Couch Co-op: A Past-Pastime in an Online World

I remember the days of spending hours playing Goldeneye on Nintendo 64. Nothing was more infuriating or exciting as the split screen face-off where you and three of your friends hunted each other down. And this may be amazing to many new generation gamers: we had to always be in the same room to play! There was no online world. There were just four people eating junk food and plotting how to kill each other. The world of gaming co-op is much different today, and completely offline co-op games are becoming a thing of the past. It does not seem to be a lack of interests on gamers’ part, but more of a push for online gaming from gaming industries.

Goldeneye for N64 allows you and up to three friends to play competitive co-op.

For those not familiar with the various terms of multiplayer gaming, there are different types of multiplayer modes: co-op, competitive, massive, and general two-player. Co-op is the abbreviation for “cooperative”, as in cooperative or group gaming in which players can work together in teams to reach a common goal. It is also sometimes referred to as local (or couch) co-op or online co-op. Co-op lets players share a playing screen, or they may use a split screen mode where each player has an independent view. Competitive multiplayer is when players challenge each other in combat or activities (such as in Goldeneye mentioned above). A massive multiplayer is a game played online simultaneously with numerous other gamers like World of Warcraft. A general two-player mode is when players take turns playing the game, usually with different characters, such as the numerous games in the Super Mario Brothers franchise.

Offline co-op was not just a game option of early arcade games and many console games of the 1990s. Cooperative play was first available as simultaneous game play on console as far back as 1979’s Asteroids for Atari. The gaming experience outside of the arcade was amazing enough, but the advancement of simultaneous game play launched copious gaming systems and games. Many games launched on the original Nintendo system were released with 2 player modes. Others, like the original Super Mario Brothers, were not actually co-op games, but they allowed gamers to share the gaming experience. Titles such as the original Double Dragon introduced more at-home gamers to the cooperative play experience. As consoles advanced, so did the co-op experience. Many games that emerged in the 1990s were of the competitive co-op type, such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. With the development of the Xbox, PlayStation, and Wii, numerous co-op and multiplayer games arrived. With advancements in consoles came the advancements in technology as well. Gamers from all over the world are now able to connect to each other. But with this exciting phenomena, the couch co-opers have been left with fewer options every year.

Today, most co-op or multiplayer games are only available with an internet connection, and each participating person has to be using a different console to play. This does, believe it or not, leave out a portion of the gaming community who do not have reliable or any available connection to the online world. This is largely due to lack of broadband or affordable broadband connection in rural or low income areas. This can be frustrating when so many games are marketed for their great online content.

The joy of playing co-op is sharing the gaming adventure in what is normally an isolated activity. It creates camaraderie among players and becomes a social activity. Take any sport for example. Sure shooting hoops by yourself can be relaxing and rewarding on its own, but the competition of the game helps us improve. It involves communication, and seeing your partners’ faces when they face defeat can be deviously rewarding. Co-op gaming is cost effective; there is no need to subscribe to an online service, and both players can use one console. It also creates a “safe” gaming experience for novices or those critical of video games. Some of the “loner” stigma dissipates when we occasionally take part in multiplayer gaming. People of all ages and levels of gaming experience can engage in multiplayer games as an introduction to the exuberance video games have to offer. There are co-op or multiplayer games available for all interests: mild-mannered sports games on Wii to games such as Resident Evil 5 for the more hardcore gamers.

There are a few great offline games available today such as the Left 4 Dead, Borderlands, Portal 2, Halo, and the Call of Duty franchise. But all the features in these games are not entirely accessible without internet access. Be wary when you purchase a game if you are looking for offline co-op. Games such as Dead Island advertise on their box that they are offline co-op, but they actually may only allow you to play when connected to the internet, depending on your console. To check out what co-op features a game offers before you buy, I recommend Co-Optimus. This site allows you to look up games by name, console, or online/offline co-op preference marketed for their online content.

Left 4 Dead: Play as one of four survivors in the zombie apocalypse.
Left 4 Dead lets you play as one of four survivors in the zombie apocalypse.

This is not intended to disregard online gaming. There are great benefits to it, such as finding a co-player anytime of the day. There are plenty of exciting challenges in both single player and online multiplayer games. Most gamers probably have fond memories of completing their first game solo. Mine was the original Zelda, and I anxiously awaited future installments of the series to take on. But with new consoles emerging every few years, games that can be played as completely offline co-op games are becoming harder to find. Should all gamers just get with the modern world of gaming technology and accept the inevitability of offline co-op games going extinct? I, for one, hope not. Like me and many “older” gamers out there, I hope there are game creators who cherish the couch play nostalgia just as much.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Fermimo

    splitscreen co-op is definitely better fun than online! 4 friends, one living room, 2 (or more) Xboxes, 2 large LCD TVs, beer, pizza. Brilliant.

