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Face to Face: Why I Prefer Local Multiplayer
With the recent releases of Destiny and Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS, online multiplayer is more popular than ever. You can’t deny the appeal; what’s more fun than crushing countless foes from all over the world? Considering Destiny’s explosive debut and the continued success of franchises such as Call of Duty, it’s plain to see the continued love for competitive online multiplayer games. I’ll admit, I’m not very good at most competitive games, but I do enjoy playing them, even if I’m getting whooped.
However, there’s a certain je ne sais quoi that gets lost somewhere in the series of tubes that comprises the internet. When you play multiplayer games over the internet, it just doesn’t feel the same as having someone else right next to you on the couch. Maybe it’s the lost satisfaction of rubbing it in their face, or maybe it’s just an unconscious feeling of separation, a 20″ LCD barrier between people that dehumanizes everyone on the other side.
I’m not the only person who feels this way about games. Game developers have decided that they’re tired of that barrier, and we’re seeing a lot of local multiplayer games these days. Some devs have even chosen to make their games exclusively local in nature, like lightning fast samurai-with-a-gun simulator, Samurai Gunn. True, that limitation may be nothing more than a programming shortcut, but it’s also a catalyst for friends to get together and play some video games. No microphones, no headsets, and no internet connection. Just a bunch of guys and gals hanging out, making jokes, and playing video games. That’s the ultimate form of gaming.
Local multiplayer games are often simple, and that’s one of their greatest qualities. The best party games are easy to learn, and games like Fibbage and Nidhogg understand that concept quite well. Nidhogg is obvious from the start: you are a colorful silhouette with a sword, and you want only two things in life. First, you want to run very far in one direction so that a giant space worm will eat you. Second, you want to stop the other silhouette from running past you at all costs. You can move left and right, jump, crouch, and lunge with your sword. There are few frills and nothing to get confused about. Fibbage is a trivia game based around bluffing, and it’s so simple you don’t even need a controller! Up to eight people can play using only their smartphones or similar devices, and every round is guaranteed to get everyone laughing.
They say winning isn’t everything, and in many ways that’s true. It sure is gratifying to know you’re the best person in the room, though. Sure, people win all the time in online games, and the feeling of satisfaction that comes with that is certainly real. But there’s something different about beating your friends and being able to look them in the eye while you savor your fleeting superiority. As you gaze upon their defeated faces, you will know true victory. They’ll have to wake up every day for the rest of their lives knowing that they lost and you won. They’ll have gained a unique respect for you and your considerable skills. They will question themselves and their entire way of living. They’ll begin training, clawing their way up the ladder of dominance, because they are determined in their hearts to reclaim their stolen pride. They will dedicate their lives to your downfall, because your victory has shaken them to their very core.
I don’t think local multiplayer ever died, as some might suggest, but it certainly hasn’t been celebrated for a while. The recent indie renaissance has punched a hole through the stacks of formulaic games, making way for an unprecedented wave of uniqueness. Of course, that’s not to say that uniqueness is exclusive to indie games. It’s simply more prevalent due to the freedom of devs to realize their dreams, rather than fold to the business-oriented demands of a publisher. With that freedom has come some of the most enjoyable local multiplayer experiences ever. Whether you’re working with your friends to beat Yama in Spelunky or simply kicking their butt in the many games of Sportfriends, you’re bound to have the time of your life because you’re sharing it with people you care about.
That’s the kind of emotion that can’t be conveyed with a microphone and an internet connection. It’s the tingling in your cheeks, the small tear in your eye, and the fists pumped over your head. When you’re laughing with your friends so hard that you fall out of your chair, you’re feeling it. It’s a small, subtle emotion that gets lost somewhere in your router and destroyed by LCD screens. Historically, loving video games was symptomatic of an antisocial lifestyle, shut away from human contact to focus on the screen. That notion is, of course, ridiculous, because video games are something we can do together. I love video games more than anything else, so being able to share that passion with my friends is special to me. Gaming with your friends, face to face, is intangibly better than gaming over the internet, and it’s something we should all appreciate.