Games are not just solo experiences. There are multiplayer games, sure, but there’s also something about playing a game as a group: everyone gathered in a room, passing a controller around, bickering about choices and laughing whether we’re winning or losing together. And for some single-player games, playing them with a group on a video app like Discord is a unique, memorable experience.
Throughout my life, I’ve watched games just as much as I’ve played them. Not just Twitch or YouTube, but sitting on a couch or hanging out at a friend’s place, I’ve experienced a good number of single-player games in a group. It was how I was introduced to series like Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid, and I’ve played through whole campaigns passing a controller around the room.
For some games, it’s actually how I prefer to play them. I’ve got really fond memories of playing through Until Dawn and Telltale’s Batman games with a group. But the COVID-19 pandemic obviously threw a wrench into any of those plans. That is, until I started forming some Discord servers.
I have, like I imagine others have, formed and joined a number of group chats and online hangouts over the course of the pandemic in an effort to either socialize with new people or keep up with old friends. And one feature I started toying with early on was Discord’s streaming capabilities, which I learned could let me pipe a view of my own screen or applications into the Discord for everyone to see.
What started as a way for us to watch Nintendo Directs together, or share cursed TikToks we found the night before, also became a way to play games communally, as if we were all sitting on a couch together in someone’s living room. And through a number of games this year, we’ve found that same spark, either playing something new or rediscovering an old favorite.
An obvious candidate for this sort of setting is a game like XCOM 2, which a friend started up on a whim one day. Everyone could get custom-made into different recruits, and their heroic victories and senseless deaths were streamed out in real time to the group. It’s a lot of fun to watch a little avatar of yourself evolve over time, becoming a heroic fighter in the human resistance only to get mind-controlled and walk into an exploding car a few turns later. War never changes.
Wildermyth provided the same opportunities, with a dash of procedural storytelling added for good measure. My podcast co-host and I ended up bitter rivals in our Discord’s Wildermyth campaign, which honestly, is a pretty good dynamic. It makes for good content.
But some of the highlights have been the single-player games. Watching someone play the Early Access of Baldur’s Gate 3 for the first time is a joy, as you get to see all the ways their choices and relationships differ from yours, and how they handle situations in ways you hadn’t thought of until then. Or even just how eager they are to jump into a Faustian bargain to get a mindflayer tadpole out of their head.
The Forgotten City was an instant hit, as we spent a couple nights blasting through the story, uncovering all of its mysteries and secrets as a group. Honestly, any investigation-oriented game thrives in this kind of setting, as everyone can collectively work together on solving a mystery or reaching different conclusions. It’s a lot easier to work out the hard stuff when you’ve got a bunch of sounding boards and opinions, who can all catch things the others have missed, while also suggesting terrible ideas and cheering on an NPC you’ve dubbed “Mr. Clean.”
Honestly, a highlight of my pandemic Discord time was when we played a bizarre game about a bed-and-breakfast, and also dating, and also a missing brother and maybe aliens? After Together BnB made the rounds thanks to its wacky, weird trailer, I decided to download it and we played it as a group. The next few hours were filled with laughter, jokes, drama, and long-winded theories about what this game’s eventual “twist” would be. (Note: There has been no twist yet, but it’s fun to imagine.)
There are tons of games, like the next entry in the Dark Pictures Anthology that’s launching in October, that just thrive in these environments. But it’s not just narrative, choice-driven games; anything from RPGs, to challenging games like Getting Over It with Bennet Foddy, to random Steam oddities work so well. We made a sad clown in the Tokyo Olympics game, and he became a world champion sprinter. It was beautiful.
So if you’ve got a Discord with some friends in it and a free Friday night, check out one of these games or any other one you think might suit the vibe, and you might just find a new way to enjoy games. There are still plenty of video games I’ll play for myself before 2021 is out, but I’m really looking forward to the ones I’ll watch along with, too.