These unprecedented times have left many of us stuck at home more than we’d like. Fortunately for me, this has created some more time for video games. I’ve always been into single-player, offline games where there’s just an open map world with a rich narrative and me, the only real player surrounded by non-playable characters. My partner instead has been playing massive online multiplayers for more than half of his life, and solitary game experiences rarely excite him.
We have found the sweet spot, the middle ground between these two very different video game preferences: online co-op games, where there’s a possibility to play as a duo. And not just any co-op games, but the survival ones. Being stranded on an island after a plane crash, where you soon realize, that instead of being alone, you share the said island with several mutant cannibal tribes. Or being lost in a sweltering Brazilian rainforest, with no supplies or water, where one wrong step will get you either infected, poisoned, or eaten alive. Simulations of high-stress situations like these are sure to get your heart racing, but I want to argue that there are several other benefits for playing survival co-op video games with your partner, aside from the shared thrill.
The most obvious benefit is the crash course to teamwork and your dynamics as a team. Which one of you is the scout and the navigator making sure you don’t get lost? Which one of you fearlessly faces enemies (were they beasts or men), keeping the other out of harm’s way? Or do you work in unison, completing tasks like two sides of the same body? Whether it’s Forest, Green Hell, or Minecraft we’re playing, our team dynamics stay the same. My partner is an independent hunter with iron nerves but a terrible sense of direction, and I am a resourceful navigator, but would much rather spend time building a mud hut and cultivating healing herbs to patch wounds with. And I will lose my cool while exploring dark caves full of mutants.
There are also many lessons to learn on communication when the other one of you (me) dies in the aforementioned mutant cave and has to trek back from the respawn spot from the other side of the map to fetch gear. How do you communicate with your partner when you’re in a state of disappointment and annoyance? How does your partner react to your mistakes? It is eye-opening to see if failure starts an argument about whose fault the death actually was, or are you two able to roll with the punches and move on as a team.
Survival games can also amplify appreciation towards your partner and your companionship. Taking care of one another is mutually beneficial not only in the real world but also when trying to survive in a virtual rainforest. Nothing says “I care about you” than picking leeches off of your partner’s character’s hard-to-reach spots, or building a makeshift camp and guarding the fire while your partner’s character sleeps off fever raised by a snake bite.
On top of it all, shared achievements are the most gratifying ones. From clearing a challenging cave of monsters or piecing together a cryptic storyline that feels like building a thousand-piece puzzle with only nine hundred pieces, a team effort put into team victory is sweet. It’s Valentine’s Day in a couple of days when I’m writing this, and you can probably guess the plans for the special day: some survival co-op, this time in candlelight.
header photo: screenshot from Green Hell, taken by the author
text photo: screenshot from Forest by Steam user Rat Smacker, acquired permission to use