Posted by Adam Shepherd 16 September 2014
Why local multiplayer gaming is rapidly vanishing: we look at the demise of split-screen and LAN game modes
Quick! Name your number one formative gaming experience. I’m willing to bet money that a fairly large proportion of your answers involved other people. Maybe it was learning that the world is a cold, unforgiving place at the hands of E. Honda and that one guy who knew how to pull off the hundred-hand slap. Maybe it was staying up well into the night with your friends, blowing chunks out of each other in Timesplitters 2. Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that the social capabilities of the medium played a key role in turning gaming into the pop-culture juggernaut it is today.
However, the days of gathering your buddies together with 6 litres of Fanta and enough Wotsits to sink the Bismarck are fast disappearing. No more can you distract your opponent with a swift elbow to the ribs, while you digitally eviscerate them. No more are you pelted with stale corn-based snacks for spamming Marshall Law’s unblockable flip in Tekken 3 for five straight matches in a row. Instead, we sit hunched over a single gamepad, crying tears of desperate frustration as we frantically try and escape being knifed in the back by a 14-year-old kid in Taiwan while he cackles and calls us a faggot.
Even when we know the people we’re playing against, it’s not the same. We’re still on out own and those digital avatars, though still controlled by our real-world friends, hold no more connection to us than the thousands of nameless victims we mow down in pursuit of the next achievement. You can’t glance over at the guy next to you and see the look in his eyes as you lap him for the fourth time, and he can’t look back, revelling in the knowledge that soon he’s going to wipe that giant smug grin off your face.
It somehow makes the experience much more rewarding, with actual partners creating a sense of manic energy as you all constantly berate and belittle each other. The death of local multiplayer is one of the biggest tragedies of modern gaming, as former bastions of couch-based camaraderie slowly succumb to the lure of online-only. Titles such as SSX, Need For Speed and Call of Duty, all classic go-to multiplayer titles, are all scaling back or abandoning altogether their split-screen options, and it feels a lot like those seeking to share an experience with friends or flatmates will be left permanently out in the cold. For those who remember the youthful bonding experiences of Crash Team Racing or endless 'winner stays on' Soul Calibur matches, it's an integral part of the gaming experience that will be sorely missed.
Don’t get me wrong, online multiplayer has its place, and the ability to play with friends all over the world is a fantastic invention. But in our haste to join the dots, and to fill in the blank spaces on the map, lets not forget our roots. We were all kids once, fighting over Player One, and unpausing while our mates were in the bathroom to get some sneaky shots in. Maybe it’s just nostalgia talking, but are these experiences worth sacrificing just for intercontinental virtual murder? I’d argue that they’re not, and the success of things like Two Best Friends Play would suggest that I’m not the only one, and we all still have a soft spot for talking smack on a couch with our buddies.
Sadly, there aren’t many modern games that actually allow you to play with another human being in the room, and the Borderlands’ of the world are few and far between. However, thankfully the indie scene is here to help, with a raft of titles like Broforce, Castle Crashers and numerous ports of classics like Double Dragon to provide you with that unmistakeable experience of playing a game with some of your best buddies, while you call each other every possible name under the sun, and threaten to start fights if they don’t quit being such a cheap, button-mashing asshole, Chad. And that, more than any other reason, is why I play games. Not for a jaw-dropping sky-box or 300 hours of playtime, but for the fun of it, and for escaping with friends into a world of fantasy.