Ask a Gamer 14?: What is ‘couch co-op’?

Posted on October 30, 2017

Q: I’ve read a number of your reviews and comments on particular video games, and you often use the term ‘couch co-op’. Sorry if this sounds dumb, but what does that mean?

A: Great question! And of course, it’s not dumb at all – like any group of people, us gamers sometimes use jargon without realising that not everyone is up with the lingo.

OK, so ‘couch co-op’ is a way of describing a particular type of multiplayer gameplay in video games. As the name suggests, ‘multiplayer’ is when you have more than one player in a game. This is distinguished from ‘single player’ gameplay, which is sometimes called ‘campaign’ gaming, meaning that a single player will go through a game that is designed by the developer for just that player on their own. They will often have very rich narratives and fictional worlds (like Skyrim) or a strong focus on action gameplay and graphics (like Doom 2016).

So, multiplayer games have more than one player in the same game at the same time. The most common form of this is online multiplayer, where consoles or PCs are connected to the internet and people play in the same game from the comfort of their own homes. Technology today allows a vast number of people to play at once; franchises like Battlefield allow up to 64 players at once, while Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) games like World of Warcraft or EVE Online allow hundreds at a time: even thousands in a single event.

Any type of multiplayer game can be competitive or cooperative, and some may even allow for both modes in the same game. For example, Overwatch is a competitive game by definition: teams of 6 live gamers play each other and seek to win round after round. Destiny and Destiny 2 allow for ‘competitive’ gameplay in the ‘Crucible’, but also have ‘cooperative’ gameplay where all the players band together to overcome a joint challenge, mission, or campaign.

An example of split screen multiplayer in Sony’s ModNation Racers.

So, ‘couch co-op’ is, to start with, cooperative, meaning that all the players work together towards a common goal, rather than competing against each other. The ‘couch’ component means that they play offline – i.e., they are literally sitting on the couch together, face to face (or face by face), working together towards a joint goal. It’s sometimes called ‘local multiplayer’, meaning that all the players are on the same console.

In local multiplayer the screen is usually split into four sections, each of which ‘belong’ to a specific player – for this reason you might also see the phrase ‘split screen multiplayer’. Perhaps the best example of this is Minecraft, when up to four players get together to build in Creative mode, or face the challenge of Survival mode together. ‘Couch co-op’ is also possible in Call of Duty: Black Ops II and III Zombie mode, where older gamers get together to fight off waves of zombies.

It’s also possible to play locally in a competitive mode as well, although the competition tends to be a lot more fun and friendly and avoids some of the toxicity of online gaming. For example, Sonic Racing is sometimes referred to as ‘couch co-op’ even though it is technically a competitive game. We might be inclined to refer to it as such because it’s a lot more fun and accessible, and doesn’t feel highly competitive.

Loca multiplayer games bring a face-to-face experience that can't be beaten.

Loca multiplayer games bring a face-to-face experience that can’t be beaten.

Obviously, split screen is the only kind of multiplayer we have in the Game Truck for a number of reasons. To start with, getting all the consoles online brings many technical difficulties and can be costly for four consoles, not just for the broadband fees but also the Xbox Live Gold account fees. Also, there is a concern that if kids at a Game Truck party are playing online, we lose some of the control over the in-game interactions that we can usually manage quite closely within the truck. Finally, split screen, live, face-to-face multiplayer games really capture the kind of experience we try to facilitate in the Truck: engaged, fun, friendly, this kind of gameplay encourages strong social interactions and the building of relationships that we love about gaming.

So there it is: ‘split screen’ and ‘couch co-op’ is what it is all about in the Game Truck. Hope that helps to decipher some of the gaming conversations you encounter!

– Chad


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