other end of those controllers. “Bullying” is toned down to jovial jabs and taunts. Swearing, sexism, and racism are toned down or eliminated, as alienating any friends from the group would be immediately considered a “dick move” and would not be tolerated (although, we curse like sailors because it doesn’t bother us). There is a sense of community, camaraderie and rivalry, instead of a community of competition and facelessness.
Lastly, one of the best perks of face-to-face gaming is the instant gratification it grants all the players. This can be because of amazing achievements of teamwork or because of the bubbling cauldron of salty hatred that brews inside your friends as you defeat them. Being able to physically see a person’s face as you attack them, pull off a cheap shot, or skillfully evade their attacks can’t be beat. Online, people can be silent or they can leave the game. In real life, oh no, you’re locked in and it’s time for you to get an ass whoopin’!
There is a strange satisfaction in seeing the raw emotions of two friends duking it out in the virtual plane of video games. Also, it’s fun to get the instant gratification of hearing the stream of good-natured obscenities that spout from the mouth of a defeated foe. In fact, many of my friends devote their entire game strategy to simply inciting rage-inducing incidents at the expense of their own character. The trash-talking abounds, the salt levels rise, the alcohol consumption increases, but in the end, nothing ever gets out of hand, because, again, in real life, the “don’t be a dick” rule is always in effect.
I hope to see the resurgence of more couch multiplayer games and I hope that more gamers support companies that encourage co-op and and couch multiplayer. Sadly though, the trend seems to be towards one of isolation and poor behavior. If nothing else, please remember, there are people on the other ends of those controllers and headsets, but better yet, have them over for a fun-filled night of virtual murder and obscenities!