With Flat Out, though, it's brilliant as everyone enjoys the carnage, and it's extremely competitive in an almost entirely non-competitive way. Sure, you're going for a high score, but the real entertainment comes from throwing the driver. You just shout and egg each other on, suggesting alternative methods of ejection, just to see the results. The multiplayer component is alive, it latches into the very heart of everyone involved and, strangely, Danielle loves it.

By far the most popular game with her since Halo, though, has been Animal Crossing. Although the multiplayer was non-consecutive, the very fact we cooperated when maintaining the village made it seem as if we were working toward a shared goal. With the characters that inhabited our village commenting to me about my wife's activities, everything she did had a clear impact on my experiences. We both spent time running around, collecting items for our houses, unearthing fossils for the museum, keeping an eye out for special in-game events while sending special collectables to each other.

It became an almost sickening mirror image of our real lives, and eventually became a source of ridicule at the hands of our friends. Looking back, this was almost certainly justified. We'd get all the chores finished in our real life house and then jump into Animal Crossing to dig up the weeds and plant trees. We'd spend time fishing, seeing if we could catch the big fish, and more often than not, we couldn't and didn't. It didn't matter, we just enjoyed playing the game together, one of us watching and suggesting, the other playing and acting.

Boy, does that sound weird.

It's only with the strong emergence of multiplayer games focused on the casual player that this has become possible. Halo was a one off, and I never expect to be able to get Danielle playing a hardcore title like it again. Games like Dance, Dance Whatever, Donkey Konga and perhaps even Guitar Hero remove the traditional barriers of moving through a 3-D landscape on a 2-D display, complex and unintuitive controls and dark, dingy unwelcoming game worlds. It's titles like these that will drive the medium forward, both in terms of accessibility and also interest from the traditionally non-gaming audience.

Turning what has been traditionally a solitary activity - and online multiplayer really doesn't count when you're talking about non-gamers - into an open and welcoming social activity is doing wonderful things. I'm looking forward to the multiplayer innovations of the future, and I think my wife may be doing exactly the same.

On the new generation of consoles, it's difficult to get excited about multiplayer games. But I, for one, am looking forward to them. You see, to non-gamers, graphics aren't everything, sound isn't everything, realistic representations of physics aren't everything. Fun is the be all and end all, regardless of how sophisticated it is or isn't, and that has to be tied into social interaction. That's why multiplayer games work so well. I'll have just as much fun on throwaway social games like Buzz as I will on any of the hardcore-oriented games that have been announced. I know for a fact that Danielle, and our friends, will have even more.

Hitchhiker is a freelance gaming journalist who wants videogames to try harder, but recognises that videogamers need to as well. He hangs out at www.alwaysblack.com.

RELATED CONTENT
Comments on