Another planet, another firefight. Shortly after our meeting with the crime boss had begun, my squad and I found ourselves in the third shootout of the day. I quickly ordered my teammates to take cover as red-hot ammunition ricocheted off our kinetic barriers and crashed into the walls around us. I took cover behind a large crate and lobbed a disk-like grenade into the fray, detonating it within range of an amateur goon who crumpled to the floor.
After recharging my shields, I peered out at the field and watched as five heavily armed soldiers, including the boss himself, closed in on our position. I made a quick gesture to our biotic specialist, who created a massive gravity swell that caught all five of the oncoming gunners and lifted them helpless into the air. I gave the signal and my squad let loose, unloading a dozen shotgun shells and entire clips of pistol rounds into the enemies. When the swell dissipated they, too, fell motionless to the ground.
"Nice," said my brother, who had been sitting next to me on the couch the whole time. We traded confident smiles as I moved on to the next mission.
Looking back over our experiences in single-player games, I'm sure that most of us can recall similar instances of one person rocking a game as the other looks on, especially in cases where we couldn't complete something ourselves. I remember watching my dad playing Rollercoaster Tycoon when I was young and beating levels neither my brother nor I could complete. While just watching him play a videogame, which he rarely did, was naturally entertaining, I actually learned new techniques for playing the game which allowed me to go on to complete more difficult levels on my own.
But nowadays, there are plenty more reasons why gamers and non-gamers alike are watching others play videogames. Sitting back while someone else plays lets you enjoy the story and gameplay from a different perspective than if you held the controller, and it gives you the chance to add your own running commentary over the action. All of this adds up to a simple truth: When it comes to games, you don't have to be holding the controller to enjoy the experience.
Second Verse, Not the Same as the First
Moral choice has become a mainstay of modern action games and RPGs. These games don't just provide gamers the chance to decide their protagonists' path - they also encourage players to replay the game from a different alignment to see how the experience changes. But what if playing the game one way or the other just isn't in your nature?
The first game I played that took great advantage of a morality system was Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which allowed you to choose between becoming a beacon of light or a feared scion of malice. I opted to follow the path of the light, aiding refugees living in squalor beneath the rich and saving those falsely accused of wrongdoing from morally deprived mercenaries.
Upon completing the game, I started over with the intent of falling sway to the dark side of the Force. But as I continued playing, I found myself falling into my old do-gooder habits. I still wanted to see how the story progressed down that path, but I just couldn't bring myself to play as the bad guy.