Thursday, January 21, 2010

Single player games as a social activity?

A few years ago, my friend Brandon and I were chatting about games.  More specifically, games that took place in New York.  I remembered hearing about a game called "True Crime: Streets of New York" for the original XBOX.  It was a GTA-like urban sandbox game, where you played a cop who went on various missions around the city.  It had been out for awhile, and it was reviewed very poorly, but from what I read it was very faithful in re-creating the streets of Manhattan in virtual form.  Sure enough, a week later, Brandon found a copy of the game in a bargain bin for 5 bucks and brought it over to my apartment.

After getting through the tutorial, our avatar was walking through a last-gen version of Times Square.  Without wasting a minute, we nabbed a car and drove our character downtown through Union Square and into the East Village.  Soon enough, we were walking through my neighborhood, looking at my apartment building as depicted in the game.  There was something very zen about the experience, but that didn't stop Brandon from selecting grenades from the character's inventory and start fire-bombing my apartment building. 

A few hours later the novelty of wandering through (and blowing up various pieces of) virtual New York had worn off.  The game was as buggy and rough as the reviews said it was, but it still remains one of the more memorable experiences in gaming for me.  Why?  Because for the first time in my life I was playing a game with another person.  Brandon and I both remember that moment and laugh. 

I've been playing video games since the Atari 2600 lumbered its' way out of the primordial ooze and heaved itself onto store shelves.  It's a hobby I've enjoyed all of my life, but there's one thing about it that you can't deny.  It's a very solitary one.  Sure, there are two player games, but most mainstream console games are made with a single player in mind.  Even social MMOs like World of Warcraft require that the player be sitting by him/herself at the keyboard.

Lately, I've discovered the joy of playing games with other people.  I recently went to a gaming meetup, where every month a group of people play through "Shadow of the Colossus".  I went to it wondering how it was going to be handled.  Do we take turns?  Do we each take down one Colossus (there are 16 in the game)?  In actuality, it was a very laid-back and loose affair, where people who wanted to play would play and the rest of us would just watch and make funny comments.  It was a total social thing, and I had a great time.  Something I never thought I would experience while playing a single-player game.

Honestly, I'm not sure of the point I'm trying to make here.  I just think it's great that video gaming - once considered the past-time of pale shut-ins, has become much more widely accepted.  Does anyone else have memorable moments like these?  Do share 'em!


  1. Totally agree with this one.

    I think the most fun I had playing adventure games was (partly) because I played them with another person watching me, or vice versa. We would throw back solutions, laugh at what just happened, or comment on the general situation.

    Even these days, I find games to be much more fun when I have a buddy in the room whom I can whip out commentary to when deemed appropriate, either as a viewer or a player.

  2. I played through so many single player RPGs with my best friend Andrew in Jr High and High School. Still the best gaming experiences I've ever had.

    We also played through Myst III together right when it came out. We set up two monitors on a table so we could each be scanning the screen for clues and two mice, so we could each control. It sometimes turned into us fighting over control of the cursor by both wielding our mice at the same time. It was hilarious and fun.

    Now, I'm looking forward to playing games with my kids when they're old enough!

  3. Growing up with my siblings and friends, we played like that alot. Even sim games, like Civilization, Railrood Tycoon, etc -- I have many fond memories of playing with a good friend beside me, and we still go back and say "Remember the time when we played Civilization together and we ... " :)

    past-time : should be pastime :)

    And thanks for the great games, Dave. Looking forward to playing the rest of them I haven't played yet when I have a chance.

  4. One of the most memorable times for me is just this past New Year's Eve. I had some family and friends over for a Pajama Jammy Jam and we played Wii Sports: Resort all night long. We had 40 year-olds playing against 4 year-olds. It was the most satisfying experience I have had from video games in a long time.

