Some of my fondest gaming memories happened at my local public library. Every so often, my brother and I would bike there to take advantage of its setup of multiple adjacent computers. We would spend hours on Saturdays playing Runescape Classic, a massive multiplayer online role playing game that was popular back in our middle school days.
Something about the simultaneous cooperation that sitting in the same area afforded us made it all the more fun, like we were an actual band of heroes tasked with bringing the mighty dragons and wizards of the world to their knees. Because we were in the room together, we increased each other’s suspension of disbelief.
Many people have similar memories. Some sat on the floor next to their friends playing co-op console games. Some hauled all their hardware to a friend’s kitchen table for what was to be the most epic of Local Area Network parties. Whatever the setup, the camaraderie always added another element to what was an already exciting gaming experience.
Sadly, multiplayer gaming has moved away from social and cooperative elements in favor of a more convenient pick-up-and-play model that has gamers connecting with strangers they can mute rather than engage.
Some say this attitude is what’s killing opportunity for games like game developer Turtle Rock Studio’s Evolve. Evolve is a game with a unique twist given today’s market. In it, four players team up to hunt down and kill a fifth player-controlled beast. If the beast-mode player (shout out to Marshawn) wants to come out on top, he’ll have to defeat other beasts in the area and evolve to gain more power. If the hunters want to win, they’ll have to work together to outsmart (and outshoot) their rather large and scaly competitor.
Reviews for the game don’t predict it will sell. Not because the game doesn’t have the goods, but because there doesn’t seem to be a market for truly cooperative multiplayer gaming anymore. It’s easy to understand why people think this is the case just by looking at the most popular co-op games out right now.
When you play team deathmatch in a game of Call of Duty or Halo, most players go off and do their own thing. The same can be said of other popular online titles such as Destiny, Grand Theft Auto, etc. That strategy will not fly in Evolve. The Hunters’ options are work together or get squashed under their adversary’s monstrous feet.
But despite the doom and gloom coming from the mainstream gaming media, I’m optimistic. Evolve is a killer game concept that’s well executed and unique, and there are loads of games out there that do competitive cooperative multiplayer exceptionally well. For some reason they’re just overlooked in this particular iteration. League of Legends is just one example of a mega-popular title that almost requires players to work well in tandem if they want to win. The title is now even played as a competitive e-sport in huge arenas to sold-out crowds!
So why do the majority of online games facilitate this sort of lone-wolf style of play? Mainly because these games are easy. It’s easy to stick someone in a random team on a random map and tell them to go shoot players wearing a different color. It’s easy to stick them in the middle of a sandbox city and tell them they can do whatever the hell they want.
Teamwork, on the other hand, is hard.
Business, athletics, marriage, you name it. It takes teamwork. Of course you have to put in the effort, but the rewards are far greater than if you had tried to go it alone. Evolve is a phenomenal reward, but we as gamers have to work at it. And there are tons of ways we could go about doing so.
We can phone in friends and ask them if they want to play. We can host 21st century Local Area Network (LAN) parties, complete with consoles and monitors (easier than it sounds, especially on college campuses). We can make friends online and ask them to play. We can even just log into games like Evolve knowing that we’ll have to cooperate and just try our best not to be complete jerks.
Personally, I miss the days of LAN. But games like Evolve are fresh and give us the opportunity to go back to that time. Call it whatever you like, but it’s about time our games went through some devolution.