How Do The Games We Play With Our Friends Define Who We Are?
Games that need us to interact the people nearby can change how we feel about them.
Games like Dark Souls build both asynchronous and standard co-operative multiplayer in a way that's very reminiscent of the way I remember getting help in Pokemon from friends on the playground. But, there's a also a certain loneliness to that. There's someone on the other side, sure, but you can't see them. You can't turn to them and punch them in the shoulder for doing something dumb. There are plenty of things that are great about online multiplayer, but this month, we're celebrating playing games with people in physical space, because it's an experience you can share, which might make the worst game, just that much better.
Smash Bros. for Wii U is easily my favourite game in the series, hands down. There was a moment when I was playing with friends, after six players were whittled down to two fighters with one life each We were an entire minute away from each other on Palutena’s Temple, this massive, almost over designed beast of a stage, so big it’s often hard to see yourself on it. We drew closer to each other, me flinging arrows from Pit’s bow, him dashing between floating platforms with Ike’s quick draw attack, until we met up on opposite ends of the bridge that connects the stage’s two halves. Our two anime champions stood off, both of us waiting for the other to make his move. My palms were sweating. I don’t know what he was planning, but I was expecting another quick draw, which I would counter with a deadly dashing uppercut, then follow him up into the air for an easy kill. Unless he countered, in which case I’d get flung a short distance and use my guardian orbitars to block a follow up hit. Then we’d be back to the anime Mexican standoff.
When I was young, one of the coolest board games I never got to play was Mouse Trap. There was something semi-mystical about the game of building something. To this day, I don’t quite understand how the game works (I’m pretty clear on the part where you build a mouse trap so elaborate it’d make Rube Goldberg indecent, I just don’t get what happens next) but whenever I think about it, I imagine the weight of the pieces in my hands, the feeling of things snapping together for some greater purpose. I loved Lego, but Lego didn’t have a goal. Lego told stories, sure, but it wasn’t a game. Lego had a magical ability to draw my imagination out of me when it was in my hands, but Mouse Trap, a game I never played and only ever saw in commercials starring multicolored mice and overacting children, captured me.
Some Japanese arcade machines don't have controls for a second player. Instead, they get two cabinets to be networked together. Sometimes, the two machines are right next to each other, sometimes they're across, so you can't see your opponent but you always know where they are. Sometimes, as was the case with the Japanese machines in the arcade I went to a few times in high school, they were scattered among the giant lineup of cabinets, so you had no idea who was playing with you. It added this palpable sense of loneliness to whatever game you were playing, since any opponent was essentially a CPU. There was no face to them, no name, just a series of strategies and inputs that was trying to defeat you.