Console games used to be designed for friends and families to play together in their living rooms. Split-screen functionality, with as many as four players using the same screen, was a standard feature. XBox Live launched in 2002, and games haven’t been the same since. Online party joining and voice chat freed game developers from the burden of split-screen functionality. Their canvas became bigger; they could create complex menus and interactions and design intricate graphical worlds that filled an entire television set. Why should they limit their game’s features and functions, hacking them apart and miniaturizing them, when modern gamers play together online?
As console games became more cinematic and complex, they became a bit alienating. Turn on Horizon Zero Dawn and your kids may as well watch TV or go to bed. They can’t play with you, and if you were to hand them the controller, they couldn’t even understand the menu without instructions.
Games are fundamentally social. The more we can play together and see each other play, the more interested and engaged we become. Anyone who remembers having a Borderlands marathon on a weekend with their sibling or picking up a controller at a buddy’s house and playing 007 late into the night longs for more playing in-person and less watching streamers online.
With the Switch, Nintendo has capitalized on our desire to play with others in person in a big way. Switch games are almost all multiplayer and relatively accessible. If you hand your girlfriend a JoyCon and open Arms, she can enjoy the game and play with you without agonizing over an all-too-in-depth character creation screen, spending forty minutes on a tutorial, and ending up underleveled and underprepared to participate in your adventure.
But if you already have a Playstation or XBox, and you want to play those long-term, difficult-to-learn, graphically interesting Playstation games in person with a friend or family member, it’s frustrating that they’re never couch co-op. You’re always searching for vintage games or considering Playstation Now.
Gamesharing is the solution. Available for both XBox and Playstation 4, gamesharing allows a single user to set up their account on a second console and share their entire inventory of games. The downside is obvious: gamesharing in your living room requires buying a second console and a second television set. Also, your Internet downloads twice as many patches and update files.
It took a long time to convince ourselves to make the investment in a second set of living room gaming equipment. We got a small television from Craigslist and an end table from a thrift store. John used the opportunity to upgrade; he bought a Playstation Pro and gave Genevieve the old PS4. After one afternoon of dusty, crippling work mounting the second television set, we haven’t looked back.
Gamesharing on two systems invites an entire universe of games into the “couch-co-op” category. Any game that allows online multiplayer becomes “couch co-op” when you have two systems in your living room. You can play sports games, adventure games, and shoot-em-ups the way developers intended—on your own screen with your own space. We would have liked to start a website dedicated to couch co-op Playstation games, but there simply aren’t enough, and it’s unlikely that any great new couch co-op game is on the horizon. If you are committed to gaming with your child, spouse, partner, or roommate we implore you to bork your living room layout, spend the extra money on another system, and set up gamesharing. You won’t believe the fun you can have.