My first memory of video games, like so many other people's, is playing with my family. I remember hiding behind pillows as I watched my mother play Super Punch Out!!. Or when I introduced my father to Wii Sports, the only game he ever learned to play, let alone asked to play with me. Whether in bars, malls, arcades, or living rooms, games have always been meant to be shared with others.
But with the help of the internet, games no longer need to be a communal experience in a single space. Recording video footage of someone playing through a game, known as Let's Plays, has only been amplified due to platforms such as Twitch, which allows players to stream their playthrough to an active audience. Friends in different rooms or countries can now play games together. The prevalence of online connectivity created a rise in online multiplayer games; games like World of Warcraft and Overwatch forgo the need for a couch and a television screen split to accommodate multiple players. Games with local multiplayer—that is, ones that provide no online capabilities to play with others worldwide—are therefore seen as obsolete to the gamer accustomed to the pleasure of the internet. So how does a local multiplayer game fare in a world obsessed with connecting with multiple people at once?
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If Overcooked is any indication, then it proves local co-op games are still a necessity. Fun can still be had in a single room, for both game enthusiasts and the uninterested alike. Simple in nature, Overcooked, by Ghost Town Games, is a co-op game about cooking specific recipes in a certain amount of time. From onion soup to chicken burritos, players will scramble to chop vegetables or grab cooked meat before it burns on the stove. The crux of the game lies in its wacky level design. Players are not just cooking in a kitchen, but sometimes on moving trucks, swaying boats, or outer space. The chaos of the kitchen is paired with the cooperation needed to succeed.
The game has unanimously been praised for its disorderly fun, and has been praised as a couch co-op game everyone needs to play. But not everyone is impressed with Overcooked: a commonly referenced sticking point (even among positive reviews) is the game's lack of online multiplayer.
On Overcooked's Steam forum, the Ghost Town Games created a thread title "Multiplayer Megathread" meant to "discuss online multiplayer" and give the team feedback for the game. The thread features many posts explaining why players refuse to buy the game until online multiplayer is implemented. One large post by a user named Apothecarrion titled "why couch co-op is dead and why this game should be online" details why they believe Overcooked will fail without it: "Outside of people within the gaming industry in some way, most people in adult life just dont have friends that want to play indie games when they are over at someone's house for a house party. It is like pulling teeth."
Regardless of whether or not online multiplayer is added to Overcooked, the outcry for online multiplayer reminds us that couch co-op games are not dead and hopefully never will be. Games should always ask us for intimacy; something is missed when not experienced together in one room.
Will some players miss the opportunity to play with friends who may live across states or countries? Of course. But perhaps there is an untouched group of people who will benefit from a simple game that requires no internet connection. "Don't get me wrong, I love online multiplayer too," writes Phil Duncan, co-founder of Ghost Town Games, over email, "but I think local multiplayer games offer a completely different experience to playing over the internet. The dynamic with our game is much more about taking people who are together in the same location, who want to share moments together and using local co-op to amplify that experience, to celebrate being together basically."
There is always room for intimacy, for sharing a couch and a laugh with person by our side.
Overcooked is in itself its own form of nostalgia. It takes me back to playing with friends huddled around a console because there was no other choice. As we praise the resurgence of collect-a-thon games thanks to Yooka-Laylee, or remastered versions of older games like Crash Bandicoot or Final Fantasy VII, we should also cheer for the games that pull us to the living room, playing with whoever would pick up the second controller.
Overcooked is in no way the first or last game to play with an emphasis on working together locally. For example, look at Bounden, a dance game created by Game Oven and choreographed by the Dutch National Ballet. Two players take opposite ends of a smart phone and move the phone to follow a string of rings on the screen. The movement of the phone forces the two players to move, as if dancing. Obviously, there is no online multiplayer for Bounden; partners must crowd a small screen, and trust themselves, their partners, and the phone to lead them to dance victory. Or consider the success of Pokémon Go, which has gotten thousands of players to explore their own neighbourhoods or cities just to collect fictional Pokémon. There is something satisfying in knowing these discoveries, dancing, Pokémon catching, can be done with a loved one or stranger standing right next to you.
So few games still provide local co-op at all, so if anything, we should be encouraging more of it. Duncan noted that he hopes more developers explore local co-op functionality. "I think there's a lot of people out there who want to play them, myself included, since they offer a truly unique and above all fun social experience." Even in a society dependent on the internet, online connectivity's appeal is still not an absolute. Nor is it still a necessary item for enjoying games. To doubt Overcooked's success is to ignore games' history with connecting communities together, both on- and offline.
The internet is so embedded into our culture that it feels almost sacrilegious to ask for games that do not require it, but having games that are strictly local co-op is a reminder to occasionally remove ourselves from online spaces. There is always room for intimacy, for sharing a couch and a laugh with person by our side. Overcooked encourages those outside of the gaming world to experiment without the fear of online vitriol. What better way to play a game than with a loved one, a trusted friend, or even a stranger at a party? I don't want my memories of introducing my father to Wii Sports to be to be a distant memory. I want to always hear more stories like it. Overcooked and other couch co-op games like it, will ensure that.
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