Why co-op gaming is on the rise

Co-op gaming has been gaining popularity during this latest generation of console gaming. Often, games are severely penalized when they include only local or only online co-op rather than praised for having either. Many top games center around the co-op experience: Gears of War, Resident Evil 5, Left 4 Dead, Marvel Ultimate Alliance and Borderlands.  Other games incorporate the mode even if it does not fit with the designers’ original vision of the franchise, as was done in Modern Warfare’s sequel.

As much fun as I had comp stomping AI with a friend in Red Alert and Starcraft, getting together in someone’s basement to play Gauntlet or Diablo, or teaming up with someone in Team Fortress for Quake, I do not believe the recent popularity in Co-op gaming is solely due to the fun a co-operative experience can bring. I believe that its recent popularity is, at least partially, due to the fact it provides a positive multiplayer experience that can be enjoyed with friends while avoiding the general online population found in most popular competitive games.

When I was 12 tender years old playing some of these games online, no one hated me. My age had no preconceived notions of direct correlation to my skill or attitude towards teamwork.  While it was easier to hide my age due to text chat, it was also a lot easier to be permanently banned from one of the few low ping servers in my area if I acted up. There was etiquette: when joining a Mechwarrior 2 match everyone would greet each other with the phrase “Hail” and saying “Please” would often get a player to *give* you an item in Diablo. I have partaken in communal punishment of a griefer during a public CounterStrike match; without much communication we all decided to simply take turns killing him at the beginning of the round, mutually dividing the negative score for the greater good.

Nowadays, if I had the checkbox “only play with people over 21” available to me on Xbox Live, I would use it.  I do not think I’m alone. Stardock’s Impulse service is offering a new matchmaking service called “Ready to Play” that matches players not just on ping, but also on a profile including age and favorite genres.

I would feel sorry for the few completely noble and decent young players out there, many of which are probably the ones reading these gaming blogs.  However, that feeling of guilt would not stop me from abandoning them to their peers in order to pursue an enjoyable matchmaking experience.  If they could make a wish to be big to a mechanical fortune teller and join me, they would (if they even know what I’m talking about).

The fact that this is a topic on national late night television is a good indicator at how wide spread the belief is. Whether it is true or not, people complain they do not like to play games online because of tea-bagging tweens who know more racial slurs than your grandpa. Private Party Chat has helped alleviate some frustrations found in public matchmaking, as noted by the bit of outrage that surrounded its removal from Modern Warfare 2.

In a co-operative game, I can avoid these players entirely.  I can have an engaging, challenging experience playing with 1-4 friends.  If we all have busy schedules and can rarely all be online at the same time, we can have a fun time with just two of us.  Many Co-op games include the ability to play through a story or even experience the entire single player campaign with a friend.  They allow players of varying skill level to participate, since most involve a mechanic that lets players save other players that would otherwise need to reload from a save.  Gears2 and Modern Warfare 2 include different difficulty selections for each player.

Even competitive games such as MAG and Battlefield Bad Company are incorporating these mechanics into their games. This lets a small band of players work together against human opponents while still incorporating many of the positives Co-op gaming can bring.

As a gamer, I hope for the future when we can all play together in playing against each other. As a Co-op gamer, I will enjoy the latest rise of Co-op releases with my friends.

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