My previous Sunday Soapbox took the form of my inner grumpy old man moaning about the games of today, and the features they perhaps lack, or at least the features they have implemented that could do with an improvement. So this week I thought “why change anything, innovation is hard” and will be moaning at my screen again, although this time about the co-operative element of my beloved video games.
I play games alot, and one of the best (and sometimes worst) elements to any game are other people. My memories of World of Warcraft are rarely based on “oh this boss had mechanic A” or “oh this area was design in such a way”, they are based on people and more often than not the stupid things people do. To me that game is nothing without the community you play with, but what about the console? Watching adverts for the Nintendo Wii may lead you to believe that every game will feature a handful of people all playing together, but stepping beyond casual games, what are we offered in the realms of co-operative play?
The most common setup to be found on games is that of heading online – such as Xbox Live or whatever else your system happens to call it – and playing with someone from anywhere in the world, as the pair of you join forces to complete whatever objective you are aiming for that day. But what if the person I want to play with happens to be sat on the sofa next to me? At this point my console almost breaks as it searches aimlessly for a solution, generally throwing system link at me as if that was a useful situation.
When all you want to do is play a game cooperatively with someone sat with you, the options are surprisingly limited. Now I don’t claim that this is the case in all games, especially ones that are competitive. Going into split screen, or even competing on the same screen, is something that is expected of any beat em up, or racing game, and would be baffling to see a game released in this day and age without such an option. Yet ignoring this option is what most action/adventure/RPG titles seem to be doing, despite the fact they claim to have co-op.
If this were a shampoo advert, I suppose I would have to say “here comes the science bit”, but since it isn’t I’m not bound by such constraints, I am free to say what I please, I am free as the wind blows, free as the grass grows, so with that in mind. Here comes the science bit.
Tests have been done analyzing players’ responses, behavior and performance in a multitude of environments, with the emphasis generally being on testing the difference between the effects of playing together, and playing apart. When located in the same place as the person they are playing with a player is generally more likely to see higher levels of immersion (how involved with the game they are), higher levels of arousal (generally linked to how much they are enjoying the game) and on top of all that they are more likely to see a better performance from the player (this can vary with player experience and complexity of the task at hand, but there’s no need to go that much into it now).
Some games do include this element of co-operative play, and to those that do, I salute you. But the fact remains that developers seem to neglect an audience that wants to play together, and that is just ridiculous.