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I'm generally a solo gamer. Not by design, but by default. Parenthood, a U.S. West Coast residence, and a generally busy life mean my gaming activities occur late at night, after most of my gaming friends are offline or asleep. Once in a while, though, I'll end up in the same online lobbies with the same group of friends, on a near-nightly basis, for weeks on end.
Last time, it was Rainbow Six: Vegas 2. I spent several weeks with one highly-focused friend, chipping away at the story on all difficulty levels before we did the same with each terrorist hunt map. Before that it was Halo 3, where several friends and I squeezed every ounce of potential out of the story campaign.
We don't usually play conventional multiplayer matches. We're not suiting up to do battle with the anonymous denizens of Xbox Live or poking around server lists on the PC. The group I game with consists mostly of folks in their late twenties to early forties, often married, and often with kids. We haven't got a lot of patience for the cultural cesspool that is anonymous online gaming. We don't have the reflexes we'd need to compete at the level of the average high school or college kid. And we haven't got the time to learn the layout of every map or the attributes of each weapon in a given game.
As a result, we've long since abandoned action multiplayer mainstays like Counter-Strike or Unreal Tournament. Halo deathmatches have limited appeal. In fact, with the advent of this new console generation, I, like many of my gaming friends, had all but thrown in the towel on multiplayer action games.
But co-op brought us back. And co-op is now how we prefer to game.
I suppose that may sound lame to those who game primarily to compete. If you're the type of gamer that can't have fun unless you're winning, or who delights in nothing more than the wholesale humiliation and slaughter of your opponents, co-op might not be your thing. But for us, it's a godsend.
While I used to see the fun in some post-headshot teabagging, I think those days are mostly gone. I'm not sure what changed. Somewhere along the line, marriage, home ownership, parenthood, and full-time careers shifted the gaming priorities of my friends and me. In most cases, we're content to work together against AI-controlled opponents, chipping away at a common goal, laughing at our own failures and cheering our successes. We're not driven by a need to dominate end-of-match leaderboards.
The original Gears of War co-op story mode was a pretty big deal for a lot of us. It came out at a time when most of the friends I had who were ever going to buy 360s finally had them, and it was the first time a few of the guys I game with now finally ventured onto Xbox Live. It was a blast. When Gears of War 2 released last week, we were hoping for more of the same. If the last few nights are any indication, Epic's new sequel will keep my gaming friends and me busy for a very long time.