The Couch Wasn’t Always This Lonely

A good friend and colleague once said that social video games were a misnomer. That games had always been social, you would go home and play games, come back to school or work to talk about them. You would sit on the same couch to play them together. That social gaming was just video games being social in a new way.

The thing I miss about “old school” social games is that we used to have to sit on the same couch and play games together. Now we can play on completely different continents. Which is amazing experience. We have the ability to play games with friends who live thousands of miles away. Our generation may talk more through a headset over Call of Duty than we do an actual phone. That’s kind of crazy and amazing when you think about it.

The result though is that the couch has become more of a lonely place when you want to play games. I don’t have friends over to play games anymore and I rarely play games with them at their place. It’s not that either of us doesn’t want to play in the same room, it’s that there are fewer games that allow this ability.

It’s odd how this feeling can finally make someone old. I’m desperately trying not to say “back in my day…” in regards to the whole ordeal… but…

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Back in my day, one of the best social video game experiences I can remember is playing Streets of Rage 2 on the Sega Genesis with either my brother or friends. Back then we got to a point where we could see how quickly we could get through the game. Timing things so that we knew how much health or lives we needed to get to the credits. Knowing exactly where every apple and turkey was on the way there.

We were doing speed trials without even knowing it.

Today not many games reach this level of commitment, although part of that might have to be in regards to becoming a “grown up.” But having someone talk into my ear as we complete a challenge is fundamentally different than having him or her sitting next to you. As much as you might like to, you can’t high five someone when you complete a difficult mission when they’re not sitting next to you.

Alternatively, this works the same way when things don’t go well. When I play games online I can give excuses as to why we failed. Someone had issues with lag. Communication dropped out so we weren’t able to talk to each other. There’s a whole list of things that can happen.

These are things that don’t exist when you’re sitting side by side. You’re literally looking at the same screen seeing what the other person is doing. There’s no lag time in communication, therefore any communication issues are due to miscommunication in real time.

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You can get frustrated with someone much more easily when they saw the same thing you did. I mean they can see your health bar in Streets of Rage 2, so when your friend who is only missing a sliver of health takes the Turkey for the level you’re on, it’s much less forgivable than when you’re playing an FPS online and don’t necessarily have access to your friend’s health bar.

Couch co-op is an experience I miss deeply. It may sound funny but some of the best frustration I’ve had is with a friend and they mess up. Some of the best rewards I’ve had is working together so well to beat a game in an afternoon.

I mean, when you’re in sync and you manage to beat Streets of Rage 2 in a handful of hours, you feel like gladiators.

And who doesn’t want to feel like gladiators again?