An Exploration of Nostalgia
A Love Letter to the Splitscreen Video Game
When I was younger I attended youth group at a local Baptist church. I had just moved, so this was essentially my crew, my network and my dinner group. Once a year we’d hold a “lock in,” in which a group of roughly three dozen kids of varying ages, and adults who probably regretted signing up to chaperone, stayed up all night watching movies or playing board games or chatting. I was about 10 years old, so my new friends and I were playing Halo which had recently premiered on the original Xbox. We’d set up two back-to-back TV’s (Sunday collections had to go somewhere) and play 4-v-4 locally. Imagine it. Eight sweaty, yelling kids, all self-conscious and crazy with hormones. Kids these days will never experience that.
Fast-forward a few years, and I had my first LAN party. Counter Strike: Source had dropped — a game that defined realism in first person shooters. Again, imagine it. Young teenagers, cursing and pimply and crazy with hormones, all lugging desktop computers and monitors into the same room and plugging into a network switch to play locally. Teens these days will never experience that.
What they do experience are video games that lost something along the way to adulthood. The graphics grew up, becoming so good that my young self would shake in his size-7 Adidas if he saw them. But when graphics improved, consoles suddenly became unable or unwilling to keep up with a split screen. Halo 3 (2007) could host 4 players locally. But by 2011, when the beautiful and much more complex Battlefield franchise arrived on consoles with Battlefield 3, it brought with it no local multiplayer. In 2015, when Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 released, articles were written about the fact that it maintained local multiplayer, since the practice was unsupported by most game publishers, including Halo 5, which was released the same year.
Now, with essentially every new release except sports games, the only way to play with your friends is to play online, in separate homes, on separate couches, with headsets on; the days of playing basketball all day and Mario Kart all night have gone the way of the pogo stick. And with the death of split-screen comes the death of one of the best aspects of gaming: bonding. Graphics and personal experience are the forefront for developers — the next step in gaming, Virtual reality, literally blocks the rest of the world from sight.
So in remembrance of the days of old, when you could embarrass grandma on the NES without having to explain the intricacies of a controller with more than two buttons, here are our fondest multiplayer games from the childhoods of GP staffers.
Cold pizza, Coke, heated 2-on-2 basketball session between bleary-eyed rounds. Goldeneye ushered in an arc of years for me that, to this day, are simply impossible to forget. Pistols in the Complex, License to Kill. Even as I write that, my spine tingles with finger-twitched nostalgia. Sure, the friends I used to play Goldeneye with have all gone on to bigger things — lobbyists, doctors, scientists, businessmen, ministers, etc. — but I doubt that if you dropped us all into the same room, it wouldn’t take us 15 minutes to dust off an old N64, find the nearest set of RCA jacks, and reach for the controller… with a fully operating analog joystick. Co-op and group gaming were always what made video games, well, games — it’s what we looked for on the box (2-4 player co-op). Games were about league, shit-talking and crashing. Don’t get me wrong, today’s network gaming is great for a lot of people, but I also find it ironic that it’s called “network,” because it seems to me that these days gaming feels more isolated than ever. — Eric Yang, Editor in Chief
Ken Griffey Jr Presents Major League Baseball
The game was full of bugs. The ballparks were inaccurate. And, most notably, the players were all fictitious. The game wasn’t licensed by the MLB Players Association, which means that, besides Griffey, no real names were used on the rosters. (The Dodgers were all named after local punk rock icons, the Red Sox were named after the cast of Cheers, etc.). Still, none of this seemed to taint my love for the game — and the way it built a bridge between me and my two brothers, 10 years my senior. The only time we seemed to take a break from fighting was when we picked up the sticks and duked it out on the field. They may have been better, but I certainly logged a lot of strikeouts as S. Heat (Roger Clemens). — Hayden Coplen, Contributor
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Whenever my parents came downstairs to check on us, we ditched the bazookas and grenades and pretended like we were playing a harmless driving game. “We’re fine, mom! We’re just racing!” As soon as they left, we activated cheat codes (unlimited health, military-grade weapons, flying cars) and resumed raising hell like the 12-year-old menaces that we were. Our parents had no idea. — Michael Finn, Intern
Diddy Kong Racing
