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OPINIONOpinionApril 14, 2016

Playing with myself – the death of local multiplayer


Got a hankering for a bit of split-screen co-op? Tough bikkies, writes Don Rowe, because local multiplayer is all but dead.

There once was a time where myself and several associates kept Griffins afloat in the snack business. Slouched hideously forward and wrapped in blankets like miser pilgrims, we’d play the Halo 2 campaign from start to finish, Friday night to Sunday evening, with nary a thought for toilet breaks or dental hygiene. Our only sustenance consisted of hundreds and hundreds of MellowPuffs, a few Afghans and several litres of 90c creaming soda knock-off.

The room was dark. The controllers were greasy and wired to the Xbox with equal parts cable, mangled solder and electrical tape. My shirt stayed moist with pre-pubescent fear-sweat at the sight of the bulbous and horrific Flood. Occasionally, when cooperation got stale, we’d switch over for a quick deathmatch, usually on Coagulation. Of course, playing on the same tv as we were, finding your opponent was more a matter of watching their screen than your own, something that brought us to violent physical blows about once a fortnight.

They were greatest days of my life. For ten years now I’ve been chasing the dragon.


Recently that maddening and unscratchable itch gave me cause to fire up the old gamebox for a bit of couch co-op with the lads. Our internet was down, but considering the state of Raglan’s internet connection in 2004, I didn’t perceive that as a problem. I also don’t own an Xbox – a dodgy modchip from Dunedin turned it into a smoldering heap of rare earth minerals back in ’06.

No matter, though, I’ve got a PS4, several controllers and something like 15 different games. Three-way splitscreen is kind of shit, someone always gets the un-partitioned part of the screen, but our TV is much bigger than the etch-a-sketch sized one I had when I was twelve. Technical concerns aside, all that remained was choosing what to play. And therein lies the problem.

Because it turns out split-screen is as dead and gone as those quiet summer days of yore.


Battlefield 4, a cutting-edge multiplayer war game built around teamwork and squad-based combat, is limited to one player per console. Same goes for Destiny, which is essentially Battlefield in space. Elder Scrolls Online is, of course, online. Even Halo, most radiant joy of mine youth, is reported to be a completely masturbatory experience in its latest iteration.

These days, not only do you need the bandwidth of a small Pacific nation just to download the rest of the game that didn’t fit on the disk, but your mate better have their own machine, TV and copy of the game if they want to play along. It’s almost more convenient to not have any real friends. If you filter potential associates by console, there’s no chance of wasting your time befriending someone who won’t have your back online.

This will not do.

Like anyone having a good whinge about change, I place the blame for the most part on technology and the internet. Back in the days when just getting online inevitably exposed you to the sound of robotic coitus – an experience that would later inspire the genre of dubstep – the idea of playing shooters with some kid from Idaho was a total pipe dream.


Stuck in a time without broadband, cooperative options were generally limited to people you could tolerate sitting next to for a couple hours. People you actually knew. I even built a reasonably healthy relationship with an estranged cousin over a single weekend of co-op Brute Force.

Now, just as social networking drove us into isolation, the promise of a global gaming community has left those with actual, real life flesh-friends essentially fucked, doomed to digital companionship with whichever cyber-bro the hivemind spits out.

Quality local multiplayer has gone the way of the samurai – unless you want to invest in a Nintendo product and play with one of their weird-ass controllers that is. Mellowpuffs remain as they always were: the perfect marriage of chocolate, marshmellow and biscuit. Three disparate elements, better together. Perhaps developers could take something from that.

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