Earlier this year I decided I wanted to play more games with my significant other. We both play games, but aren’t always on the same page about what constitutes as fun. I tend to lean more heavily towards games with higher skill ceilings, while she is content to comb over every inch of a world or tend to a farm. It isn’t just a problem of genre – it is also a problem of pace. I’m incredibly impatient and she is the opposite. So how did we find games to enjoy together? Mostly by stumbling into it with backseat gaming.
For those unfamiliar with the term, backseat gaming is when someone is watching a game but offers comments or direction to the person who is playing said game. Usually the term is used with a derogatory connotation as most find it distracting or annoying when they’re trying to focus. However, Mir and I have found it to be an effective way to share gaming time together.
Two Brains Are Better Than One
One of my new favourite things to do with Mir is to play puzzle games with her. We both think about problems and absorb information in different ways. Through working together our combined thought processes tend to come to solutions faster than we would individually. Though this tends to manifest as one of us working through the problem extremely quickly, while the other has smoke coming out of their ears.
One of our favourite games played this past year was Return of the Obra Dinn. Having two minds working in parallel helped to piece clues together quicker than either of us would have been able to solo. Plus there was a buddy cop dynamic to playing this way. Sometimes I’d notice something, point it out, and think nothing of it only to have Mir sweep in and assert that was the final clue we needed. One particularly noteworthy instance of this was when I pointed out that the sailor’s cots had numbers on them and she realized they corresponded to the crew list. I’m not certain I’d have ever made that connection on my own.
A Little Coaching Never Hurt
I don’t know if you know this about me, but I’ve played a lot of Monster Hunter: World. A whole lot.
Recently, in combination with Mir’s mom and brother, I convinced Mir to pick up Monster Hunter: World. While it can be played cooperatively, doing so isn’t always ideal for assisting a new player. The solution: backseat coaching.
I’ve watched Mir play World and explained things when she’s had questions. I also offered advice after seeing mistakes being made repeatedly. In the heat of the moment it can be challenging to recognize your mistakes, but a second set of eyes can easily notice the patterns we all fall into. Case in point: when fighting the series’ iconic Rathalos I saw Mir get hit by the same combo a few times. The next time I saw it coming I asked her to block the attack while pointing out what to look for. The next time Rathalos went for the same strike she responded by correctly leveraging her new knowledge.
Accommodating Skill Gaps
While the skill gap with Monster Hunter can be overcome I’m not sure if either of us have the patience to do so with platforming games. We both enjoy the genre, but one of us is far better at the games than the other (though that depends who you ask). The solution? Have your own personalized let’s play of a game where you sit chatting with the other person and pointing out things along the journey.
One of my favourite recent examples of this was SteamWorld Dig 2. I played through the entirety of the game with an audience of one sat beside me. It’s fun in its own right, but having a companion along for the journey made it all the better. Given I was focused on platforming for the majority of the time it was also helpful to have someone pointing out pieces of ore I’d missed collecting, or incoming threats that weren’t quite in my line of sight. I questioned if we were both enjoying the game up until Mir insisted I finish the game because she was more excited to see the conclusion than I was.
I’m Too Scared To Play
The other area where we get each other to play games is when we’re too afraid to play them ourselves. This goes both ways mind you.
Mir made it a little over three hours into SOMA before deciding the game was too scary and had me play through the remainder. It was scary for me too, but while I sat quietly crapping my pants I got to listen to terrified exclamations every time anything went bump in the dark. The cruel irony here is that I was made to play through SOMA while having an intense fear of deep water from my childhood that I’ve never gotten over.
Likewise, I subjected Mir to Lone Survivor. The psychological horror elements of the game really did a number on me when I first tried to play it. When I couldn’t get through I had her play it instead. With her at the helm we were able to get through the game even though I was sitting in the corner terrified for most of it.
While I never really thought about it as co-op, it turns out that both Mir and I do a lot of backseat gaming while sharing our hobby. It manifests in ways that deviate from conventional co-op, but that doesn’t diminish the experience. I’m hopeful we’ll continue to find games we can share with one another. Hell, this might even be how I’m finally made to warm up to some of the more languid games I don’t presently have the patience to play.
Do you backseat game with your significant other? Have you found it as enjoyable as we have? Let me know in the comments below.