Single-player games have been, for many years, one of the only ways to get a story-driven game. For those of us who like our games rich and well-developed, we stuck to these solitary experiences, enjoying what we were given.
The funny part about good things, though, is that you don’t want to keep them to yourself. When you find something truly remarkable and amazing, you want to show someone else. However, showing a friend your single-player game is kind of hard to do. For a time, the only option for multiplayer games was MMOs, and a few, rare co-op games. Finding a good co-op game was difficult. Typically, they were party games, and those are only fun for so long.
Now, in 2018, we’re beginning to see a resurgence of co-op games. New MMOs are coming out, but so are new two-player co-ops. A Way Out surprised and delighted new players when it released in March of 2018, giving them all the thrill of a prison break and along with a heartfelt, honest story. Pode, a little indie game from Norway, presents an exciting puzzle and platforming challenge that can’t be completed in a single, hour-long sitting.
Moreover, games that were never co-op before are now adding that functionality. Unravel 2 comes with all the adventure and puzzles of Unravel, but now with two characters, instead of one. Pokemon Let’s Go is adding a seamless co-op mode to its main story. This new feature will allow entirely new Pokemon players to experience the game with their friends, and will help long-time Pokemon friends to finally play together.
So… why is co-op suddenly the hot new thing?
Many adult gamers today can say with pride that they were there to watch gaming “grow up.” Gaming became popular in the 1970s and 80s, when controllers could be used with old-school computers. Then, consoles came into play, hooking up to TVs. These early games were largely single-player, and relatively simple. As time went on, games would evolve in complexity, functionality, and hardware.
As children, we could trade and battle Pokemon on the playground. Those multiplayer functionalities were simple because they could afford to be simple. We didn’t need complex, involved multiplayer then, when we were still trying to find our social footing. Many of us had plenty of social time at school and with our families. We played games ourselves, venturing out into fantasy worlds and learning about adventure, independence, power, and balance.
As adults, though, there’s a significant shift in our relationships. We’re no longer required to see people all day, every day. Many will go to a workplace during one part of their week, but many more work from home, and still others may not work at all. We’re losing our social time. We’re losing our friendships, and opportunities to form new friendships.
And as a result, now, we need new games. Adult gamers need games that will help them bridge their social gap. Co-op games can do that. If you’re visiting an old friend, you can spend a few minutes playing a cooperative game with them, while you catch up. If you make a new friend who happens to like games, guess what? You immediately have something to talk about, and an activity to do together.
So when we, as consumers, see games that fill that need, we buy them, we play them, and we love them. The gaming industry receives that message loud and clear: “There’s a market for co-op games! Quick, make more of them!”
In sociology, there’s a term called “third places.” Third places are necessary, social spaces that allow people to interact with each other on even grounds. They can make new friends or interact with old ones, and generally have a nice time.
Those third places are disappearing. Once-palatial shopping malls are closing their doors. Community and recreation centers are underfunded and unknown, falling into obscurity. We’ve become so busy, many of us don’t have time to visit these third places, even if we wanted to.
But that doesn’t mean 2018 is the end of third places. On the contrary: They are thriving, just differently. We, as people, have adapted to our circumstances, and we’re using technology to our advantage. Third places still exist, and they’re in our games, including our co-op and multiplayer games. They’re in our consoles, our TVs, our computers. We’ve created digital third places, and this co-op boom is at the heart of it. The success of these games are proof that we’re adapting, we’re thriving, and we’re having the time of our lives.