Looking through comments and reviews about some of my favourite games of the year, one thing becomes apparent: many people hate the fact that certain games have no online multiplayer, and are specifically designed to be played with a group of friends while sitting on a couch. I wanted to express my feelings as to why local multiplayer is important to me, and why I want to see it continue!
In late January of 2014 a strange thing happened to me. I was invited to a friend's house for an evening of gaming, featuring a few games that were specially designed to be played in the same room with a bunch of like-minded buddies. With a healthy mix of cooperative and competitive, pass-and-play and even some straight-up weirdness on the menu, the night was a roaring success and I left elated and connected to videogames in a way that I hadn't felt in many years.
Let's rewind to the distant past of 1995. This is the first time that I experienced the joys of local multiplayer, hunkered down in front of a monitor with a friend knocking seven shades out of each other on Worms. Prior to this, co-op gaming had been letting my sister watch me play Sonic, or desperately trying to teach my mum how to drive in Micro Machines, a task that she singularly failed to master even though she could drive in real life.
Later came Street Fighter and arcades, sitting at a mate's house watching him play through the entirety of Half-Life (before Let's Plays were even a twinkle in Google's eye) and Mario Kart on the SNES. Killer Instinct, passing the controller to each other in all night sessions of Secret of Mana and four-player GoldenEye with everybody scrambling for the two available Rumble Paks. This was gaming.
Then things got weird. The internet happened. Cries of "Noooooooob!" were heard across cyberspace. You didn't jump into the latest game immediately or have endless hours to hone your skills? Tough luck, you were now ostracised and made to feel generally terrible about your lack of skill. While I was growing up games were a way to escape the harsher facets of everyday life, but as time wore on they became just another place for people to bully and harrass. Win or lose, it didn't matter. I have been insulted and kicked from games for being rubbish (one reason why I never got into Left 4 Dead) and insulted and abused for being better than other players (thanks Battlefield). Someone once asked me why I continued to play online games after seeing my reaction to a particularly frustrating round of Battlefield 4, and to be honest, I had no ready answer.
Even worse was the encroachment of online features into previously single player games. No more was it acceptable to just chill out and engage with a well written story. Now you had to link Facebook account to grab the extra DLC, or let random griefers into your games to grab achievements. Sure, maybe some games had a co-op mode or two, but the huge amount of on-screen detail made co-op on a relatively small screen a pain rather than a pleasure and racing games (perennial drunken faves at uni) were shunted roughly into fully connected online worlds where leaderboards and competition took precedence over just having fun.
Gradually gaming lost its sheen for me. Battlefield, which I played religiously since Battlefield 2 tired me out due a torrential rain of insults and bad attitudes from people playing. Finding someone who wanted to play in a team, as a team, became a noteworthy event and probably meant that I stayed up way too late to continue playing so as to not lose this precious opportunity. In short, I was more or less done with a hobby that had enthralled me for more than 25 years.
Until that fateful day in early 2014 that is. Surrounded by a few good friends and with an eclectic selection of odd indie games at our disposal I recaptured that joy. I felt the same breathless excitement and sense of wonder that I had when I was 14, lobbing a holy hand grenade with perfect precision at an unsuspecting schoolmate. This was gaming at its purest.
Since then, our weekly gaming night has grown incredibly. We have had nights with twenty people, two TVs and a multitude of consoles. We have bemused security guards and old women with seven player Johann Sebastian Joust in the streets of a busy European capital. We have simultaneously broadcast the football World Cup whilst filling each other full of virtual arrows We have had representatives from more than five countries battling it out at once. We have hosted special events, tournaments and even two player only horror-fests. During all of this time not one harsh word has been levelled at a player, no-one has been ridiculed for being bad at a game (except Pablo, but he died in the tutorial level of Hitman, so it was fully deserved) and everyone and anyone has been welcomed with open arms into the event.
As well as being an inclusive and fun experience for anyone who wants to play games, these nights have also provided us with an amazing array of games that otherwise may have gone unplayed. Gang Beasts, Crawl, Nidhogg, TowerFall, ClusterPuck 99, Samurai Gunn, Spaceteam, Sync, SlashDash, Mount Your Friends and many more have altered our Friday nights irrevocably. No more sitting at home blocking people on Xbox Live for making disparaging comments about my sexual orientation (which is obviously tied to my skill on an online game). Now I get to drink a deliciously cold German beverage, order far too much take away and annihilate my closest multinational friends in whatever game we're playing that evening, and above all, laugh, bond and enjoy gaming!
So while I understand that online multiplayer is here to stay, and is loved by many millions of people across the world, there is and always will be a special place in my heart for local multiplayer, and I hope that more people can discover one of the greatest joys that games can offer: connecting with other human beings and having fun!