We play games for a lot of reasons — to challenge ourselves, to be immersed in a fictional world, to compete with other people. Sometimes, games can just be an excuse to hang out and chat with a friend or family member. Some games are designed for this kind of thing, and social game titles like Animal Crossing were a balm for plenty of people during COVID-19 lockdowns. But even games that aren’t explicitly about socializing can provide great opportunities for it.
Back in college, I used to play Mario Kart Wii with friends late into the night in my sweltering top-floor room. Somehow, the act of diverting our attention a little, focusing on the racing, changed the tenor of conversations. We’d discuss things we normally wouldn’t, having fascinating conversations while tossing blue shells at each other. It wasn’t that there was anything special about the game itself, just that we were all so familiar with how it played that it was a routine activity, something to do with your hands and eyes and in doing so maybe turning off a certain part of our brains that made space for different ideas to come out.
I was thinking about this while listening to episode 219 of The Optional, a podcast hosted by Fanbyte podcast producer Paul Tamayo and Cam Brewster. Paul talks about playing Streets of Rage 4 with his brother, and how it recalled experiences years ago doing the same thing with earlier games in the series. I think beat-em-ups are ideal for this, since they’re cooperative games and don’t typically require a lot in the way of communication about strategy. There’s a kind of rhythm to them, a quality that could be dismissed as mindless or repetitive, but that wouldn’t be entirely fair. Even if that assessment is accurate, though, sometimes “mindless” games can be a great activity to share with another person.
You can listen to the full conversation in the player below, or you can find The Optional in your podcast app of choice. What games do you prefer to play while just hanging out with your friends? I’ve already mentioned Mario Kart, but games like Destiny also fulfill this role for me.