Live Together or Die Alone

Any fan of LOST will remember the climactic speech given by Dr. Jack Shepherd as he attempted to unite a diverse group of castaways on a strange and hostile island.

“Every man for himself is not gonna work. It’s time to start organizing. We need to figure out how we’re gonna survive here. Now I found water… fresh water up in the valley. I’ll take a group in at first light. If you don’t wanna come, then find another way to contribute! Last week most of us were strangers. But we’re all here now, and God knows how long we’re gonna be here. But if we can’t, live together… we’re gonna die alone.”

For most of us, we’ll never be put in an extraordinary situation where every decision could mean life or death. However, if you’re like me (and let’s face it, you probably are, because you’re on this website), then you realize that the majority of video games constantly place us in dangerous scenarios. Many of us have been pinned into a corner by a Spartan Laser with only a few needles left in our spiky pink gun, or tried to jump over endless Hadoukens only to get an uppercut if we try to get any closer. Sometimes we escape the situation. Most of the time we get shellacked.

Inevitably we’re left with one of three choices:

1) Throw the crummy Mad Catz controller against the wall and fume, before going to GameStop the next day and shelling out ten dollars for a new crummy Mad Catz controller.

2) Work diligently on honing your skills until you become a better player.

3) Go to the internet and look for that GameFAQs bookmark so you can find a way to cheat the system.

I apologize to my bosses for losing Mad Catz as a sponsor

In the last several years, something strange happened to the world of gaming. The single player experience became overshadowed by multiplayer experiences that thrust gamers into epic battles with strangers from around the globe. Titles such as Call of Duty and Modern Warfare provided the individual with an opportunity to take on the world’s best by providing a frantic environment where kill count is king.

Online multiplayer was groundbreaking, but it always felt hollow. I assumed that players more talented than myself were thinking, “What an idiot. This guy’s blown himself up with his own rocket launcher four times in the last six minutes.” On the flip side I felt that lesser players were saying, “This guy’s a douche. He probably spends eight hours a night practicing because he’s got no life.”

We all deserve a pat on the back once in a while for accomplishing something difficult in a game (except for my brother, who constantly substitutes my quarterback for my kicker in Madden while I’m in the bathroom.) Thankfully, video game developers have started to become aware of our plight. In the last couple of years, games have embraced cooperation as the strongest way to dominate a situation. Let’s look at three examples:

1) Uncharted 3 (Beta)

Taking a page from modes such as Horde (Gears of War) and Firefight (Halo), Uncharted 3 added its own cinematic flair and playful banter to a cooperative mode that out-shined the generic Lone Wolf experience. When one of your teammates went down, you were given the opportunity to rescue the individual by staying in close contact and bringing them back to life. If you were being choked from behind by the unfairly sneaky ninjas, your fate was in the hands of your partner coming to your aid (you could also mash the triangle button, which does absolutely nothing). When you realized you had a partner who was going to stick with you and clear the way so you could run the treasure back to the little wooden box, you nodded your head and said, “Thank God I don’t have to lug this thing around by myself as I try to knock down fourteen guys with my pistol.”

2) Left 4 Dead 2

My friend Chris doesn’t have an XBOX360, but he loves this game so much he bought his own copy, and plays it wherever he can. He’s a Left 4 Dead nomad. The first time we played, I ran off into an eerie looking building to look for an upgrade to my frying pan and a Jockey hopped onto my head. I ran around in a circle like a fool until my health ran out. The next time it happened, I made sure to have a teammate close by, and they shot the little guy off my head before he could lay a scratch on me. The moral of this story? Watch your friend’s back (also stop letting the Jockey jump on you like the facehugger from Alien).

3) Portal 2

Valve created the ultimate teamwork experience in their latest title. If you’re a gamer that doesn’t work well with others, you won’t escape the first chamber. As the levels progress, the satisfaction that you and your partner achieve through solving seemingly impossible challenges makes you want to call Anteater21 on the phone and celebrate your brilliance.

These examples are just a taste of a new era. Game creators had the choice to construct a system where players start off in the same location, but could leave the group and finish the job on their own. Instead, they’ve provided challenges that are so demanding that only the most sadistic players would venture away from their teammates.

The one constant in gaming is that we’ll always find ourselves in situations in which we are outmatched. The good news is we now have a fourth option. We can overcome our shortcomings by watching our partner’s back. If we draw our gun too late and lie bleeding in the dirt, we can holler into our headset and ask a friend for a medpack. Our fourth option is each other. 

Cooperation is not only a tool for developers to create more engaging challenges, but it creates a sense of satisfaction that single player achievements can’t match. When you feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself, the victory holds a great deal of substance and meaning.

This week, Halo: Reach was the most played game on Xbox Live. Every free-for-all match can be thought of as a dozen starving children fighting over the last dinner roll. When it’s all over and you see your name on top of the list at the end of the match, you ignore the grumbling voices over your headset, and enjoy your moment in the sun. You eat that roll and pound your chest, and ignore the hateful eyes watching you walk away from the table.

Let’s take that same game and look at team deathmatch. Instead of camping in the corner of the map with a sniper gun waiting for novice players to wander into the open, you’re flanking a squad of enemy Spartans in a speeding warthog with two other passengers. Instead of lurking in the shadows and keeping an eye on the weakest player for another easy kill, you’re coordinating a simultaneous attack on every doorway of an enemy building. Whenever you’re part of something bigger than yourself, you’re grabbing that same dinner roll and ripping off a piece for every smiling face at the table.

Developers are recognizing our gravitation toward cooperation in the local and online community and nudging us closer to helping our digital partners. It’s the next step in the evolution of the industry, because it not only provides a more satisfying experience, but it creates a stronger community that will stay loyal to their product. When it comes to video games, working together is always better than dying alone.