The lights are on
With the prevalence and importance of online multiplayer in today’s gaming landscape, it can be easy to discount the importance of local multiplayer. However, I don’t think local multiplayer is any less important now than it was before online gaming, and I think it will always be an essential part of what makes video gaming great.
When I was in junior high, the game everyone was talking about was Halo 2. It got to the point where classmates I had never talked to would approach me and, assuming I played, ask me complex questions about my opinions on multiplayer balancing, which guns I liked best, or which maps I thought were dumb. Luckily, I had good answers to all of those questions.
I think I’ve beaten the campaign mode of each of the three first Halos at least twice, and I’ve played countless hours of online multiplayer. I consider myself a pretty big fan, and I’ve never owned a single Halo game. All my experience with the Halo franchise came from playing it with friends or at parties.
Halo was my introduction to a lot of concepts – expansive sci-fi universes, online multiplayer, cooperative campaign play, even first-person shooters – that have become very important, not only to me, but to contemporary gaming in general. I can trace a lot of the interest I have had in some of my favorite games ever, like Resident Evil 4 or the Mass Effect series, directly back to my experience with Halo. And I don’t think I could have had that experience with the Halo franchise if Halos 1-3 didn’t have such well-done local multiplayer.
The ability to share an experience – to connect with someone over a video game (especially with someone who doesn’t play a lot of video games) is something I think local multiplayer captures better than anything else. When I want to show a friend why I like a game, and want to convince them that they should like it too, I don’t have them watch me or just suggest they buy it – we play it together. There’s no better way to get someone interested in a video game than to be able to sit down with them and play it together.
I can’t even think of how many games I first became interested in after playing them with someone else, and if those games didn’t have local multiplayer, there’s a good chance I never would have been exposed to them. A lot of “hardcore” gamers like to make fun of games like Wii Sports, but it’s one of the best-selling video games of all time, and has introduced countless people to video games, all because they wanted to try something fun and a little silly with their friends and loved ones.
Of course, you can have fun playing video games online with your friends, too – I’m not trying to argue that local multiplayer is better than online – but the experience is fundamentally different. When you’re playing a video game online, the emphasis first-and-foremost in almost all circumstances is the video game. It’s possible to have social experiences playing games online and even to make close friends that way, but it tends to take place in the context of the game itself.
When you’re playing with a group of people locally, on the other hand, the game doesn’t necessarily have to dictate the fun. Rather, gaming can enhance a social environment, as an ice breaker or just something for everyone to do. There are a lot of video games, hardcore and otherwise, that are easily at their most fun when you’re playing them in this kind of a social environment.
I don’t think I would ever want to play Dynasty Warriors alone, for instance, but I have a blast when I’m playing through it with my friends. Sometimes you’re in the mood to just screw around, and local multiplayer accommodates that better than anything, too. My friends and I once spent upwards of three hours slaughtering an army of squid people using only mini-guns in Time Splitters 2. We weren’t working towards any definite goal; in fact, we were deliberating ignoring the goal in order to keep blasting endlessly respawning waves of predictable AI.
True, we could have done these things online, but I can’t see myself having nearly as much fun without my friends there to laugh at and with me at our stupid situations. And that’s the real draw to local multiplayer for me, and why I think it’ll always be important: Local multiplayer remains the best way of spreading the love of playing video games to others, of sharing the enjoyment that comes with playing a good video game.
Maybe if I hadn’t played Halo locally with my friends I would have still gotten into it, and still would have had the experiences I credit Halo with leading me towards. But I wouldn’t associate Halo as strongly, I think, with memories of a certain time and certain place, and good friends. That would have been true, by association, of all of those subsequent video games that I played because I got into Halo when I did.
A big part of what makes those video games, and gaming in general, important to me is that I have cherished memories that I associate with gaming. And the best way, I think, to create good memories of gaming is to have fun with friends and loved ones, playing local multiplayer. So even though online multiplayer is certainly the most prevalent way to game with others these days, I think as long as playing video games and being a “gamer” is a social experience, local multiplayer will continue to be the foundation of that social experience, and an important element of video gaming.
Email the author Harry Mackin, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.