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Ana Valens

Rebellions Are Built On Hope

It's hard to think of a world where local multiplayer is the main way people play video games together. That's partly because the way we play with other people has changed. We use the Internet to enter massive online worlds, engage in 32 vs 32 battles in sprawling battlefields, or go head-to-head across the globe in 5-on-5 arena combat. Simply put, the Internet has made gaming a much more solitary experience.

But Nintendo doesn't seem very interested in leaving multiplayer to online services. With the Nintendo Switch on the way, the console promises to provide local multiplayer opportunities for a variety of games: including 1-2-3 Switch, Splatoon 2, and Arms.

What's so interesting about the Switch is that the console, which is already hailed as revolutionary for its on-the-go approach to gaming, is trying to bring back the idea of coming together with friends and playing a game together in meatspace. But why?

The Nintendo Switch's local multiplayer capabilities shouldn't come as a huge surprise to any diehard Nintendo fan. The original NES and SNES featured a second controller port so an additional player could hop in and play. The NES also saw two attachments -- the NES Four Score and NES Satellite -- that allowed up to four controllers to be plugged into the NES. By the time the N64 hit, four-player multiplayer capabilities were integrated into the system, and games such as Mario Party, Mario Kart 64, GoldenEye 007, and Super Smash Bros. made full use of the opportunity.

From there, native multiplayer support became a staple. When Nintendo's next console hit shelves, the Nintendo GameCube had four-player support built in from the start as well. That legacy continued on the Wii and Wii U, allowing multiple players to join a game without too much cumbersome setup.

But as Nintendo encouraged fans to get together and play games in the living room, local multiplayer started to fade out as Internet connections became faster, more advanced, and more autonomous. Why get together with four friends if you could play a video game together from the comfort of your own house? Games such as Super Smash Bros. for Wii U became the exception, not the rule, as multiplayer first-person shooters and MOBAs became popular eSports titles.

But there's always been a desire in the gaming community to go back to that classic local multiplayer setup. Just take a look at the independent game development scene. On indie gaming platform itch.io, the tag "local multiplayer" has over 1,700 titles available for players to preview, download, or purchase. Some of these games -- such as Nuclear Throne or TowerFall Ascension -- are widely recognized indie titles that have seen critical acclaim. Other games are first-time projects, working with local multiplayer to capture the thrill of '90s and 2000s gaming.

Why such a focus on local multiplayer? Maybe because the genre itself is in a bit of a drought. Most franchises that were built on local gameplay -- such as Street Fighter, Sid Meier's Civilization, Worms, or even Madden -- have turned towards online netplay. And while these games still support local multiplayer capabilities, the emergence of broadband Internet speeds have led many players to live out their multiplayer sessions strictly online. No need to drag your friend from Boston to New York City just to have an all-nighter fighting for world domination in Civilization VI.

It seems like it's just as easy to bond over the Internet as it is over a living room couch. Because it's no longer necessary to play games side-by-side, the reasoning goes, sharing a game with someone right next to you holds no purpose. But online interactions take away the role that one's embodied presence plays in human relationships. Just as the physical presence of another person is important in romantic relationships, it also is in social interactions between friends, too. We want to be around friends in a very physical way: see them, talk to them, make eye contact with them, and read their body language. Online multiplayer scraps most of that.

In other words, kicking back, grabbing a beer, and playing games with a friend has always been fun because it's a form of socializing. But as gaming becomes more online-focused, it's becoming harder to have that social interaction between players. Arcades are closing, controllers are becoming more expensive, and the term "multiplayer" is synonymous with "online gameplay" these days. Where's the opportunity to play together?

Nintendo realized something. Today's Internet of Things means people are more interconnected with the World Wide Web than ever before. We're a technology-dependent generation. Plus, millennials grew up. Nintendo's '90s and 2000s player market has adult responsibilities to take care of, like jobs, taxes, family travel, or weddings. It's just hard to find time to get together and play.

So instead of bringing friends to the Switch, Nintendo has developed a console that allows you to bring the Switch to your friends. The Switch is totally decentralized that way; it's a system that you carry on you and play whenever you want to. That means impromptu local multiplayer sessions are totally possible. And they're clearly encouraged, too, based on Nintendo's advertisements for the system.

Perhaps the best example of Nintendo's changing priorities is Splatoon 2's multiplayer features. Throughout both the Nintendo Switch reveal and its extended advert, Nintendo has stressed that players can use Switch consoles to play on the go against other players. At most, this can be up to eight people at a time. And because the console itself is a 10 ounce tablet at 9.41in by 4.02in by 0.55in, the system is incredibly easy to carry around.

Not to mention the fact that the games themselves are small cartridges that can be easily packed into a carrying case. The system is built for mobility, through and through. Which means it's perfect as a lifestyle gaming system for busy gamers that prefer gaming on the go, kicking back at a friend's place, or playing at a predetermined time.

But it's not just about having fun for the sake of having fun. Nintendo understands that local multiplayer can be a serious affair, too. Sometimes sharing a physical space with someone can heighten the tension and excitement during a competitive match.

Notice how the debut advertisements featured an eSports arena with Splatoon 2 competitors going head-to-head? Local multiplayer can be an opportunity for competition, too. And it can also revolutionize the way we play eSports on console, giving us the opportunity for local console play without relying on an Internet connection. Nintendo understands local multiplayer is dynamic, as are human interactions. Which is why it's such a perfect platform for bringing people together physically: it's no different than carrying around an iPad or a laptop.

The current gaming industry is a victim of online multiplayer's success. We've forgotten what it's like to get together with a group of friends, buy a couple drinks, and stay up late playing video games until everyone crashes on the couch. We forgot what it's like to be a person that likes playing games around other people.

Nintendo has always understood that gaming is more of a lifestyle than an interest. That was the reason behind Super Smash Bros. for Wii U's success. Even today, it's still pretty common to find an N64, GameCube, or Wii U console setup for a round of Smash in someone's dorm room. 18 years after Super Smash Bros.'s N64 release in 1999, there's still that special charm when a group of four players got together and compete in an informal Smash tournament—not to mention the professional Smash Bros. scene.

With the Nintendo Switch, the Japanese hardware and software giant seems to be refining their latest console to fix the flaws that both the Wii and the Wii U had. No more awkward movement mechanics, no more clunky tablets, and no more lack of portability. The Switch is a console for socializing first and foremost. And that's a good thing: it's about time we all called up our friends for a late night gaming session. It's been too long.

Rebellions Are Built On Hope