Video games are something that many consider a solitary endeavour, but a wide selection of games are best played on the couch (or remotely) with some buds. Over lockdown, most of us are not able to meet up with friends or loved ones, and I know that I’ve jumped into video games much more than before. Cue long hours staring at a screen, only exercising my thumbs, with no daylight. While this was cool for a bit, the cliche of the lonely nerd does start to kick in, and this is where multiplayer and co-op gaming swoop in to save the day.
The old assumption that video games create violent behaviours has started to wane over the last ten years or so. One study supporting this trend is ‘Video game play is positively correlated with well-being’, published by the University of Oxford. The study argues that playing games, especially over the various lockdowns, has had a positive impact on people’s sense of wellbeing.
One of the games it looked at is the ubiquitous Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which was released in March of last year. The paper studied, amongst other behaviours and experiences, each player’s approximate time spent playing, and how much enjoyment, satisfaction and fun they had while doing it. In short, the study actually found that in general, time spent playing the game improved the player’s well-being.
The game was let loose on the world at the ideal point in time, and gave many people, including myself, something to immerse themselves in and look forward to. This is in part due to the way the game is structured. Its tight gameplay loop demands the player revisit their island each day to collect new crafting recipes and wait for projects to be completed. Another draw is befriending your cutesy anthropomorphic animal buddies – or having your friends visit your island too.
This element of having to wait a day, if you are playing the game as intended, adds another layer of chillness, almost mimicking a real-life loop of having to take time to complete tasks. Only instead of waiting to hear back about that job, it’s setting up a new bridge to explore more of your island.
While I have always enjoyed hunkering down and losing myself in a pixel world for a few hours, my partner is less so inclined – but not when it comes to Animal Crossing (their hours played is currently just shy of 500). The sense of enjoyment I got from heading over to their island by seaplane, helping with menial jobs such as clearing weeds, and their pleasure from showing me, a novice, how to get things done was just lovely. Helping someone and being helped just for the sake of it was one of the only genuinely nice moments of the last few months.
It was this sense of carefree exploration and growth that prompted us to start our own Minecraft world. While carrying out mining missions for diamonds, my partner noted that we weren’t arguing as much, and in hindsight, this was completely true. As they would mine out coal, I’d kill the monster. They’d throw up a barn, and I’d add a roof to our house – it was all about teamwork.
The sense of escapism and peace you get from solo games can also be found in co-op. This can be a great way to chill out and take the edge off staring at the same four walls with someone for months on end.
While these kinds of life/survival sims might not be everyone’s cup of tea, there is plenty more out there to scratch your co-op itch. If you’re looking for something squad-based, check out Destiny 2: a large part of that campaign is now free to play. This gives you some time to try it out before getting too invested, and with online play only it allows you to reconnect with pals you might not have seen in a while.
Maybe you’re looking for something a bit more story-focused? If so, give A Way Out a bash. This prison break story centres around two characters, played by separate players, as they try to break out of prison and get off scot free. You can play A Way Out using couch co-op, or online.
If you’re feeling a bit fed up of who you’re around, why not give gaming together a go? You wanna kick their head in? Load up Smash Brothers or Street Fighter. Want to build bridges and work together? Load up a new world in Minecraft and build some stuff. Co-op gaming lets people work towards a goal as a team, and just having that in mind can do wonders.