There’s not a single valid reason that two people can’t play Fall Guys on the same system simultaneously. What harm would letting a second gunman into San Denis alongside do Red Dead Redemption 2 do? How come we’re more devoted to playing with utter strangers than we are too embarrassing our friends and classmates? Local gameplay is one of the reasons I got into gaming at GoldenEye centered birthday parties in the nineties, and it’s an experience I miss now with younger members of my family.
First thing’s first. Online gaming can, inarguably, be an absolute blast. Imagine playing Fortnite with four controllers on the same screen instead of 100 people on 100 screens blindsiding, building, and blasting every stranger they see. The same goes for Red Dead Redemption 2, GTA V, and other open-world video games that benefit from as many gamers as possible. However, this never had to come at the expense of local multiplayer like we know and love. With older gamers’ friends spread across the world and country; and a younger generation that often has more “internet” friends than real-life friends, the shift to online gaming makes perfect sense.
Nobody needs to ask why local multiplayer became a throwaway feature in most modern games, even in its natural like Madden or 2K. Buying a game is no longer about buying a completed story. It’s about buying the opportunity to buy more points to bypass the classic mode of “getting better” and “being good” to get ahead. More and more games focus on these microtransactions that disguise themselves as quick alternatives but ultimately make online play impossible for casual gamers who do not want to spend more than the $70 they already paid.
The most stifling aspect of the last decade’s commitment to abolishing the local multiplayer is the aforementioned Nintendo’s continued success in the market. Nintendo, which never operated the same way its contemporaries did online, the gaming pioneer remains committed to local over online gameplay. Long-running franchises like MarioKart, Smash Bros., and most recently, Mario Party have all made a move over to online. Still, Nintendo didn’t do away with local gameplay because it knows the communal power gaming holds.
However, outside of Mario’s home system, nearly every genre, console, and company has some online market that may not be required for a game but is for those who want to compete. All of this is fine for what it is, but why did it become the death of local multiplayer?
Local player isn’t entirely dead. When online play became the go-to way for friends to play each other, gamers lost the opportunity to play several games the way that children of the 80s and 90s did. There are still games away from Mario that explore these roots. Even Mortal Kombat, whose own robust online marketplace, kept the core gaming talent-based while still allowing for standard local play. However, fighting games and sports games seem to be the final remnants of a dying breed.
I found the remastered Burnout: Paradise on Switch during an early-pandemic game-buying spree and immediately bought it to play with my nephews. Then, something terrible happened. There wasn’t a local racing mode. Well, technically, there’s a multiplayer mode, but the days of racing your friend on the same system and using their screen to choose your strategy are apparently behind us. When racing games, a fundamental staple of local multiplayer, have pushed away from the sacred art of single-screen racing, it’s time for the masses to speak up.
There are several reasons for games not to focus on local multiplayer. However, while I am not a programmer, I cannot imagine we’re asking them to reinvent the wheel by adding local multiplayer in games where siblings, cousins, parents, and children can all join together and play without suffering through adult trash talk from a 12-year-old in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. have the online option.
Sometimes, you want a good old-fashioned game of one-on-one, two-on-two, or cooperative adventures with the people in the room. Does it make the game more fun in terms of function? No. Is it often more fun in the moment? Yes.
Local gaming isn’t about long-term leveling up, ranking in the top ten out of hundreds, or getting the best kill-death ratio. It’s about beating your friend, parent, aunt or uncle, or sibling in the most humiliating way imaginable. Whether that means looking at the other screen while they try to hide from your golden gun or using your environment to distract them as they take a late-game field goal, local gaming may not have the commercial money behind it, but it’s still the most fun one can have by playing with the ones they love.
Heck, Nintendo even has a leg-up here. Single-screen gaming can be a nuisance, but the system’s portability allows gamers to link up on their own console about as easily as plugging in the second controller was back in the day. Just like graphics, online multiplayer, and technical improvements can evolve, so can online gaming.
With so many games focusing on the social aspect of gaming, why do they abandon the most social gaming of them all? Fortnite and Among Us might need wireless connectivity to function. Still, there’s no excuse for racing games, fighting games, shooters, and other staples of local multiplayer to do away with it altogether.
It’s not just gamers taking notice, either. Overcooked, a beloved, kid-friendly cooperative cooking game, is fun in single-player, but it’s even better playing with someone else in the room. The same goes for Unraveled Two, a game that encourages teamwork and often requires it if you want to play together.
Phil Duncan, whose company, Ghost Town, created Overcooked, spearheaded the project, in part, because he thought that local gaming was getting unceremoniously put aside.
“Modern gamers are absolutely missing out on that experience. It’s a totally different way to experience a game. Even the same game playing it online compared to playing it locally, there’s just a different kind of social interaction that comes with it, and it’s a shame that people might be missing out on that,” he told TechRadar.
This gamer agrees, and while I’ll certainly keep having fun in massive online gaming, I simply wish that makers didn’t do away with the kind that I grew up on, too.