My brothers and I, we weep. We long for the days when there was rage in the streets; days of entrusting the safety of our cities to a motley crew of heroes. We punched hoodlums and kicked ninjas, all on the same city block. Arcade machines sucked pockets dry as we mashed buttons. Poor player three, he gets Hawkeye. Poorer player four gets stuck with Vision. Those were the days. Just punch a trash can, there’s turkey inside.
If that all sounds like nonsense, you may not have much experience with the “beat ’em up” genre. Games like Streets of Rage and Final Fight cemented my perception of what cooperative gaming should be like, and I know I’m not alone. Yet, when I go to websites like Co-Optimus, I’m frequently disappointed. The selection is so scarce. Wanna play on the same screen? Sorry. Offline? Pfft, good luck. Oh, you want a cooperatively focused game, not a competitive online shooter with a crappy co-op mode? Sucks to be you. My major problem is that co-op is becoming a marketable feature now. Players just don’t expect it as much, so it becomes a special add-on. Are we so content with killing each other? Are developers just to lazy to make AI that is challenging to a group of humans working together? Don’t make me bring up Monster Hunter again…
I just want co-op focused games to be strong again, and I know that people will buy them. Games like League of Legends and Starcraft appeal to the competitive side of players. It’s true, there is this competitive instinct that binds a community together. Also, competitive communities make balancing easier, as players will quickly point out imbalanced characters or moves. However, there is a downside. Competitive games tend to give rise to the type of player that I absolutely despise: the Super Saiyan 12-year-old. These are the players who play the game religiously but possess absolutely no social skills. If you’ve ever been new to a competitive game and had your mother insulted by someone on your team because of your lack of skill, you know what I’m talking about.
This rarely happens in co-op games. The philosophy of a cooperative title is a reciprocal exchange. The good players help the new players. The new players get better and eventually are able to contribute to the objectives of the better players. When they become good enough, the burden of educating new players is eased by the growth of a knowledgeable group of individuals. Because the challenges in a co-op game are consistent, the game becomes more like a curriculum where new players can easily judge their progress.
Also, this doesn’t mean that developers don’t need to pay attention to the way players play the game. It’s quite the contrary. With a self-building community, the developers are free to continue challenging their player base with more difficult content. For example, enemy AI can be based on what the developers know about the fighting tendencies of better players. Also, PvP is okay. Remember, I said co-op focused, not co-op only. Creating an environment of player vs developer keeps the players and developers creative while giving new players a sense of safety and confidence.
I’m not saying that something is wrong with competitive gaming or that cooperative games are perfect. I like competition. Heck, I play LoL. But if we want more people to start playing games (and yes, we do), cooperative gaming is the way to go.