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Adventures in co-op

Long distance relationships are a difficult business. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who actually liked being in one (unless, of course, they weren’t all that excited by the prospect of living with their partner, which is a whole other story), but for a whole lot of people – myself included – they’re a necessary evil.

My girlfriend Teresa lives in San Francisco, and I’m here in snowy Boston. For work reasons, neither of us can up and leave to join the other on the opposite coast, so our life is full of video chat, monthly cross-country visits, and a slew of online co-op gaming.

I’ve talked about Teresa’s transition from gaming agnostic to full-on gamer on the podcast, but it never fails to fascinate me. Watching her play games – especially when she’s introduced to a new genre – sometimes feels like a behavioral science experiment. All the learned habits that you and I take for granted are absent, instead replaced by T’s unique set of logic and spatial reasoning skills (she’s a legit genius – a full medical doctor by the time she was 20, and one hell of a musician), and the everyday reasoning of a budding gamer. When she started, the controller was foreign to her. The mechanics of an FPS were alien. She started playing Bioshock and was hiding in the walls before even the first enemy encounter, unsure of what to do next.

She’s since become quite skilled – much more than me, in certain ways, as our truly epic year long run through Saints Row 2 in co-op proved. She has way better aim, and I’m a better driver. She’s a more precise player, with a better grasp of what the game wants, while I have a better sense of direction in these fake 3D spaces. In short, we complement each other well, and I swear, I think co-op gaming is good for our relationship. That is, until we start screwing up missions and getting mad at one another. Cest la vie.

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We’re currently playing through Trine 2 – her very first 2D platformer (aside from one failed experiment with Mario that was completely my fault). The game is fantastic – a gorgeous, light-hearted medieval send-up with strong puzzle elements. It’s particularly well suited for co-op, since you are constantly switching among three characters, each with their own skills and powers. T is loving the puzzles and even enjoying the combat, but she’s not sold on the platforming. In fact, I don’t think she’s sold on 2D platforming at all. She finds the physics weird, the camera incomprehensible, and the bizarre need to jump around on platforms kind of dumb.

She’s only really played 3D games, so it makes perfect sense. This new, forced perspective is totally weird and limiting to her (though she doesn’t mind during her many “aha” moments when she figures out the puzzles). She didn’t grow up with Mario, so the idea that you need to jump and run and hop and bop to get around (something I’ve internalized since my budding platform queen days in 1989 or so), which is fascinating unto itself.

In any event, Trine 2 rocks for co-op, Saints Row 3 and Portal 2 are on the docket, and co-op gaming is a godsend for couples who happen to be stranded far away from one another. You’ve not quite lived until you’ve heard your significant other scream “kill the pimp, baby, KILL THE PIMP” during a particularly heated session.

Danielle Riendeau

What I do for work: spend my days as the ACLU design/code/video ninja, write about games, make (tiny) games, teach digital media at Northeastern University. What I do for fun: all of the above, plus lots of running, fitness fun, filmmaking, outdoor exploration, world travel, sci-fi everything.

3 thoughts to “Adventures in co-op”

  1. My buddy and I played through Saints Row 2 together and it is without doubt my favorite co-op experience ever. That game provided so many laughs and badass over-the-top moments. We would just screw around for hours messing with the physics or trying to kill each other in amusing ways and it never stopped being fun. Right now we’re in the middle of SR3 and loving it.

    It’s weird that I used to play solo games all of the time, along with co-op games, but now I’m almost exclusively playing some form of multiplayer game. I play games for the social interaction and never sit down by myself. I have SO MANY unfinished games sitting on my shelf, mostly long RPGs that I like the idea of playing but can’t bring myself to put the time in. If it comes to a session of playing something with a friend however, I’ll make the time or stay up way too late and be dead at work the next day.  : )

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