Local Multiplayer Games

I try very hard to avoid being nostalgic about games.  I think it’s problematic.  I dislike the concept of the “good old days.”  I’m a believer (or sometimes I want to believe) that games keep getting better, and that as the number of people playing digital games keeps growing, game designers will have more and more chances to create interesting new play styles.

With that said, I miss the Nintendo 64.

I’m not nostalgic about the game design decisions or the horrible/beautiful early 3D graphics.  It’s not about the strange controller or cartridges with minimal loading time (and minimal storage space).  What I miss most is Nintendo’s little black box with four controller slots, that hardware decision that brought four friends together to play games.

The Nintendo 64 was the first major console to not only allow, but basically expect four-player games.  It was also did that without an internet connection.  This is an important distinction – the Nintendo 64 was the ultimate social console because it created great experiences for groups of people, and it required those people to be in the same space.  There is surely a touch of nostalgia as I recall Friday afternoons playing Goldeneye* with my high school friends.  Nevertheless, as much as first person shooters have improved since Goldeneye,** I just can’t get as emotionally involved when I’m playing Halo or Battlefield with friends on Xbox Live as I do when they are right there, next to me.

Sure, I love being able to challenge my college friend who is now in Puerto Rico to a game of FIFA.  It’s a great way to catch up.  When the game ends, however, we might stick around and talk for a few minutes, but there is no chance that we’ll go grab a beer together.  Online multiplayer games are to local multiplayer as a phone call is to hanging out.  It’s great to be able to call your friends, but if the phone becomes your primary form of social interaction, something very real and tangible is missing.

As I said before, I try to not to be overly nostalgic when it comes to game development, so hopefully my love for local multiplayer games is not just an attempt to recreate a happy past but a belief in a possible future in which multiplayer gaming isn’t just about online play.  There are a few very interesting games that are pursuing this style of play, such as Pole Riders, Nidhogg, 0Space, and Tennnes.***  There are also some outstanding groups, such as Babycastles and The Wild Rumpus, that have been putting together social events centered on games.  These games and organizations make me hopeful that videogames will stop straying farther and farther from basic social interactions.  After all, humans have been playing games for thousands of years, but pre-digital games were almost exclusively used as a way to bring people together in a common physical space.  It’s my hope that digital games won’t forget they can do the same.




*I mention Goldeneye because it was such a standard.  A few other multiplayer games for the N64 that bring back great memories – Mario Kart 64, Battletanx, International Superstar Soccer 64, Diddy Kong Racing (only for this one airplane mode where you have to collect eggs), Perfect Dark, Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball 64 (even though it’s a 2-player game).

**Seriously, if you go back to it, you’ll realize that beyond your high school nostalgia Goldeneye is a terrible game.

*** Some of these games are unreleased.  Sorry.

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