News | 5/28/2014 at 8:36 PM

How Co-Op Builds Friendships...With Strangers

I’ve met some of my best friends online. It wasn’t through an AOL chatroom, or a BBS message board. Even my Power Rangers Facebook group fell out of touch with each other and most of my sports teams just come together for our one game a week. One thing has remained consistent and solidified friendships in my life and that is co-op gaming.

The Early Years

I find it super weird to think that I have people around the world that I can call a friend, especially when I have been to less than 10% of the countries on the planet. In this technological age of Facetimes, Hangouts, and streaming a void still remains between two people and their screens. However, when you put a group of people into a game together and give them a task; slay a monster, rescue a prince, fight off evil to save the world - people will come together for a cause. I cannot explain exactly what it is, but I revel in the fact that co-op gaming brings strangers together, and sometimes they even become friends.

I’m not saying every person you hop into a game should be invited to come over for dinner. Heck,  this is almost impossible nowadays since 90% of the time the people I’m playing online with are cities, countries, and continents apart. If you were like me and grew up before online gaming was a thing, it was the kids on the street who became your co-op partners and these guys always kept on stealing my pizza in TMNT. As you grew older, and your mom let you have a sleepover it was all about eternal nights of Bubble Bobble, Contra, and Battletoads. Finishing any of these games with a friend forged an eternal bond which I will argue can never be broken.

Co-Op gaming isn’t a new idea, or exclusive to video games. It’s been around for a while, especially when it comes to tabletop gaming. Spending many nights with created characters trudging through long campaigns has its charm, but logistics usually become a detriment as people grow older and time becomes an issue. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some of my best times on paper but I can’t be bothered with the inconvenience of the whole process anymore now that I have been spoiled with a computer as a Dungeon Master.  

My first online experiences as a kid fell into the 28.8K category where you had to call up a buddy, tell your mom not to pick up the phone, and then dial into each other’s modem. DOOM deathmatch and QUAKE were the earliest nuances of being able to interact with another human being that wasn’t in the same room. Even though we were turning each other into giblets, it gave new meaning to video games. No longer did I have to ask permission to go to someone’s house, or wait until the weekend to play with my friends. Soon mods came out where we could be in the game together fraggin monsters instead of each other. This changed everything.

Stranger Danger

Jump ahead to a more established time where online capabilities were pushed forward by services like Xbox Live. Sure, Diablo had satiated the need to play with others for a good chunk of the ‘90’s but voice chat wasn’t quite where it needed to be to establish that human connection. The convenience of voice chat integrated into the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 made it quite easy to talk to whomever was in a game with you. This may seem like a simple thing that we now take for granted but I can’t stress enough how a voice gives life to a name.

The first co-op game to put me in a group with people I had never met in my life was Marvel Ultimate Alliance. I don’t know exactly what it was about the superhero brawler but our group of four vowed to finish the game together. I’m really glad we all decided on this because it would be weird to have someone else playing Iron Man or Hawkeye beside me. These were our characters and this was our story. I had played X-Men Legends on a couch with my buddies, but this was different. Coming together with a group of strangers with one sole purpose, to beat the game. Without the game (in this case Marvel Ultimate Alliance) I would have never spent an extended period of time with these people, have a great time, and get to know them past their online persona.

I’m a big supporter of removing online anonymity. It must be my extrovert nature. I’d rather call someone by their real name than an online handle when they are protecting my back against a horde of zombies. I know that is something that many people still struggle with, especially in online communities. I understand that games are used by people to escape, but at the end of the day we are all still just a bunch of people playing a video game. Obviously the younger you are, the less this applies because you still have to be careful of weirdos out there. The proverbial ‘stranger danger’ still applies to online situations. When you play a game with a person you  quickly find out the type of person they are, and if you want to spend more time with this person.

It may take a couple different games or types of games, but true colors shine through when you co-op together. Playing Company of Heroes or Starcraft will demonstrate how they deal with pressure. Hop into Crackdown and test their patience while each of you waits for the other after failed jump attempts to get agility orbs. The kicker though, if you really want to get to know somebody. Play Left 4 Dead and witness what kind of person they truly are. Left 4 Dead brings out the best (and the worst) in people and is a true test of online friendships.   

Why does this matter? Who cares if you know the person on the other end? We all know how much better it can feel to play with someone you know, rather than a complete stranger. Gaming has been turning strangers into friends for years now, and not only does it enhance our game experience, I believe it makes us better people.

The Meatspace

I’ve had the opportunity to meet many of my online friends in real life. Given the chance, I would highly recommend meeting the people you play with. Conventions like PAX are a great way to get together on common grounds and just hang out, party, and get excited about the upcoming games you are going to get to experience together. Luckily I have been able to do this for a number of years and each time it is very exciting to see my friends (who were once strangers) and interact outside of a game.

I can’t stress enough the importance of maintaining relationships outside of your online friends. I find that people tend to have many online friendships and fail to keep their RL (real life) friends around. I’ll admit that hanging out with people online and in a game is WAY easier than actually going out and meeting friends for a game of basketball or go for a drink at a pub. Don’t fall into the trap of having a plethora of online friends and realizing that you are lonely because you failed to keep your RL friends around. I realize that some people don’t have many friends and that gaming has given them access to a whole new pool of people to make friends with. In some situations that is alright, but I would highly encourage people to balance their life by going out and finding friends they can meet with on a regular basis. Trust me, it is important. I work out of my house and you go stir crazy when you haven’t left for a couple days…

Co-op is a very important aspect of my gaming background, as I have been able to find some of my best friends through games. People that used to be strangers, sharing a common goal, who eventually turned into friends. Not everyone is going to become best buds after a Halo campaign, but I think it is pretty cool that we have the technology to hop into these worlds and work together. Co-op games have been around for a long time, but it was only in the last decade co-op has become a driving factor in game development with games based around co-op. It is awesome because we’re going to have a whole new generation of people playing together, and maybe even people will make a friend or two.