    **Two thumbs up on the post Dave**

  5. I've been playing video games with buddies for years. Consequence of being raised poor I guess. My parent's never bought me a sega genesis but my best buddy had one. I remember smacking him in the mouth when I got all excited during a game of dark seed (an HR Geiger adventure game). Even today my wife and I play single player games tag team. She gets one level, I get one level.

    There are games I don't share because I can't find anyone who cares to play them or they don't have clear breakpoints. Games like RPGs or FPSs I generally play alone.

  6. I had great fun one weekend last year playing through the old 2D Sonic games levels-and-lives with a couple of friends.

    Also, playing Defense Grid with a friend was great, discussing strategies and stuff. We got part way through the game and I haven't bothered playing it since, just waiting until he next visits.

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  8. Back in the day, I used to play games like Legend of Zelda for hours with my best friend. That was just how we played games, we'd get a new game and one of us would play it while the other would stare at the map and throw out ideas, and then we'd swap places when the other got tired of playing. Later into my teen years, I did the same thing with adventure games like Space Quest III and IV and King's Quest V and VI on my old 286 (and my friend's sickeningly fast 486 DX-33). Definitely my fondest memories of gaming.

  9. Oh, and Vince: I'm proud to say my son was actually able to find the keys, get the sword, kill the dragon, and return the chalice to the castle, thus winning Adventure on the Atari 2600 before he turned 4. Sa-weeet.

  10. @Stacy

    Oh, my GOD you just helped me reaquire a forgotten memory. Back in the late 80s, I had an Apple IIGS which couldn't play the latest games, but my friend Daniel had a souped-up PC. He lived a half hour away, which might as well had been on the other side of the country when you are 11 years old with no car. We actually played Space Quest 3 together over the PHONE. He's play the game and gave me the play-by-play, and I'd help him solve puzzles. We managed to get through the first section of the game that way.

    It wasn't until several years later that I played the game for real! It says volumes about my childhood that I never thought this was strange.


  11. Some of my best gaming memories are from playing the earlier Resident Evil and Tomb Raider games with my old man. We would take it in turns and hand the controller over when we got killed, all the time discussing strategy and arguing about navigatorial differences.

    It's bee a while since we played games together, but this Christmas, I went home and he'd bought himself a Wii and Darkside Chronicles, which is a two-player shooting game, retelling the stories of Resi 1 and Code Veronica. It was a very nostalgic experience playing Resi with him again.

    My other best gaming memory is Ocarina of Time on the N64. I never owned an N64, but my friend did, and I was round his house all the time... sometimes we'd spend literally a whole day on just the fishing trying to catch the biggest fish. Good times :-)

  12. Yeah! Even with the Atari (er, my family had an Intellivision) we still played one player games together some. Like Pitfall and PacMan.
    But strategy games are somehow better to experience side by side. My best friend and I (both of us girls!) would spend hours, day after day, working through Myst, Zelda: Link to the Past, EarthBound, Lemmings, and Civilization. I was usually at the controls, and she was coming up with the strategies.
    The EDC was actually studying kids working side by side to solve strategy-based video games. I don't think they've published formal results yet, but here's a blog post.

  13. Adventure games, specifically the Sierra and Lucasarts ones were required multiplayer endeavors for my best friend and I growing up. Two 8-year old heads are better than one when traversing the dangers of Daventry and besting the evil wizard Mordak or saving Brink from the madness of the alien life-crystals.

    Ah, those were the days. The days when "Load" was "Restore" and King Graham found himself powerless against the Yeti after foolishly devouring the beast's only weakness - Custard pie!

  14. Oh, also, me and another friend once spent a good while MANY years ago playing Lands of Lore 3 co-op. One person on mouse, the other on keyboard. That was great.

  15. My girlfriend and I get together with two other friends and we've played through a lot of four-player co-op games this way. 3x Crystal Chronicles Games, Zelda 4 Swords Adventure, and we're playing Phantasy Star Zero in a group at the moment. Not the same thing, but certainly nicer than multiplayer with a keyboard each.

    I happen to know a bunch of couples that play through games like RPGs together. They might refer to completing a game when they barely ever touched the controller.

