Gaming Cooperatively – Working Together

Posted: April 6, 2011 by Raparth in Uncategorized

My next miniseries… Well, no, a duo isn’t a “series,” however “mini.”  This week and next will cover Gaming Cooperatively.  This week will be about Working Together, the sorts of things you typically think of when you hear the words “gaming cooperatively.”  Next week will be Competitive Fun, which will be about how we can game cooperatively in a competitive context.  If you’re thinking “Hey, I know what gaming cooperatively is!”, read on and you’ll probably see the way we game together in a slightly different way.  I won’t make claims on if that’s a better way, but it’s served me well since I’ve realize the [still growing] extent of it.

When I say the words “cooperative gaming” and “working together,” one’s mind (at least for me) naturally goes to thoughts of, well, cooperative games.  These are games that are specifically designed so that another person can play alongside of you, generally in a typically-single-player environment.  Back when Half-Life was new, or just a few years old, my dad and I played with the Sven Coop mod, which allowed us to play the story of Gordon Freeman together.  Both of us had finished the game independently before, but the fun was significantly renewed when we were surmounting obstacles together.  To this day, we still love the Serious Sam games for their over-the-top cooperative-friendly action.  Though Serious Same can certainly be played alone, at least for me, it’s no where near the fun as when you play it with someone else, a dynamic duo facing off against nearly-endless hordes of enemies with weapons of over-the-top destruction.  Games like Left 4 Dead are specifically engineered to get you to play together actively, rather than merely side-by-side, requiring a constant communication to make sure you all stay alive (especially if you’re playing against 4 other people playing the special Infected).   In World of Warcraft, whether you’re raiding or just leveling, the feeling of spending time together accomplishing shared goals is something every game should experience.  The social environment of an MMO is unlike any other.

These are all great games to play in groups (I particularly love playing L4D with several of my college friends and, often, our families), but there’s another side I want to mention as well.

In these past games, the cooperation was explicit, often employing the players in redundant or nearly-redundant roles.  There are a few games where cooperation happens in terms of complementary roles.  This happens, to an extent, in World of Warcraft and other similar games.  Once you reach max level in an MMO, you are able to pursue high-end “end-game” challenges that require a group.  This group is rarely, if ever, totally redundant in nature.  When raiding, different people fall into different roles, playing different parts that they enjoy for highly differentiated reasons.  (Excuse the excess of “difference” in that last sentence, but sometimes the horse needs to be beat a few more times post mortem.)  I don’t think this stereotype is entirely true, but it is the stereotype: Girls play healers.  I know many fellow WoW-players that like healing (or tanking, or dpsing) significantly more than another one of the roles.  Their friend/significant other/family member may, and probably does, enjoy a different role more.  They are able to play what may, in many regards, be considered two different, but not separate games.  (I must here note that Cynthia prefers tanking out of all the roles.  The stereotype might be a trend, but it’s not a fact.)  If WoW was a dps game, or a tanking game, or a healing game, there would be far fewer people playing it and far far fewer people playing it together with friends.  It is a diverse game, however, allowing people of different tastes to surmount what are largely the same goals.  Sure, it’s a very different victory to successfully heal the Lich King fight than it is to dps it (especially with those damned val’kyrs), but you’ve worked together to defeat an obstacle together that you could not have finished without each other.

Minecraft has, within the last few months with my experience with/within Survival Multiplayer mode, proven a particularly excellent example of this.  Cynthia and I love playing this game together.  It is almost the opposite of WoW, however, for the fact that we have identical mechanics but completely separate goals.  I generally love digging deep into the earth (or under the sea) and constructing things there.  My particular passion, and this is probably the combination of the roleplayer and the sci-fi-lover in me, is the construction of biomes/biodomes.  My first singleplayer game eventually ended with me having created an interlocking network of tunnels and chambers, the chambers usually possessing glass roofs.  Some produced food, some wood, others were (in my mind) springs that provided water to the inhabitants.  I hit the point where I never had to venture above ground (where monsters spawn at night).  I was a survivor in a world with an unsafe surface, whether it was radioactive or covered with zombies, and I used human ingenuity to survive and thrive.   My little civilization could have supported many more souls than myself.  Cynthia, however, often enjoys things that climb skyward.  She likes constructing aesthetically pleasing and intricate buildings that take a far better capacity for visual imagination that I usually have.  Where I build something spartan and utilitarian, she’ll make something with all the details that make it look more realistic, more lived-in, and generally much more interesting.  When we play Minecraft together, we are [almost] always on the same spot, pursuing our different passions in a way that, ultimately, makes a far more impressive product that either of us could have built on our own.  Our ideas also inspire each other to make new, inventive plans that far surpass what we planned originally.

Gaming Cooperatively seeks a play-style bettered by the interaction between two (or more) parties, where the result is more enjoyable than it would have been individually.  Working Together need not be doing exactly the same task together (though this can be considerable fun), but can instead give each party a distinct, individually-satisfying role that allows the group to achieve something greater.  Playing differently doesn’t mean playing seperately.  It might even be a closer interaction than identical roles would have allowed.

The family that games together, stays together,

~ Mr. Pacman


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