Game Nights and the Joys of Couch-Side Spectating

In-person Twitch with more snacks and fewer trolls

Game Nights and the Joys of Couch-Side Spectating
Photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash.

I'm of the understanding that I won't be able to play most of the critically acclaimed games every "GOAT" list on the internet has been begging me to play. It's not just an issue of time (although there is always that), it's that I don't always feel like actually playing.

This is exactly why I let my roommate do it for me. Or, rather, why I've decided to sit in on her gaming sessions.

More and more often lately I've been watching her play through Borderlands II and Zelda: Breath of the Wild instead of actually trying to convince myself to buy the games. She's already a fan of both, already has them, and is very happy to share these personal favorites with me. This is something we find mutually beneficial, as I get to make wry observations and she gets to answer my every burning question on character, lore, and world-building with the patience of a passionate fan.

It's like Twitch except I'm the only one in chat, and we're able to share a bowl of popcorn.

I'm a big fan of Twitch when it comes to games I've already played because it's a real joy to see new people experiencing my favorite games. It's why I've been deep into watching all the new streamers coming to play Final Fantasy XIV--they offer insightful new commentary and comical observations, and seeing their reactions at various turns in the story is a really fun time.

Couch-side spectating is just a slightly different variation in that I'm joining a friend in playing one of their favorite games and experiencing it with them side-by-side. It gives the people I care about the room to gush about their favorites, while I get to experience the story without having to really play through it myself. The result of watching is that sometimes a game captures me so completely that I decide I have to play it. Then I have a whole new game that I already know I'll love because I've been watching a friend play it and sampling it with them.

In contrast, there are games I'll probably never actually play but I enjoy watching my friends play for the comfortable sociability of it all. As someone who is fascinated by games on a personal and more professional level, it really pays to be able to enjoy these games and not have to feel like I'm missing out by not playing all of them.

This works in reverse in that I have friends who observe my playing of games as well. We all understand the dynamics of game-watching, which includes a fairly strict backseat gaming policy revolving around the golden rule: be excellent to each other. We might spot loot the other person didn't or notice an interesting detail in the world environment in need of further exploration, but we understand that this is fun. No matter who has the controller, it's immensely enjoyable to share in all of these small observations because they add a layer of companionship to the game that feels organic and cozy.

This is also part of the reason I'm a big fan of couch co-op games, which can offer a variety of options when it comes to gameplay styles. Unravel and TMNT: Shredder's Revenge are functionally different games, but their focus on teamwork makes them great additions to chill evenings staying at home. Game nights don't have to necessarily involve Catan, (but they can!), and finding ways in which to play video games with friends so that you can share in their company is always a good time.

When it comes to longer games that are single-player focused, watching someone play means that you can experience the story too. It's not dissimilar to when you sit down to binge-watch Stranger Things with your partner, friends, or family. If you keep it to some scheduled time on certain weeknights, it feels like something to look forward to. And if there's ever fatigue with certain games being played too often you can swap out for different titles, rotating a few so that nothing ever gets too stale. This is especially if you're talking about something like a 45-hour playthrough of Final Fantasy VIII, and that's not even including the customization aspects of the combat or the countless personal hours I spend solely playing Triple Triad.

Sharing in single-player games can also help to lessen the stress of understanding new systems, as there's now more than one brain able to put together the potential strategies for tackling bosses or enemies (an aspect of sharing that I find genuinely exciting). I've just mentioned Final Fantasy VIII, but it's come to my attention recently that it's a bit of a slog. I've played Final Fantasy VII to its completion and did not feel half as intimidated by the battle mechanics as I do with VIII. This is a whole lot easier when we pass the controller back and forth. It creates a more casual environment for games that we might not be all that motivated to finish on our own or those that feature combat systems we don't enjoy (looking at you, random encounters). Being invited to share in a friend's journey makes the game all the better.

So next time you find yourself going through a period of burn-out but still want to keep up with the latest releases (or if you don't like Souls-like games and Elden Ring is all anyone can talk about), stop and think. Sometimes it's better to watch someone far more eager show you the gameplay so you can sit back, order some pizza for you both, and get ready to experience the next best thing everyone's talking about in whatever way you want--all while watching your friends be awesome at something they love.


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