Hi, I'm Crazyhowie, and I'm addicted to Co-op games.
In the Beginning
My infatuation with co-op games started in the arcade era of video games, I was a big fan of co-op before I even had an appreciation of what it was all about. Joust on the Atari 2600 is what I believe to be my earliest memory of a co-op game. Bubble Bobble though, is the most memorable, and felt like the first true co-op game I had played. This could be why it's one of my favorite games of all time.
I'd say that Beat 'em up games were the primary source of co-op early in those days though and there are plenty that I played throughout the years, especially when I was younger: Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, River City Ransom, X-Men, Simpsons, Battletoads, Altered Beast, Golden Axe, and so much more. Some of these games even offered team-up special moves between two characters. There were of course a few scrolling shooters I was into as well, such as Contra or Salamander.
On the PC side of things, when my family upgraded us to our first Pentium computer, that's where the addiction likely first took hold. Warcraft 2 (comp stomp) and Diablo consumed hours of my life. Diablo even moreso at LAN parties, with the longest binge of 18 hours of playing over one special weekend. LAN Parties were frequent due to a good friend of mine having four computers at his house. It was simply an after school activity for us.
Player FPS Has Joined Your Game
When Diablo wasn't loaded up, First Person Shooters became the driving force for LAN co-op. And there are endless memories of playing through games such as Doom, Heretic, Quake, Hexen, Serious Sam, and plenty more. My friends and I were big deathmatch fans as well, but then games started to introduce more competitive teamplay modes alongside deathmatch or completely replacing it. Co-operation wasn't necessary for these games, but it certainly helped and felt damn good when it happened, whether the co-op efforts were intentional or not. Games such as Unreal Tournament, Counter-Strike, and Team Fortress were some of the earlier games where I became appreciative of this type of gameplay. Competitive teamplay has evolved substantially over the years, as game designers try to find creative ways in providing players incentive to work together.
Competitive teamplay games being referred to as co-op would be considered blasphemy by many. And it's true that these games are primarily versus with varying degrees of cooperative elements. I say that it entirely depends on how you play the game though. In my college days, I'd typically jump into games on my own, lone wolfing it. Yeah, occasionally I would attempt to coordinate with a player or two for certain situations, but I found that was not always easy. More and more I find that I really only like to play online with people that I know, for the very reason of people not always being easy to work with. That's just life. We're all different and when it comes to video games, we all have different playstyles and skill levels, that may not particularly mesh well together. These playstyles and skill levels may vary greatly when it comes to different genres or even individual game specific mechanics. It also doesn't help that the anonymity of Internet can bring out the worst in people. I find that playing with people you know makes it easier to deal with those special ones. Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) on the other hand... are an entirely different story.
The MMO Days
MMO games, the ultimate time sinks. I spent at least a few years playing them, between Final Fantasy XI Online and World of Warcraft. FFXI introduced me to a whole new level of cooperative gameplay than I had ever experienced before. At the time, FFXI wasn't exactly a soloable affair. Of course, there are those who always tried to prove otherwise, but the game was definitely built around the party system. And that party system mechanic was an absolute delight... when everything went smooth. I won't go into too much detail, but those who have played in a party in FFXI understood the numerous things that could go wrong, that resulted in massive experience losses and time wasted for everyone. It was ultimately a lack of coordination that was truly detrimental to a party's success.
Then there was World of Warcraft (WoW), the game that many viewed as the "Casual MMO". The two years I invested into it was anything but casual though. It took a few months, but I eventually settled in with an awesome group of people to play the game with. There are a few that I skill keep in contact with even, though many more that I fell out of touch with due to those crazy twists and turns that life takes. The game became what eventually felt like a job, which sounds terrible, I know. It was satisfying though. As one of the guild officers among several awesome people, I'd try and help lead parties or raids of up to 40 people against dungeons or boss encounters that have become some of the most intense and satisfying gaming experiences I can recall (though notably also some of the most frustrating). Communicating and coordinating with a group of 40 players (read: real life people) felt incredible and when everything went smooth, you know you did your "job" right. That sense of progression and accomplishment is an awesome thing to share with so many people at once even if it is "just in a video game". But it doesn't matter if it's in a video game or real life, achieving goals or conquering the most challenging of tasks, will release those happy chemicals into the brain just the same.
Chaos is Good Too
I feel it's important to clarify that cooperative gameplay doesn't have to be a well-oiled machine for it to be fun. Chaos can be fun too. Some of the more memorable moments in gaming I have is when things don't exactly go smooth: Borderlands 4-player co-op, constantly reviving each other, fighting to survive against waves of spawning enemies; Left 4 Dead 2 campaign, continually battling off endless hordes and special infected with the safe room door in sight; or Resident Evil 5, when you are fighting for the focus of a chain-saw wielding mad man to protect each other, all the while scrambling to keep your distance from him.
Then there is Portal 2, when plans just don't execute as expected and you send your partner to their demise in an acid pool or a flurry of bullets. And let's not forget Magicka, where it's the most fun you'll have killing your friends by exploding, burning, shocking, freezing, and launching them off the map. It is pure, unadulterated chaos. Defying the odds and overcoming the seemingly impossible is an endorphin rush that video games can provide all too well. That balance between too easy and too difficult, where players can get into 'flow', is where co-op really shines for me though.
Co-op is Great. What's the Problem Then?
What it ultimately comes down to is that I tend to buy games with co-op before I even think about who I would play them with. It's not anything and everything, to be fair, and I'm getting a bit better about curbing my impulse purchases. I'm also not oblivious to what I'm purchasing either as I'll typically give a game it's due diligence before I buy. I co-op bullet point doesn't immediately trigger me to say gimme gimme gimme, but it does grab my attention and draws me in to research the game in the first place. The problem is that I stack games onto the backlog and then realize that I may not actually get around to this or that game for it's co-op elements. I just hope that I will and too much so for my own good.
You see, the backlog grows larger as I get older, because now that all adult-like and such, I have less time to dedicate to games /sadface. Not to mention the fact that I plan to spend more time designing games as opposed to playing them, the backlog will only grow larger. Then there's that time coordination thing for multiple adults. Trying to get people together to not only purchase, but to find a mutual agreeable time to play a specific game... that's not exactly easy. Which, is part of the reason why I appreciate Steam. It's easy to gift games and when it comes to co-op ones, there are typically group buying options. I have a small circle of friends in which we all will gift these cheap, indie co-op games to each other as it's a great way to say "hey, let's do this". And, it usually works out to get us to coordinate playing it for at least one night.
As I wrap up these ramblings, I do want to say that I greatly appreciate that my wife likes to play some co-op games with me. It's certainly much easier to coordinate playing with her than anyone else. Her preference in genres are a bit more focused than mine though, so we primarily play Puzzle or RPG games together. It's awesome, don't get wrong, but there are several games I had purchased for couch co-op and no one to play them with. Sad story, I know /violin. It's not a big deal really though, but it does make it appear that I'm some co-op hungry fiend whose hunger can not be satiated. I can't entirely deny that. I'd call that an addiction.
I am Crazyhowie, and I'm addicted to co-op games.