  2. The best co-op game ever is Dawn of War 2 Retribution: Last Stand. Over 600 hours and still playing from time to time.

  3. Shine Errol

    Left 4 Dead is one of the few multiplayer games I easily put a couple hundred hours into. I remember the first time we all played it. The day after Christmas we started playing around noon and before I knew it, It was getting really dark in my room, then I looked at the clock and saw 10pm, heh. My reaction was, “Uh, guys, I think we should take a break now..” Portal 2’s co-op was a really fun time as well.

  4. I like the fact that Borderlands is a co-op based game yet i still like going through it alone

    • Liz Kellam

      I think that is a great example of a game that is great either way. Left 4 Dead, for instance, is definitely better co-op.

  5. gauntlet legends
    the simpsons arcade
    x-men the arcade game
    double dragon
    gears of war 1
    and so on and so on and so on

  6. Danny Cox

    Great topic, Liz. I remember the days and nights playing Goldeneye as well, along with the bitter rivalry that often came with it! When Halo first came out, that game, for me and my friends, was co-op gold.

  7. Litimux

    I don’t know, call me old school but my favourite co-op game has to be the original Toejam and Earl on the Mega Drive.

  8. Metal Slug.

  9. Kirby Superstar, not only the easiest game in the world, but the best co-op hands down. Mario Kart Double Dash, also cool.

  10. Dat nostalgia . . . I still remember playing goof troop with my little sister and she would talk all kind of trash at me when i would call max before she could. She would be all like “Did you just kill me? Boy you better run fore respawn and Find myself a switch!” Halfway through the game it would turn iinto a vs game regardless of the enemies and puzzles. I still owe her for slapping the controller out of my hand and stealing that diamond last time we played. Ahh . . .memories

  11. Jamie Tracy

    Co-op for me has evolved from working with friends to see what combination of us could beat Contra fastest to me playing all the Lego games with my kids and then watching them play the Disney/Marvel Infinity games and laughing the whole time even though they don’t accomplish much.

  12. Goof Troop on the ol’ SNES. That is all.

  13. Showing my age a bit here but: Bubble Bobble, Salamander, Contra 4/Super Probotector, Geoman/Legend of the Mystical Ninja, Legend of Zelda – 4 Swords, Pacman Vs, Kuri Kuri Mix…

  14. Terry Metheny

    Champions of Norrath has to be one of my favorite co-ops ever.

  15. ericespo7

    Interesting post that reminds one of the camaraderie that can be built from video games, which is often stereotyped as an isolating activity. With weakening of the co-op experience in the household, perhaps the Internet does more to make gaming necessarily less reliant on being together in the same place.

  16. Mo Sadek

    Great article on a really good topic! All I can think about is dual-screen Halo or going over a buddy’s house and playing COD:World At War for Nazi Zombies.

    Online co-op definitely takes away from the local couch experience, but there are still some great titles coming out like Towerfall for the PC or ScreenCheat that are starting to bring back the nostalgia of co-op.

  17. Jemarc Axinto

    My life is in endless need of more local co-op. I miss the days of Mario Party (I know it exists, but I mean being more popular at home) and arcades, which are few and far in between these days :(.

  18. I loved playing them with my friends as a kid.

  19. The decline of couch co-op has definitely had an impact on Gaming. Why have a friend over to hang out, when you can both just log online from the comfort of your own homes? The Internet just makes things easier.

  20. games like Smash and Borderlands get it right by letting you do everything alone, with a friend next to you, or playing online. games with all options are the best.

  21. Withrow

    Thank you for the nostalgia.

  22. I feel like, if ‘couch’ multiplayer is to continue, they need to come up with good games that don’t require split screen (Smash being my primary example). Split screen is just too annoying for me compared to playing by myself.

  23. K.W. Colyard

    I don’t think it’s entirely fair to say that offline co-op is going the way of the Dodo. Diablo III allows up to four players to share a screen, regardless of connection. Plenty of more traditional titles offer split-screen co-op for at least two people.

    Aside from that, I have to generally disagree with the idea of online co-op as a bad thing because I, like many gamers in the United States and elsewhere, live in a rural area. There are very few people my age around, and even fewer gamers. But people in my situation can make and play with friends from all over, thanks to Internet-aided gaming. I can’t see why that’s a bad thing.

