Sitting down in front of the couch, friends by your side. One of you pops in a game and everyone’s voice gets hoarse as the chatter escalates to yells and cheers because someone just got a clutch head-shot from across the map just as the countdown reaches 0. There are games design for multiplayer and those designed for single player. Goldeneye, Halo, Mario Party, Unreal Tournament, League of Legends. Many games and franchises build their fan base around single player experiences and multiplayer experiences, but that doesn’t mean that those socializing bonding moments can’t be found in single player games.
Early on in my gaming career, as in many of ours, we sit around and take turns trying to beat any game that we can get our hands on. Die once, pass the controller. Get a game over, pass the controller. Something along those lines. Super Mario Bros, Ninja Gaiden, Sonic. Early staples in a my generation of gaming. Tension would mount as the group would watch close calls of pitfall deaths, one life-point remaining, time narrowing towards zero moments that we could all join in on the groups efforts and celebrate or despair as a team whom had been working towards a common goal.
These moments of group gaming became sparse, especially when it came to single-player games. If you couldn’t afford to play the game at release and you were clenching your fists that they went purple over not playing the game, then you might have gone to another friend’s house to experience it in even a remote sense. Otherwise, you would have just waited and borrowed it in the future, letting your fists get some O2 back into its system. The only real times you would want to clammer over a game is when the next big multiplayer game is released and your whole group of friends is into it.
But as time went on, there are moments that bring people together over games outside of the multiplayer experience. I’ve had plenty of talks with Game Dev friends over mechanics, design choices, story effectiveness and so on. We’ve even sat around to showcase parts of games and it became a subject of discussion amongst us. Even among non-game dev friends, if the game is intellectually compelling and the group motivated enough, parts of the game can be shared amongst each other as a bonding experiences.
There are recent experiences of going back to older games with friends that haven’t played them at all and it becomes new topics of discussion. Watching them walk around with the clunky old-man Buick controls of Resident Evil, experience Celes jumping off a cliff in grief, talking about why the F.L.U.D.D. was an underrated mechanic, being told that there are a dozen endings for Chrono Trigger. You, as the person who played it before, get to both relieve your wonderment through the eyes of a friend and your friend gets to have their eyes opened to the predecessors and inspirations to many of todays classics. But the both of you have new topics to talk about when we see design choices that have vanished in today’s market, why design choices don’t work anymore, or why a franchise, as a whole, doesn’t work anymore because the formula strayed too far from what made the game fun.
We can still find moments to bond over games without the multiplayer aspect dragging the attention of everyone participating. Having someone else as the observer helps watch for what the player is missing. Someone who doesn’t stay tunnel-visioned and can look at the game more objectively but can also bring that insight outside of the game and into a conversation among peers.
Are there any non-multiplayer games that you and your friends unexpectedly bonded over?