    Generally, I've only really done this with games that I've considered to be 'stupid' in the first place, but I definitely recognise that it's an awesome way to play games. I hope to make games that people can play together.

  16. You know, I really do have a memorable moment like that. Well, several, actually. I've been a huge gamer for longer than I'd like to think about, really, and it really has been all about being alone until recently. I've never really been someone who enjoyed the FPS stuff, but then a friend of mine invited me over to play Borderlands with him. He said I'd enjoy it so I went. 10 hours later, we realized we had to work in the morning. To this day, I don't regret not sleeping that night, and...I don't even remember the gameplay that much. I just remember goofing off with my best friend and having a great time.

  17. I'm part of a game development society at my university. We had a day one summer after exams where we each brought some of our favourite games round to a member's house and showed them off to each other. It was great to hear different people's thoughts on their favourite games, and each demonstration was inevitably followed by at least one "can I have a go?"

    It was great fun, and we had a quiz and a Mario cake too, which all went down very well!

  18. Oh friend Tim and I do that all the time. :)

    Tim's an old-time adventure gamer (he's actually the one who got me into The Shivah), but he's extremely impatient, to the point of looking up in a walk though just to advance the story if a major plot point is sitting behind an annoying puzzle. I got used to this, but it always drove me nuts as a MYST player who kept the journals and beat my head against the keyboard when I got stuck. I usually work in his room, and when he was playing Tex Murphy: Under a Killing Moon, and about to consult a walkthough YET AGAIN, I booted him out of his chair and solved the puzzle.

    He was not pleased. ;)

    But this became a bit of a ritual after I kept on helping him out, and it finally became a method of play. He opreates the mouse and controls while I log information and provide commentary, the both of us using our eyes and minds on the puzzle*. We have had to consult a walk though once or twice, but nothing beats playing Deadfall, and having Tim be obnoxiously bright and cheery to counteract the quivering pile of mush that was me...(I don;t deal with horror games well) Of course, he still can;t beat MYST on his own, ha! XP

    Adventure games are fun on their own, but with the old, insanely difficult ones, it's nice to have a co-pliot. :)

    *I think this works so well is I'm very left brained, and he's almost entirely right brained, so we really make up one brain between us. Yes, I know that sounds awful...

  19. @Dave: This has been my thought for a long, long time. I've been playing games since 1983 at the age of 5, and never looked back until around 2000 when somehow, where games were headed just no longer seemed to meet my expectations. The focus on gameplay wasn't there any more. But on the topic of playing games with friends, I have so many AMAZING memories. You know that thing they say about your life flashing before your eyes in your last moments? Well I know that if that ever happens to me, some of those moments are going to be me as a kid with my best friends at Ataris, Commodores, PCs, Nintendos... Very often "sharing" single player games, but if not that then at least playing on the same keyboard or telling people to get a move on in hotseat or turnbased games (Lords of Conquest and HeroQuest come to mind). It was very much like the paper-and-pencil RPGs like D&D, ShadowRun, Gamma World and so on that we played as kids and teenagers -- a truly social experience. Or playing LAN games with a room full of buddies as we did in the 90's during high school and college. No sit-alone-in-my-room online game can ever beat throwing food and yelling insults and laughing with your mates who right beside you. And then going out together for a beer, after (or between) games.

    I play one online game and that's WoW. Why? Not because it's an MMO, but because it's a fun RPG and I like being in that world with my partner, who loves it as much as I do. Without her in the room with me during at least half those sessions, it is an unfulfilling waste of time.

    (By the way, she really likes The Shivah which is how I found your site.)

    @Joe: Re playing FPS and RPGs alone, I so agree with you; this is why my work in progress (which is an FP-RPG) is a game that will entice players to want to play cooperatively, and won't be over once campaign mode is done. I have heard/read of many couples mentioning that they enjoy playing co-op RPGs, but there are so few worthwhile ones to be had.