  24. I remember the times when everyone sat around in the same room so well. It wasn’t actually that long ago, although it seems exactly the opposite. I can remember sitting in my cousin’s bedroom around Thanksgiving right after everybody had eaten dinner with many of my younger counterparts. We would play for hours, doing the usual “loser gives up the controller” routine to make sure everyone had a shot and that if you did well you got to keep playing. Thank you for this article, it brought back a lot of fond memories!

  25. Nof

    Great topic and very interesting background. Well written!

  26. It is reassuring to see that other people feel this same nostalgia. Although online gaming expands a players network, it seems we are losing a bit of culture that is created from locality. Perhaps it’s just a tradition that is fading out with newer generations, but I feel like we still need to preserve simpler things like these. I’m very happy you wrote this and so are my couch co-oping friends.

  27. Great article! I miss sitting down for hours with a friend, trying to finish a game. It is sad that is so difficult to find co-op games without having to use the internet. I am hoping there is a serious comeback for these types of games!

  28. Great article. I miss being able to sit down in the same room as friends, but online multiplayer certainly has it’s advantages as well. Instead of having to wait until the weekend to do the majority of our gaming, Now we can play together every night because of online multiplayer.

  29. Great article. I miss being able to sit down in the same room as friends, but online multiplayer certainly has its advantages as well. Instead of having to wait until the weekend to do the majority of our gaming, Now we can play together every night because of online multiplayer.

  30. Ryan

    I miss the days where most games that had a multiplayer option, also had a co-op or splitscreen feature that you could play with 1 to 3 more friends and not have to worry about being online all at once, or each of you bringing a console to play on. Also I noticed that it’s hard to do just a LAN game with consoles. Only connecting to your internet and not a server with poor connection on the other end of the nation, or on the other side of the world. Great article!

  31. Buzz Quiz is good for in a different kind of co-op. It’s a quiz game that can often get rowdy when alcoholic beverages are added to the mix.

  32. TheGraduate

    I am so glad someone brought this topic up. I started gaming when I was 10 with Goldeneye: best game ever. Now as an adult it’s sad to see how gaming is a purely online experience.

  33. Good, I liked it

  34. Another great service is Steam which will tell you if it’s Co-Op or not. The Lego games are great Co-Op games.

  35. CyborgHighfive

    Hey Liz, great article. I felt compelled to help with some suggestions! I do agree that couch co-op video games have become more scarce… however there’s hope! Plenty of amazing games are out that you can purchase that are 100% made for couch co-op. Try titles such as Super Smash Brothers, Mario Kart 8, TowerFall, Diablo 3, Army of Two (not the greatest), or Castle Crashers…. All these games are fantastic games for couch co-op and the future is only brighter. The ‘virtual couch’ that is presented by online functions is an amazing accomplishment for technology and gaming has benefited highly, however nothing beats all of your friends on one couch/in one living room duking it out for first place in Mario Kart or trying to be the last one alive in the new Super Smash Bros. for WiiU… which now offers an 8 player game mode… you can play with 8 other friends at once on the same screen!!!

  36. Perhaps this is why Nintendo is still a force, despite seeming to lag behind in raw power and AAA titles?

    Regardless, we need to remember that video gaming is more than just a single-player experience (although there is nothing wrong with a few more Skyrim and ACII’s in the world!), and is the only contemporary art form that allows for a multi-person interactive experience. Left 4 Dead reached such wild levels of acclaim because it created a multiplayer experience where the story was actually told by the unique interaction of the players. Sure, you can find couch co-op as far back as the Magnavox Odyssey, but most of the games would progress largely the same regardless of the people involved. Heck, League of Legends and similar MOBA-style games make an entire market of this player-created story! So, to bring this all back to my original point, I think we’re missing out on the possible AAA-style multi-person creations of offline co-op. Left 4 Dead has a unique tension created by two people in the same room creeping through a deserted warehouse, listening to the sounds of the undead in the next room, discussing strategy and preparing. Why let this unique part of video game capacity wither?

  37. I completely agree. The days of couch gaming may have dwindled but are not extinct. Games such as Super Smash Bros. allow groups of friends to gather around the television with cheeto fingers on the controllers button mashing for combos, screaming in victory or pouting in defeat. The couch co-op experience not only makes games fun, it makes them timeless and easily accessible to any gamer despite experience or skill.

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