My alarm buzzes at 4am, interrupting the relative silence of a typical suburban morning. A redeye flight descending into SFO softly rumbles in the distance. The automatic sprinklers of our townhouse community whir to life, knowing no one should be up at this ungodly hour. I roll out of bed, fix myself some coffee, and power up Borderlands on the Xbox 360.
Coming from 2500+ miles away in Virginia, the voices of my brother Andrew and our friend Don crackle into my headset. Within minutes, my lingering drowsiness is replaced by adrenaline as the three of us battle a horde of zombies. We’ve decided that before our weekends get underway on opposite coasts, we’ll chat, get caffeinated, and blow up some bad guys.
I still love solo experiences. The latest Zelda or Fallout game will always be a day-one purchase for me. And yet as good as those series are, I’m having even more fun playing co-op Borderlands. I’m seeing my personal gaming habits shift more towards multiplayer; everything feels better with friends. Shared moments of victory when we take down a massive boss. Taking a break to look through our inventories and trade any loot we’ve discovered. Rushing to heal a downed teammate before he dies. Strategically divvying up roles on the battlefield and which missions to tackle next. Someone unexpectedly driving a car off a cliff, just in time to smash through a mutant spider that was about to attack a friend.
It’s an incredible escape; like most video games, we don’t have a chance to experience these kind of situations regularly in reality (unless you go car cliff-diving on a daily basis). Multiplayer gaming takes that a step further, adding layers of social interaction, unpredictability, and cooperation and/or competition.
Companies like Valve have it right when they say they’re done with single-player games. That doesn’t mean every game has to have a co-op or deathmatch mode tacked on where it doesn’t make sense. Modern developers are increasingly figuring out smart, creative ways to work multiplayer elements into traditionally solo experiences (the shining example being Demon’s Souls).
Trudging through a post-apocalyptic wasteland with two of my best friends over coffee? I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday morning.