The Importance of Couch Co-Op Games and Why We Still Need Them Today

As the online gaming world grows bigger and bigger with each year that passes, where does this leave the all-too-important couch co-op?

*Queue old lady voice* I remember in my day being so excited when the weekend came because that meant heading to my local arcade with a pocket so full of coins, I could barely keep my pants up. There I would see all my friends happily playing Mortal Kombat or The Simpsons among a cloud of cigarette smoke – yes kids, back then you could smoke inside because we were that badass and also quite stupid – waving me over to join them and partake in some two-player action for the next six to seven hours.

“One aspect I hate to see become less popular by developers and that’s the lack of couch co-op games.”

Other than the electric atmosphere felt by playing games in the arcade with your friends, there will never be anything that comes close to true co-op gaming other than sitting on the couch with your close buddies. Some of my favorite nights were the combination of pizza, gaming, and a room filled with laughter. Although I completely appreciate and love the fact that we can game online with friends — or even people we’ve never met to then make a stranger into a long-distance gaming companion — but being able to see your friends’s faces while you beat them in a race while you jokingly poke their ribs in victory, or share the excitement in working together by high-fiving each other, can never compare the playing online.

The gaming world has changed drastically over the years, for the good and bad – like anything else. Changes need to happen and things need to evolve, that’s after all the key to life. But there’s one aspect I hate to see become less popular by developers, and that’s the lack of couch co-op games. Sure, we have the Nintendo Switch and that has been a life-line in keeping us connected physically, but why have the PS4 and Xbox One almost completely dismissed this all too important feature?

“We have grown to adapt in recent times to the notion that we can do basically anything now without the very basic principle of human interactions.”

Unsurprisingly, the biggest explanation is profit. Many companies think with their pockets instead of their hearts and push online gaming because it’s a paid service. Where’s the incentive for them to promote customers to play offline for free? Enjoyment? FOR FREE? Oh, hell no. That additional downloadable content or subscription service doesn’t pay for themselves. It almost seems surreal at times that gamers not only pay a monthly bill for the use of the internet, but also a monthly bill to play games on the internet they already pay for. Most gamers of today seem to accept this without question, and that to me makes it all the more disheartening.

Let’s get into the importance of couch co-op for a moment. Before I carry on, I am in no way saying that online gaming is wrong or we shouldn’t be playing with our friends or others as gaming has been proven to be good for our mental health, whichever way you decide to play it. I’ve met some of the most amazing people through the medium of online gaming that I have never met in the physical form and I have enjoyed these interactions immensely and continue to. But in my opinion, we have grown to adapt in recent times to the notion that we can do almost anything now without the very basic principle of human interactions and as the capabilities of technology increase, so does our dependency on it.

“For the next ten minutes or so, my mum and I had one of the most memorable moments we have ever had.”

For example, my mum doesn’t game at all: she has never had the desire to nor saw the importance of it. She came to visit me one day and arrived a little early while I was in the midst of an exciting Mario Kart race. Feeling a little awkward at playing while she was over, I told her I wouldn’t be too long. To my amazement, she sat all the way through it watching intently. Feeling a little bold, I asked her if she wanted to play with me, knowing the answer would be the usual no, but this time she replied: “Sure, I can drive a car, how hard can it be?”

For the next ten minutes or so, my mum and I had one of the most memorable moments we have ever had. Watching the determination and frustration on her face as she tried her best to control the kart and figure out what button made it go and stop was one of those unique “moments” between a mother and daughter. We laughed, we shouted and we drove each other on in support. It was truly a mess of a match, but that really didn’t matter. If it hadn’t been for couch co-op gaming on the Switch, we would never have shared that occasion.

It’s unbelievably important as a race, and especially through the challenging times we have right now as a nation, to bridge the gap in human interaction and delve into the significance of playing together. Without physical human connections, we can fall subject to potentially losing our sense of reciprocity. We become more desensitized, numb, and oblivious to the social cues that we would have witnessed if we only had the interaction in-person. As I previously stated, there is an acute importance of being in the same room with someone while you game, not only because you can witness reactions like victory, anger, or the build-up to excitement via facial expressions that just don’t come across well in voice alone, but also how it builds better, closer, and more empathetic human moments that surely we need more of in the world today.

