Forget Co-Op, What About Collaboration? - Oni no Tenshi Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Forget Co-Op, What About Collaboration?

Love may be a battlefield, but what if battlefields were forged by bonds of friendship?

The future is coming.  One of these days, we're going to see a huge shift in gaming from the predetermined narrative with fetch quests and stereotypical characters to something grander, more eloquent...we're just not there yet.  

And because it is today, all we get in the realm of gaming with other people who are not actually in the room with you is the current state of co-op gaming online.  Which, I'll be the first to point out, totally stinks like a week-old roadkill skunk in the desert.

I generally stay far, far away from online gaming or anything that boasts "fight with random other people that you don't know." This is for three big reasons:

"'Get back to the kitchen?' But that's where all the KNIVES are!"

1) The sexism is so thick you can cut it with a knife.  

Seriously.  I have heard enough "back to the kitchen" jokes to last a lifetime.  And the next person who thinks that being gay is the funniest insult ever is going to make me crack my keyboard in half.  I'm tired of being asked to show pictures of myself or have my body hypothetically dragged through a meat grinder of positive and negative comments just because I opened my mouth and my voice gave me away as female.  So to save my sanity, the only kind of online gaming I do is via StreetPass on my 3DS.

"It took me 20 years, but I finally got my Gengar!"

2) Online capabilities are intermittent and eventually taper off.

Aside from the last 10 people who are STILL playing DOOM and the hipsters who think that Game Boy Pokemon is better than the other Pokemon (because it was Pokemon before Pokemon became Pokemon, yannow?), there are very few games with online connectivity that stick around forever.  Many games that boast online co-op lose all but a couple people once the next game in the series comes out (I mean, seriously, beyond the fact that the original XBOX had crap controllers, who actually plays the original Halo anymore?), and don't even get me started on the fact that many players will randomly pop in and out of an online game, making the odds skew randomly in one side's favor.  Heck, I have been playing Etrian Odyssey 4 (which has StreetPass capabilities) for over three weeks now and I have yet to receive a StreetPass team from another Etrian Odyssey game.  And since it's the FOURTH game in the series, I'm betting that it's not because there was a lack of interest, simply the fact that many people have probably already beaten it (I went for the slow and casual play through because I work full time and have two kids, so game time is rare).  So there just isn't the wealth of people with StreetPass teams.

In-person co-op will always be in demand, whether you need a Player 2 in Smash Brothers or you want to go back to the old SNES Super Mario Land and play Mario and Luigi in back to back turns, but buying a game for its online co-op is basically the equivalent of being the Last Gamer On Earth once everyone's onto the next biggest and shiniest game.

This sign should be mandatory pretty much everywhere.

3) Co-Op is a misnomer.

With respect to the couple of people out there who actually play online games together as a team, real online gameplay is mostly chaos, especially when it comes to the FPS de jour.  People fight over resources, healers don't heal their party members, people will kill team mates if the game allows it just to be a troll/jerk, etc.  The problem with the way that co-op is set up in most cases is far too primitive.  It throws some people on one side and some people on the other and then gives them a simple capture-the-flag objective and then just lets them run loose.  But even if you're on the same team, that doesn't mean that you're really working towards a common goal (*cough cough* troll players), and some players are near useless because they're looking for loot or other items on the battlefield instead of helping towards the main objective.  Even worse are the "ball hogs" who try to do everything themselves and not work as a team, because invariably they end up being killed off and your team is at a disadvantage.

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How about a team attack?  Anyone?  *crickets*  Ok, back to single player mode.

"But Oni," I hear you ask, "What exactly DO you want out of a co-op experience anyway?  It's not all unicorn farts and rainbow whisker kisses out there in the gaming world, and if you're suggesting that we take co-op away, then you can pry it from my cold dead hands!"

That's the thing.  We need to shift our thinking on how we play online with other people.  It's all well and great that our retro games were only able to do the "you try the level then I try the level and we can see how we compare" and that later games allowed multiple people to play on split screen (Goldeneye), or on the same screen against one another (pretty much every fighter game ever).  And even the capture-the-flag-only-this-time-you-can-do-it-by-shooting-people-in-the-face and laser tag but with weapons kind of co-op was a new and fresh idea...back in 2004.

But I think that we ought to start thinking of the future, and not just the inevitability of flying cars and sexy aliens.

"Good evening.  May I interest you in a glass of wine and some scent marking?"

Currently, we have far too many games that focus SOLEY on competition angles.  Be it Player 1 VS Player 2 or Random Group A VS Random Group B, the focus is much more on fighting one another than anything more complex or interesting.  

We ALSO need online games that not only encourage us to collaborate and work in tandem with other gamers, but that actively reward us for working as a team and punish us for trying to do it all alone.  One of the strongest parts of humanity is our numbers and our ability to do seemingly impossible, yet amazing things when we work together.  Unfortunately, it seems that all too often, we are encouraged to fight, squabble and waste our time over petty arguments and differences in the minutia of how you believe something should be done only to basically make true progress impossible.

I am all for having competitive games and games of skill out there, but what I am trying to argue for is an increase in cooperative games that foster the kind of solid teamwork that many of us are lacking experience elsewhere in our lives.  This is not about fostering a "we're all winners" mentality, because if you don't pull your weight, the team (and yourself) suffers, but I do honestly think that it can become far easier to take pride in yourself and the gaming you engage in when you are rewarded for being a good teammate and punished for being a hateful troll.  Because perhaps we aren't all winners, but it's a more fulfilling victory when you can trust your team mates to have your back.

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So what are your thoughts on co-op gaming? 

Do you like the current way most games set it up?

What about the idea of StreetPass and other "random" battle systems VS playing only with people you know?

As always, I look forward to your replies!

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