Local Multiplayer: The Unsung Hero of Gaming

As I write this I’m not having a normal weekend. Having organised a weekend away with some pals, I’m afforded a brief sabbatical from nappy changes and unsociable feeding patterns. Monster Hunter: World’s selfish release date means it’s currently sitting at home, whereas me and my PS4 are sitting in a house near Worcester trying to not get jealous of my flooded Twitter feed of outfit pictures and defeated behemoths.

But it’s not all bad, in fact far from it. Because what this weekend away does afford me is the opportunity for a very underrated type of gaming, one that I’ve indulged in less and less in over the years – the local multiplayer. With a Nintendo Switch, SNES Mini and PS4 at our disposal, and the weather a washout outside, it’s no surprise that we’re gravitating towards this very social, banter-filled type of gaming entertainment.

An important point to note is that I am by far the most passionate gamer in this group, having brought along all the consoles on offer. My friends’ experience and passion for games range from the occasional game of FIFA in between parenting duties at the top end, to not having touched a console for a decade at the bottom end. This group of people are not gamers, to the point where they don’t understand how I can spend as much time gaming as I do, or indeed why I do it.

But what’s interesting is that despite my friends not being that into gaming, they are the ones proactively starting up various consoles for a few competitive games of FIFA 18 or a quick vs race or GP on Super Mario Kart. The best example of this being one of my friends trying to find someone to have a few rounds of a Street Fighter II Turbo with them at 4am, their rationale being – and I quote – “I’ve just had to play Mario Kart on my own and it’s no fun.”

(And given the entire house was still up at that point goes to show what happens when a bunch of dads get removed of their responsibilities for a single weekend.)

And now I find myself thinking in the late morning after the heavy night before, why this strange phenomenon is happening; people who by their own admission aren’t fussed by games are actively seeking them out, and enjoying them immensely.

For me it brings into sharp focus the unique joy and entertainment that can occur with local multiplayer. Firstly it’s a perfect tonic for the naturally competitive nature found in a group of men who don’t see each other everyday but have grown up together. Sure there’s fun in beating a single player game, or even overcoming some faceless random online but there’s nothing quite like rubbing your mate’s face into it, and being able to see their frustrated reaction. It’s the gift that keeps on giving no matter how long it’s been since you last picked up a game pad.

Also it’s arguably the most social type of gaming. An entire room of people can effectively be involved in watching a friend take on another, as everyone they have their favourites, we can all join in the aforementioned banter, and therefore all essentially be taking part even if we’re not directly pressing buttons. Somehow a group of lads watching me try to take down a Diablos wouldn’t have quite the same effect.

But perhaps what is most interesting is no matter how much enjoyment all of my friends get from this weekend of social gaming, I can certainly guarantee that none of them will consider re-prioritising gaming in their lives. Nothing will change in terms of how much they game moving forward or indeed will they understand why I am so passionate about it as a hobby.

Which when you see them get so animated over a game of FIFA 18, or playing co-op Super Mario World until the early hours, does seem a bit nonsensical. Except it doesn’t when you think about it, really what it’s highlighting is the power of the local multiplayer. The power to engage even the most disengaged gamers to have a go and enjoy the spectacle. Whether it be solely to get one up on a friend or whether it’s providing a dose of nostalgia, the power of being together and gaming on the same screen is powerful. And over the years, as online has become so accessible, local multiplayer has drifted from necessity to choice, and a choice fewer are making.

But what this weekend has shown me is that it can be the right choice to bring people together, irrespective of their gaming knowledge or ability, and give them a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It won’t change their perspective of gaming, nor does it need to, because they can enjoy the games for what they are, in the moment. And whilst some of us would prefer those moments were longer and more frequent, which is why we as gamers, game more than most, it doesn’t take anything away from the undeniable truth that in the right settings, gaming really can be for everyone and that joy we feel when we play, can be shared with everyone.

And I maintain the best way to share that experience is through local multiplayer, the unsung, forgotten hero of gaming.

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