To me, Rare’s answer to Mario Kart 64 was infinitely better, and no other video game drew my family together more than Diddy Kong Racing. At its core the game was simply a number of tracks that could be raced via hovercraft, plane or race car (it took until 2011 for Mario Kart to offer that kind of vehicle variety) by you and your friends/family in a multiplayer mode. But the game’s best feature was the additional story mode with an actual plot line: to take back control of a tropical island from a giant, intergalactic pig-wizard, you had to defeat him by beating him and his henchmen in a series of races, one of which was on the moon. (It was the late ’90s, don’t overthink it.) The multiplayer races between my dad and my sisters were fun enough, but watching my dad’s relentless attempts after every multiplayer session to beat the aforementioned pig-wizard will forever reign supreme as my favorite video game memory. — Andrew Connor, Associate Staff Writer
Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy
I grew up in the ’80s, playing games with my friends on our Atari 2600’s and Commodores 64’s, as well as in actual arcades. I always loved the fun and bonding that sprang from hours spent in fierce competition with Pong or Combat, or conquering Zaxxon, River Raid, and, well, Dig Dug. So when my daughters were old enough to play video games, I introduced it with my favorite franchise, Star Wars. Lucy, who was six when the game came out in 2007, played along beside me in split-screen mode for hours, learning teamwork, coordination and strategy. We had a blast. But one day a challenge arose that she couldn’t quite conquer: scaling a wall to reach a next level. I was playing Luke; she was Leia. She tried over and over, and I kept trying to coach her along, but frustration eventually got the better of me. “Lucy, come on,” I blurted out “Climb the wall!” Right then, as I watched on the screen, Leia walked calmly over to Luke and punched him in the face. It was my proudest moment as a father. — Eric Adams, Contributor
Super Mario Bros 3
Nintendo Entertainment System
I was never a big gamer, but my cousins would pass down their systems when they upgraded to the next big thing. Most of my friends would get the latest and greatest systems as well, but we would still sit for hours trying to beat Super Mario Bros. 3 on the original Nintendo (we were successful once, but only because we used the magic flute). I still fiddle around with Super Mario Bros. 3, mostly because I think that a better game has yet to be made. The simplicity of a D-pad, two buttons and three friends still brings back warm memories. — AJ Powell, Associate Staff Writer
Donkey Kong Country
My twin brother and I grew up playing Super Nintendo. Our favorite game: Donkey Kong Country. And I know: this wasn’t a multiplayer game in the traditional sense, but we treated it like one — switching turns between deaths. And, given that we were five when the game was released (in 1994), we died very often. In fact, we died so often that we couldn’t come close to beating the game. That’s where our babysitter came in. Looking back it must’ve been a dream gig for him. Getting paid to eat pizza and play video games while two younglings cheer you on…does it get any better? Needless to say, he beat the game, we cheered, and then all three of us moved on to Yoshi’s Island. — Tucker Bowe, Associate Staff Writer
My best friend growing up was a guy who lived across the street. We did all kinds of stuff together, and it was really the combination of our two personalities that got us into a little trouble. We jumped out second-story windows, shot birds with bb guns, listened to the Beastie Boys and played Killer Instinct on N64 — a game that (like the rest of our escapades) had to be done in a covert manner lest we be held to the “way too strict” standards of our conservative parents. From Cinder to Jago to Glacius, it was full-tilt head-to-head combat that filled our summer afternoons…when we were sure Ben’s parents weren’t coming up to the playroom. The violence, which of course pales in comparison to modern battle games, was “too much” for our parents — but for us, just enough. I guess it kept us off the streets performing those real killer combos in person, so that’s a positive. But it was ultimately about being able to rally around something, having a unified experience and never giving up. — Bradley Hasemeyer, Contributor
My brother and I played Pokemon Red and Blue religiously as kids. Before family vacations, we’d bring out the Game Link cable — yes, a physical cable — and challenge each other to full-fledged battles. After days of training, we’d link up and battle on the car ride, with the loser trading a prized Pokemon to the winner. — Caitlyn Girardi, Editorial Apprentice
Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance
I knew nothing of the cult-classic Baldur’s Gate RPG series. All I knew was that bashing through dungeons and hacking lizard people to death was INVIGORATING. This was the first time I’d played anything like it — a top-down hack-and-slash game with magic weapons, long, grueling levels and bosses with names like “The Beholder Xantam.” All summer between sixth and seventh grade, I played as the human archer, and my two friends played the dwarven fighter and the elven sorceress. We were the perfect triple-threat, and somewhere along our quest I learned a love of fantasy, nerdery, and the bizarre that hasn’t left me yet.
Did I mention we rented this game from the local DVD shop? When for one week we couldn’t re-rent it, we were heart broken. Getting it back was pure bliss. — Chris Wright, Associate Editor