Last Christmas, I put a request in to Santa, or rather, my Mom. I asked her to get my brother and I each an Xbox 360 for Christmas. My brother and I pitched the idea to her mostly as a way for us to play together online and have something in common. My brother is five years younger than me, is newly married and is working on a new career. I’ve been married for seven years, have three kids, and have been in my current job and career track for more than seven years. In other words, we don’t have a whole lot to talk about, as our lives are very different. Couple that with the fact that we live 500 miles apart and its easy to see why we weren’t as close as we were growing up. That all changed shortly after Christmas 2008.
My mom came through, and on Christmas day we both received our Xbox 360’s. It honestly wasn’t a surprise, as my mom called me with questions when she was ordering them from Amazon. 😉 . I got my brother Madden 2009 for Christmas, and we spent some time playing the game together on my folks giant TV (seriously, the thing is HUGE). After we parted ways for the holidays, my brother and I went back to our own homes and hooked up our new consoles. Since the first week of January, we’ve been trying to play together online once a week, and it’s done great things for our relationship. With Xbox Live (you can do the same thing with the PlayStation Network), my brother and I are able to play a game together while talking via voice over IP. We’ve been playing mostly co-operative games together in our mostly-weekly gaming time.
Co-op games allow us to play as a team in order to accomplish a particular goal or progress in the game. We’ve played quite few games together including Marvel Ultimate Alliance and Castle Crashers. These two games are fun, as you’re playing together as a team, and they both have very similar play mechanisms. Basically you and your buddy choose characters and you move from room to room, beating up the bad guys until you clear the room. After you clear the room you can move to the next room and repeat the process. Eventually you get to the end of the level and usually have to face off against a larger boss. In the process of beating up the bad guys, my brother and I talk about what’s going on in our lives in between shouts of “get that guy” or “nice shot Chad! You’re the awesomest gamer I’ve ever known” (really 😉 ). The gaming is pretty simple and doesn’t really demand a whole lot from the players. These games are often referred to as “button-mashers”, as the player is simply mashing a button to make his character beat up the bad guys, repeating the mashing until all enemies are dealt with.
While those games are fun, I felt Marvel and Castle Crashers were missing something. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until my brother and I started playing Gears of War. Gears can be played co-op as well, with each player choosing one of two characters. My brother and I have played through 3/4 of the game together, and we’ve had a blast with it. In the game, the two characters have to take on an army of aliens (called locusts). It’s pretty much insurmountable odds, but by working together, two people actually do have a chance against the locusts. What makes the game so cool is that you aren’t simply moving from room to room all the time clearing enemies before moving on. There are elements in the game where the two players are doing two separate activities. In one scene in the game, I had to shine a spotlight from the roof of a building to keep my brother from being eaten by vampire demon things called Kryll. As long as I directed the light on top of my brother’s character from the building above, the Kryll (afraid of light) would leave him alone. In order to keep in the light, my brother and I had to communicate where he was going to move, and where I was going to shine the light. Also, more locusts were firing at him on the ground, so I had to tell him where the bad guys were.
There are lots of other places in Gears of War where you truly feel like you have accomplished something by working with your partner. Army of Two, the game we are currently playing, also places a very heavy emphasis on teamwork. In most cases, one player will attempt to draw the fire of the enemies, while the other player sneaks around and takes them out from another location. In many cases, waves of enemies keep pouring in, the two players have to work together to figure our the best course of action when they are outnumbered. Also, both games enable the players to help each other when they are down. In Army of Two, when my player goes down after taking too many shots, my brother can come drag me to a safe location and bandage me up. Gears also has this ability to revive a downed partner. In both cases, each player is very dependent on the other for survival in the game. The games require you to watch each other’s backs.
In watching my brother’s back, and with him watching mine, we’ve had some great fun together in the games we’ve played. We’re getting close to beating Army of Two, and we are both hungry for the moment we can say we conquered the game together. In working together towards that common goal of beating the bad guys, my brother and I have gotten a lot closer. The games we play (and the ones we want to play in the future) give us something to talk about. We can talk as we play with virtual guns, shoot the bad guys, strategize about a level, and even talk about how cool the game’s scenery is. The games give us a place to talk about our lives, to relate to each other, and to grow our relationship together. We look forward to playing together each week, and when we don’t we really miss the game, the conversation, and the time together.