Multitap: Getting by with a little help from my friends

November 27, 2013


Local multiplayer games are inherently cooperative experiences. Even the competitive ones! I like saying that everything’s better with friends, but that just isn’t universally true. A lot of it depends on just who those friends are and how much they’re on board with having a good time over all else. I happen to have some particularly great ones, and I’m thankful. Now I’d like to tell you why.

Everyone has at least a few different groups to play games with over the years. For me, most of my middle and high school years were spent with the same group, and college was a similar experience. The group I play with these days started in the late summer of 2009. It was a particularly rough time for me: in the span of just a few weeks, I had found myself ejected from my job, home and social life.

Everything turned out just fine, but at the time I was having a bit of trouble landing on my feet. One of my oldest friends invited me to a late-night Magic: the Gathering tournament, and though I hadn’t played in years, I was happy enough to get out of the house for a while. I’m glad I did! There I reconnected with some hometown friends I hadn’t seen since high school, and we decided that we should hang out more often.


So for over four years, we’ve held a weekly game night at my place. I’ve talked about them before, of course. We play, slowly, through party-based RPGs. We devise strategies and develop roles for more complex titles. We even go a little crazy from time to time. But, really, all of my Multitap columns are about these nights with my friends. They’re fiercely loyal and helpful in ways that aren’t just limited to games, but for the purposes of this column I’m going to focus on the ways they make playing games better.

They’re patient: As much as game nights are about playing games, sometimes they’re about not playing games. Of course, there are the small things: you have to wait for people to arrive, and you have to keep it together while you gather all the controllers, untangle the multitaps and sit through the numerous patches for modern titles that haven’t been played in a while. It’s not the easiest thing to deal with week in and week out, but without it, you’re limited to playing the games of least resistance.


Sometimes this wait isn’t so small, though. The worst? Our excited gathering for the launch of the Wii U. Not a lot of launches lend themselves to local multiplayer; the most recent two were almost irrelevant to couch play. The Wii U was different, though, with several huge titles that supported four or even five players. But when we raced back after the midnight release and plugged it in? Yep, system update. Not everyone would have stuck around when the screen pops up with a three-and-a-half-hour progress bar at 1:00 a.m. My friends did, killing time with board games and such, and when we finally got to play in what at that point should be called the morning, the anticipation and excitement remained.

They’re tolerant: I don’t mean that in the social sense. If you play multiplayer titles and like checking out new things, you regularly have to deal with things that are frustrating or just not fun. Yeah, okay, some games are just brilliant. But some games, like Diablo III and Dragon’s Crown, make you sit around in menus while each player manages stats and equipment. Others, like Skulls of the Shogun, don’t adjust when players are eliminated and just sitting around. Limiting yourself to the most polished, flawless experiences doesn’t let you experience the full breadth of what’s available. If you can handle elements that are less than ideal, you’ll have more fun.


If you have the right group, though, you can find fun in games that are too flawed for most. We had a great time with Tank! Tank! Tank!, a game with very little meat on its bones. That’s okay, though! We never took it too seriously, and brought to it just the amount of silly intensity to keep it frantic.

They’re willing to try things: The best game nights don’t get bogged down with the same things over and over. We play unplugged titles, older games and imports. Sometimes we even play bocce or Fiasco. It’s these forays into other types of games that keeps things fresh and fun when we just want to settle down for an evening of Diablo or Blur.

Even within games itself, it’s important to experiment. You can start with a system-link game of Borderlands or something. Some of our best times playing games have come from Cubixx HD‘s seven-player split-screen, or impractical setups for Four Swords Adventures and fully-loaded Rock Band 3.


These things fuel my appreciation of games; I simply wouldn’t be the same without joy-filled game moments constantly defining my life. I hope all of you are lucky enough to experience a group like that of your own. And Nathan, Ross, Jeremy, Steven, Emily, Stephone and Aric? Thank you for everything. And… see you next week?