The slow, sad death of couch multiplayer

lettitorBy Lauren Kelly, Editor-in-Chief

I’ve gamed my whole life. I’ve had my forays into single player games—hello, Knights of the Old Republic and every visual novel I had on my DS—but it’s overall been a social experience for me. Nothing’s more fun than firing up a game on your console of choice and gathering around a TV to snipe each other and swear you’re totally not screen-watching.

Most games have now adopted the online multiplayer system, where you and your friends play together in different houses and possibly chat on mic. This is a great option to have—you aren’t always going to be able to meet up in person, so being able to spend time together like this is better than nothing. However, the fact that this is increasingly becoming the only option in many famously-multiplayer games is very frustrating.

My Xbox years were some of my favourite gaming years. Along with my step-brother and friends, I played the hell out of Halo 2, Midnight Club 2, Timesplitters 2 and Future Perfect, Far Cry Instincts… The list goes on and on. Sure, there were a few single player games that we would pass the controller around for, but overall, split-screen ruled.

That makes the state of these series disappointing. In 2015, Halo 5 was the first Halo title to have no split-screen multiplayer. Midnight Club: Los Angeles on PS3 was a racing game without split-screen racing. The Timesplitters third-person shooter series is one of my absolute favourite game series of all time, and also one that is dead in the water, with no new titles since 2005, no backwards compatibility, and no rereleases on newer consoles. Far Cry 4 had only online multiplayer.

This isn’t to say there aren’t couch multiplayer games on newer systems. My boyfriend, who is my main gaming partner, and I have searched long and hard to squeeze all of the local multiplayer we can get out of the PS3 and PS4. That’s how we’ve ended up playing a lot of dungeon crawlers, fighters, and Dynasty Warriors clones. The Little Big Planet series was a favourite until 3, which traded in difficulty, ingenuity, and fun, for whatever it thought it would accomplish with making other sack-things and letting you buy full outfits instead of search for them. What a disappointment that was. Still, many of these generations’ multiplayer games were only for two players, and most games that allowed more were made by independent developers.

We’ve now hit the point where we mostly play online multiplayer games together. However, this only came after he bought a new TV, and we now have both TVs set up with our PS4s in his media room. So we can hang out together and play Dark Souls and Nioh in one room, laughing and making fun of each other just like an offline multiplayer game. This is a unique situation, though, and we’re very lucky.

Of course, there is always Nintendo, with its stream of multiplayer focused consoles and titles such as Mario Party, Mario Kart, and Super Smash Bros. The advertising for the new Nintendo Switch even heavily focused on the multiplayer and social aspects of the system. That’s great—those games are really fun. They’re just not really what I want to be playing all the time.

Another huge problem with online-only multiplayer is accessibility. I have an Xbox and four controllers, which means I can invite three friends over and play Halo 2 on one TV and one console with one copy of the game. If I wanted to play Halo 5 with those same three friends, we would each need to have one TV, one Xbox One, one copy of the game, and one mic to communicate with. Also—how could I forget—an Xbox Live Gold subscription, which is $59.99 a year, just to access online. This makes the cost of entry just to be able to hang out with friends and play a game incredibly high for each person, and a lot of people our age just can’t afford all that. They would also need an area they could use to game at the appropriate time, so those who share TVs with families or roommates will hit yet another roadblock.

Most of my best gaming memories are with other people, and a lot of others will say the same. That’s what makes this so sad. Gaming has reached such an impressive technical level, and it’s getting harder and harder to relax with friends over snacks and enjoy how far we’ve come since the original Halo. Word is that Halo 6 will go back to its split-screen origins after much backlash over 5. Hopefully, that will encourage others to do the same.