Bring games, make friends: playing your part in the local multiplayer revolution

Opinion

“This game needs online play, I don’t have friends who like to play games in person,” they say in the comments.

There is a new resurgence of local multiplayer games hitting the market, including games like the Sportsfriends bundle and Towerfall, and many of them offer no way to play online. If you want to have fun, you need to invite people over, or find a group of players and a place to meet. It may be time to buy an extra controller or two.

The problem is that many players simply don’t know other people who like to play video games, and that’s where the discussion ends. This isn't a problem that should keep you from playing different games, we need to begin thinking about isolated players as a problem that needs solving.

It's up to you, not the game

"It sucks to not have friends who share your interest. We’re not disputing that, but the solution is not to modify your interest so you can do them on your own," Bennett Foddy, the developer of games like QWOP, Super Pole Riders and Get On Top, told Polygon. "That’s not a solution, and nobody would ever suggest that with board games. No one would suggest that you modify the design of Pictionary or Trivial Pursuit so you can play it by yourself."

"My most treasured video game memories are local multiplayer memories," Douglas Wilson, the creator of Johann Sebastian Joust, explained. "Whether it’s competitive or cooperative, playing together, or even a good spectator game. Watching over the shoulder of your brother or your friend or something."

This is what led to Sportsfriends, the idea that if you make games that are interesting enough, that have to be played in person, it will drive people to seek out these experiences. It’s an excuse to instigate gaming, to go make it happen with others. The fire is what happens when you have fun with others, these games are just the match.

"I think anybody who is over drinking age in America remembers back to a time when local multiplayer just came with every game," Foddy continued. "You go back as far as Halo 2, you don’t have to be really old to have this experience. Goldeneye, there were all those hit games that always came with a local multiplayer mode, and I think anybody who has played those games with friends locally and also played it online or by themselves, it’s just sort of inarguably true that you have a better time with friends, right? Nearly everybody would have that experience."

It’s not just a matter of "removing" online play or not having the time or resources to do it well, although those limitations are frequent in games from smaller teams, or created by one person. The focus on local play, when you have multiple people in the same room, can change the very nature of the game.

"You design things differently when you’re shooting for people to be in the room together," Foddy explained. "You’re designing it around the kind of game where people will be talking back and forth. They’ll be sharing information with each other, they’ll be shit-talking each other."

We're in the middle of a local multiplayer gaming renaissance. Games like Nidhogg, Samurai Gunn, Towerfall, Hokra, Assault Android Cactus and others either can only be played locally or operate much better under those conditions. If you're not playing games with other people on the same couch or in the same room, you're missing out. But what if you don't know people who want to play games with you?

Many gamers lack real-world friends who are interested in playing games, but this is a challenge that we can all take on.

Meeting people isn't easy, but it's worth the work

"Moving to a new city where you don’t know anyone sucks. And meeting people, this is a social problem in general, and the hope is that games is another thing in the arsenal of facilitating that kind of sociality, whether it’s with family, friends or strangers going to a new place," Wilson said.

It can't be that easy, right? I can't imagine bringing my laptop to a bar to see if I can interest strangers in a game of Hokra.

"It doesn’t happen automatically, you’re right. You can’t just go to a bar with your laptop and sit there smiling, but you can participate in Internet forums around the types of games you like or go to your local PAX, or the smaller versions of that," Wilson agreed. "It’s hard work, but once the pump is flowing... The hard thing is finding the first three people. After that it accelerates exponentially."

If you don’t have friends who share your passion for games, the trick is to look for a safe space to find these people. Post on gaming forums, start a local multiplayer meet at a library or public space where you can set up a console or a computer with a few controllers. It’s likely there are dozens of people who live near you who all complain that they don’t have friends who play games, and are hungry for that experience. Connecting those dots doesn’t always just happen, you have to put in the work.

"You design things differently when you’re shooting for people to be in the room together"

"As soon as you put out that call: 'Ok we’re going to play some games at a bar,' or 'We’re gonna play some games at my house, and I’ve got a big couch and a nice TV,' people just come out of the woodwork," Noah Sasso, the creator of Bara Bari Ball, told Polygon.

"And I think, especially for new games like this that are being talked about, no matter where you are, you can meet people by using this as a social lubricant," he continued. "I think the answer is just do it. It’s the same answer to ‘How do you make friends?’ You just go and interact with people and put yourself out there. It sucks and it’s hard sometimes, especially if you’ve never done it. Games are cool in that they’re a way to solve that problem."

This isn't meant to be a criticism of online play, or an indication that playing games with others remotely is an anti-social activity. Many of us have started and fostered meaningful relationships only, and there are few better things than jumping online when you have some free time to play with others. Doing so can be as easy as a search for local gaming meets in your area.

Local multiplayer gaming is just as rewarding, and many people dismiss these games because they don't know others who share their love of gaming. That's not an excuse to end the conversation about a game, it's motivation to fix an issue. Being around other people who share your hobby is fulfilling in a way that's very different from playing online, and spending time with other people who understand why you love games is a great way to blow off steam and share a common interest with others.

The social interactions don't always need to come to us, and the games don't need to change and force online play to be worthwhile. It's worth putting time and effort into building a community of players who can join you for a lazy night of shared games, pizza, and laughter. It takes work, and it can be a little awkward at first, but the rewards are great. Connecting with other players won't just make you happier, you'll be building a community of people who were likely also wishing they had more people with which to enjoy their hobby.

"People [make time to meet and enjoy something socially] all the time. With sports, and board games and other stuff," Wilson said. "I don’t think it’s unreasonable that we can energize that with video games. I think that’s what some of us are trying to do. Maybe an uphill battle, but good to get the ball rolling, and I’m really psyched at this whole wave of us came at the same time."

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Polygon as an organization.

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