I once wrote a post extolling the virtues of couch co-op games. In it, I made a big deal about being able to sit down with friends and play video games (and some other sob-story stuff). I still believe playing co-op games is one of the better parts of gaming.
But over the years, I’ve realized there is something I like more than good old-fashioned splitscreen fun.
There is seriously nothing better than playing a single-player campaign with a buddy.
Just hear me out.
Since a single-player experience is meant to be played by one person, a stronger emphasis on narrative is given to these campaigns. Player choice and immersion are focal points.
If you’ve never played one, imagine an interactive movie that could last you for days.
And sure, I’ve watched my fair share of movies alone, but I draw extra enjoyment from watching a movie with a friend and having the same or a different reaction. It’s one of the things I live for.
Looking back on my gaming experiences then, the ones I love the most are the ones where a friend and I went through the highs and lows of a single-player campaign together.
My friend Bubba is the number one person I do campaigns with. We have such good memories of playing video games together, even if one of us was mostly a passive observer during the whole thing.
We played Alien: Isolation, a survival horror game, all the way through by passing off the controller every ten minutes. That time limit wasn’t arbitrary. Ten minutes was about as long as we could stand the stress of having to creep around a space station with a Xenomorph stalking us. The game was so stressful, we practically threw the controller at the other person when our turn was up, even if a Xenomorph was charging us at the time.
We played Life Is Strange, an episodic, dialogue-driven adventure, together. At first, we laughed at the downright dumb that seemed to permeate character decisions and reactions. But after a while, we got sucked into the high school drama. We even have personal catchphrases we use that come from this game. We’re terrible trash people.
We played the latest Prey game together. We both really like sci-fi, so this survival adventure game on an abandoned space station infested with a new alien life form was perfect for us genre-wise. Plus, we both had different styles of playing, and they both worked. I was the sneaky sneakerton that would whack enemies from behind with a wrench or a silenced pistol shot, and Bubba was the all-sprint-all-the-time kind of player who favored the shotgun and psychic blasts.
I watched Bubba play through Celeste, an indie platformer that is all about fighting your way through your own insecurities while remaining true to yourself. I’m not terribly skilled at platforming, but Bubba was a mad genius. He died almost 1000 times (not joking), but he persevered all the way to the end.
Bubba watched me play Mass Effect: Andromeda, a sci-fi RPG, and laughed at me the entire time. He called me obsessed because I kept trying to spark relationships with any turian I could find. And we both laughed at the insane amount of glitches we ran into.
I don’t think I’m alone in the gaming community in liking the feel-good feeling of a single-player campaign experienced alongside a friend. (I mean, that’s probably why Let’s Plays exist in the first place. Let’s Players are like substitute friends who play games for you.)
There’s just something to be said for playing a game in a way that, perhaps, it wasn’t exactly meant to be played.