Some gamers are cooperative, some are competitive. Then again, some Gamers Are Ruining Gaming. There are those that thrive on working together to tackle a common goal, while others prefer to compete for said prize. Gaming often goes through yearly cycles- favoring one form of multiplayer over another. Often it takes the release of only one ground-breaking game to influence gamers and the market in one of the two directions. In the 90s, Street Fighter opened the floodgates for versus gameplay. In 2006, the rise of console online play signaled an era of co-op prominence. Still, no matter what the current trend, there are some gamers that simply like one over the other and will not be influenced.
Co-op, or cooperative play, emphasizes solidarity over personal gain. The team and its success are more important than individual needs. If you have to sacrifice yourself so that the team can go on, then so be it. Co-op fans will stay back and hold them off, share their potions, and rescue allies- whatever is necessary. It’s the humans versus the game and you need all the help you can get- you can’t afford to turn your back on your teammates. Tales of Symphonia, Dynasty Warriors, Fable II & III, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Eternal Sonata, Samurai Warriors, and Metal Slug are all great examples of true co-op experiences. RPG, Adventure, Strategy, MMO, and Hack & Slash are the genres in which you see the most co-op titles.
PVP, or player vs player, emphasizes rivalry and competition. Your survival and individual triumph are all that matter. While temporary alliances might be forged out of necessity, in the end you need to be the only one standing. Limits are pushed, skills are put to the test, and good sportsmanship is encouraged though not enforced. PVP lovers are all about proving themselves better than other players and soaking up the honor that comes along with it. Super Smash Brothers Brawl, Street Fighter, Wii Sports, Pokemon, Bomberman, Call of Duty , Mario Party, and Goldeneye 007 all come to mind as PVP-focused games. The genres most PVP-centered would be Fighting, Racing, Sports, Shooter, and Party.
Developers trying to please both sides have a difficult challenge ahead. Trying to juggle cooperative elements and a competitive atmosphere can backfire very easily. One popular method of appeasing both sides is to offer team-play with benefits to the better performing players. While this can certainly work well in theory, you risk fostering discontent and treachery among allies. Games like Monster Hunter Tri, New Super Mario Brothers Wii, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time, and Legend of Zelda: Four Swords all nicely demonstrate this co-op design choice. All offer co-op play with performance-based benefits while encouraging opportunists.
There’s a reason I’ve picked up the nickname ‘Traitorous Kaiju’ amid my circle of gaming friends. If you give gamers like myself not only the ability to blow up, trip, set ablaze, paralyze, or otherwise harm teammates, but also the incentive to do so- you’re asking for trouble. Too many times I’ve been tempted to abandon or betray an ally for personal gain or profit. Make the co-op experience too competitive and you no longer have a stalwart alliance- you have a den of thieves. Contrary to popular belief, there’s no honor among thieves. If there’s extra treasure, better equipment, or a bonus power-up to be claimed- backs will be stabbed.
So what about the opposite choice? Does offering a competitive system with cooperative elements fare better? It depends on who you ask. Team PVP is the most common method we see here. Its team-play specifically geared toward playing against other humans as opposed to the computer. Unreal Tournament 3,Warhawk, Mario Kart, Halo, Fat Princess, and World of Warcraft all exhibit this form of play. On paper this sounds fine. Surely there’s no difference between gamers working together against the CPU and gamers working together against other gamers. Well, unfortunately, there is.
On a psychological level, humans would much rather lose to probability or nature than other humans. Gaming is no different. A gamer would much rather fall to a game generated boss or bottomless pit instead of a competing player. The Gaming Paradox all too well describes the negative associations between gamers. The problems don’t stop there. A gamer does whatever it takes to win- or, in some cases, not to lose. A gamer will cheat, exploit the system, or flat-out quit to avoid losing. Put simply, Team PVP encourages an unbalanced playing field due to foul play, exploitation, and elitist attitudes. Then again, one could argue that so does regular PVP. One can also expect a steep, sometimes insurmountable learning curve. Too few PVP gamers are willing to help newcomers- far more often they’re jumping ship from a disadvantaged team and searching for greener pastures.
When not trying to mix the two, the gaming world has a tendency to elevate one over the other. On one side of the fence you’ll hear praise for the sophistication and teamwork ethics built from co-op play. On the other side you’ll hear admiration for the concepts of sportsmanship and independence built by PVP. A young gamer’s future can be deeply influenced by what multiplayer experiences they are first introduced to. Would the Xbox Live experience be so vulgar and socially inept if more gamers were exposed to co-op play? Quite likely. Would the threshold of gaming skill be significantly reduced if healthy competition between players was not encouraged? Quite likely.
While you’re more likely to see a ‘Vs’ mode in a game, they don’t have near the longevity of a co-op mode. It is because of this that fighting games like Street Fighter require annual follow-ups and expansions- while games like co-op RPGs do not. In order to remain relevant, Vs-heavy franchises must keep churning out new characters, content, stages, and modes. While this raises the profit margin, it also spreads the series thin commercially. This really becomes a problem when follow-ups fail to innovate and instead exist as little more than cash-ins or failed experiments in Entertainment Evolution.
Two schools of gaming thought, each with faults and merits. No matter which side of multiplayer gaming you fall on, one thing can be agreed upon. A good game is made even better when you have good friends to play with- competitive or cooperative.