Alright, so I know half the stock photos these days of supposed 'couch co-op gamers' are actually low-key hipsters in disguise who can't tell an L2 button from a N64 joystick apart (not to mention the fact that most of them can't even hold a controller the correct way), but nonetheless, I'm still pretty keen to remember the good old days of couch co-op gaming. You know, before these Fortnite-obsessed arseholes came tumbling along and spoilt it all.
There was a time when gaming and couch co-op went hand in hand. And nine times out of 10 you'd often be shovelling your way through a split-screen campaign with a physical human as opposed to playing on your own miserable self with a selfish android. Now those were the greatest days of gaming, my friends. Those were the days the spark was well and truly still ignited. Not like now where everybody just spends every playable moment breathing into microphones whilst calling each other goat whores or something.
But winding back to say, I don't know, the early 2000s era. Or way before that even. That's when couch co-op was, as the kids would put it, 'LIT.' That's when we could literally spend endless nights crashing over a mate's house just so we could binge through a 200 hour Dynasty Warriors empire. Or maybe just play through every Tekken character just so we could unlock every secret 20-second epilogue.
Borderlands, Gears of War, Diablo, PONG for Christ's sake. These are, to name a very small few, a batch of games that could quite easily 'borrow' a hundred hours of your free time without even having to try and reel you in with microtransactions.
With solid stories, decent narratives, exciting gameplay that not only rely on your technical abilities but also your couch buddies too, and of course dozens of reasons to play them 20 times over, these golden titles from back in the day were strong reasons why friendships were so much more sacred than they are today. Because we would be in a physical location with a second person. We'd be engaged with the same story and the very same ambience the room possessed. That's something that today's generation can't seem to replicate. Because, nowadays, it's all just vacant rooms and worn-in headsets. And despite the power of WiFi for online gaming, there's just not really a connection to other players anymore.
There was something truly special about the couch co-op era, I think. Like, for say, when you could call in for a Dominos, load up a mini-fridge with 12 cans of Red Bull, and then settle in for a lengthy campaign with your best mate. That's something I actually quite miss and would gladly take a step back to any day of the week. I'd just need couch co-op to make a comeback first. And a friend. But providing I had those two, I'd happily take a trip back to my 13-year-old self and tuck into some epic, old-school bangers.
I remember oh too well the amount of times I had a few friends over for Friday nights after school finished. With our pre-pubescent voices giggling like little girls in a playground, we'd shovel into our sleeping bags and swap controllers as we marched through Gears of War on split-screen. And as we pursued a sugar-riddled brain as the hours passed by, we'd keep our eyes away from the clock and purely on the game. Then, of course, the sun would rise and break through the cracks of the curtains and the final boss would appear in front of us. We'd wipe the sleep from our eyes and bring him down in one last-ditch effort. And as the Dominos grease peeled from the controllers and the crushed energy drink cans rolled around the carpet, we'd smile at one another and pat each other on the back. Because, in those few short moments of bliss, we had accomplished something together as a team. We had carried the weight of one another and snatched the title as one mighty force.
These days, I mean, you don't really have that sort of thing. But that's because of the decrease in motivation to make co-op games like before. Because, honestly, they just don't sell like they used to. They've become a thing of the past and are now only seen as hits from our younger years.
Sure, there are still some developers who're trying incredibly hard to bring back the beauty of the split-screen. But despite their best efforts, these poor titles just don't stand a chance when standing in the shadows of triple-A monsters like Grand Theft Auto, Fortnite, and Call of Duty. For them, it's all about the online interaction without the physical connection of two or more people. And people seem to be happy with that these days. People are okay with being alone and just playing through a microphone. I guess I am too, in a way. But I still miss the friendlier days of gaming, though. And that's okay too.
Personally, I think the days of couch co-op have died out. But that's not to say the feathers of a phoenix won't rise from the ashes of which burnt out many years ago, though. I still think that's possible, to be honest. We just need to sideline the money-grabbing games and search a little deeper for something that offers us the chance to capture a moment with a friend or two. And I know there's plenty out there that can do just the thing. It's just that most kinds aren't that interested these days when they can expect the same quality from the their own confinement as they would with a friend in the same room.
Couch co-op fades into the void, and online gaming storms forward. Happy-go-lucky sleepovers with friends becomes a thing of the past, and all-nighters through party chats settles in as the go-to method for communication. I suppose that's really just the way it is these days. But that's not say it'll be forever. Trends seem to rotate like clockwork in this generation. So whilst the future of split-screen seems rather bleak now, nothing is to say it won't be the hype tomorrow.
I'm not sure about you, but that's something I'd definitely get onboard with.
Just as soon as I had a friend to, you know, play with.
- J Tury