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.