I can only hope that the idea of couch co-op never needs to die out, that we will always strive and desire to create physical moments – as well as online ones – when we want to team up through our gameplay. I hope as gamers, we can continuously push and ask developers to give the players this option when creating their next title. Below you will find just a few of my most beloved couch co-op games that I have played over the years which, I hope, will bring more families and friends together physically as much as they have done for me.

Left 4 Dead 1 & 2 – Xbox 360

This is what I would call the perfect “grab a late night pizza couch co-op game,” solely due to the hours of fun to be had here for you and your best zombie-killing buddy. I’ve spent far too many nights screaming “Watch out, BOOMER!” or “Help me, there’s a jockey on my head!”, but my personal favorite is “Shh Shh, I hear a witch!”

A Way Out – PS4

A Way Out creator Josef Fares couldn’t be more right when he told the audience during EA’s annual E3 press event “play it start to finish and I guarantee you will experience something you’ve never experienced before in co-op.” It takes complete cooperation from both you and your gaming partner to make this work, and when it does, A Way Out is a masterpiece. I hope gaming developers take a page out of Josef’s forward-thinking notebook to include local co-op in many more games to come.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Nintendo Switch

A fun, but competitive game that can be shared with anyone from your mum as I did, to your kids. Perfect also to keep the kids quiet in the back of the car on long journeys or just some great Saturday night gaming pleasure with your friends as you compete against each other. I can guarantee, the look on their faces won’t be one to miss!

Unravel Two – PS4

I thoroughly enjoyed this title by Coldwood Interactive. Again, like A Way Out, you’ll need complete cooperation to progress in this acrobatic puzzle solver, as Unravel Two builds a really strong bond between you and your co-op playing friend – not to mention trust. It’s a lot more relaxed than most couch co-op games, but this is perfect as you can get to experience the amazing graphics that are implemented in this unbelievably adorable yarn-filled platformer.

X-Men (Arcade) – PS3

When the X-Men arcade game was re-released on the PS3, it brought back all those memories of my arcade days when myself and my friends used to pop so many coins into the machine to play this over and over. At the start of the X-Men craze, who didn’t want to team up and battle it out against Magneto? Although it did start a few arguments in who wanted to be Wolverine, Nightcrawler, or Storm. Those are memories I wouldn’t trade for the world, as they completely shaped our friendships together.

The House of the Dead – SEGA Dreamcast

I believe this game not only started me out on my whole zombie craze but introduced me to how stressful couch co-op gaming can be! The absolute panicked fear you felt from being attacked and your partner missing all of their shots as you scream at them to “Get it together, I’m gonna die here!”, this title deserves to have its very own place in the top co-op games to play with a friend, even if that friendship was ruined forever.

Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II – PS2

What top gaming list isn’t complete without a co-op driven hack-and-slash game? When talking about couch co-op titles through history, this game needs to be included. While the graphics and gameplay could be seen as quite dated now, especially with the likes of Diablo III releasing on the Nintendo Switch, for someone who spent some time as a kid reading the Forgotten Realms series that this game centers around, Balder’s Gate has a special place in my heart. A large part of this is due to the fact that it’s an RPG adventure you experience with another as you both take on the evil that lays ahead of you. In the time you spend adventuring together, you both can celebrate moments of victory and defeats together in a voyage that will strengthen any friendship.

These were just a few of the couch co-op games that I hold dear among my family and friends – what couch co-op games do you play? Let us know in the comments below.

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Rachael Fiddis

Rachael, who is Deputy Editor, has been gaming for many years. Some of her favourite video games include The Witcher 3 and The Last of Us but also loves a good indie title. Gaming Culture is where her heart lies and spends many hours sieving through gaming fan art and cosplay displays. Other than gaming, Rachael is a book nerd and music lover.

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