What happens when you’ve got two gamers (me and my wife) who can’t play a game together, but you both want to play? Someone rides shotgun. This can be due to the game being single-player, or more recently, due to the need for someone to hold an infant.
The person who rides shotgun doesn’t have to focus on controls or the repetitive tasks that take up a lot of time on gaming. They focus on the big picture, missed details, and so on. If the game is something you’re both interested in, you combine to become something of a superplayer. For example, I can’t spot those hidden flags in Assassin’s Creed for the life of me, but she’ll pick out one that’s under a pile of hay, which is itself under a tarp… three miles away, through dense fog, around the corner. She spots the tiny corner of that flag, and we get closer to completing the game. In Pixeljunk Monsters, I point out that she tends to stand next to mobs, waiting for them to die, when she could be three steps away, upgrading a tower while she waited. And we get closer to getting a rainbow on that level. (Yes, you can play PJM with two players–and we often do–but when I get home from work and she’s playing, I don’t say, “Drop that and let’s play together.” I fix myself a drink.)
Game Riding Shotgun can be really fun, but the game has to be fun to watch, very well designed or compelling in some other way. So Assassin’s Creed is beautiful and has a good story, but a fighting game gets kind of boring when you’re not playing it, because it’s so repetitive. The original Disgaea had a really funny story and crazy fight animations.
In social games, there’s another angle. We started out in World of Warcraft with her riding shotgun. We designed characters together, chose which to play and where to level, which quests to do, and so on. (This is why most of my toons are women, and this is why I’m stuck with multiple high-level women toons now that she has her own account. I don’t know what everyone else’s excuse is.)
Probably the best benefit of someone riding shotgun in a social game like WoW is that our superplayer worked even better in conversation than it did in gameplay. Someone would speak (type) to us, and either of us could respond. I’m a fast typer, so the person on the other end didn’t know that we were two people unless we told them. So our superplayer ended up being 100% more funny than me alone. Our friends in WoW who learned that we were a “playing couple” became excited when my wife got a computer and an account. The downside for me was that when she got her own account, my perceived wit dropped by 50%. Well, maybe 55%. She’s pretty funny.
Riding shotgun has its benefits, and when there is a quality single-player game it can be a great time for both of you. I’m really looking forward to playing Portal with her game riding shotgun, as well as Disgaea 3 and trying our first Final Fantasy for the PS3, whenever that comes out.