Long ago there was a time where friends would get together and play video games with each other. Gamers would gather around a single screen, divided into frames for simultaneous play. But that era is long gone; simply put, you don’t see that kind of multiplayer nowadays. In fact, most of the time the option isn’t even available—stricken from production entirely in favour of online connectivity and communication through microphones. While this long distance method of play is certainly alluring and convenient, there is a sense of intimacy lost in the web. Players are given anonymity, which–as we observe on a daily basis with the internet—isn’t the best thing to give players who spend their time virtually shooting, racing and out-scoring each other. The competitive nature of gaming breeds animosity, coupled with anonymity, encouraging name calling and derogatory statements regarding the mother of any given opponent. With split-screen gaming this situation would be resolved instantaneously, mainly due to the fact that a foul-mouthed opponent is within striking distance. Games literally lose their social value when playing against a randomly paired opponent who may very well not even be able to speak the same language as you, further disconnecting your social experience through, ironically, internet connection.
On the contrary, online multiplayer has brought individuals together, whether it be finding a new partner to raid dungeons with in an MMO (which have some of the friendliest communities out there) or whether you happen upon a lone player willing to be the fourth man in a round of team deathmatch in a FPS (which have some of the most verbally malicious people I’ve ever played with.) There are examples to be found and arguments to be made to support online multiplayer as a pragmatic alternative to playing with friends locally, but the feeling just isn’t the same.
Rocket League recently launched on PS4 and its simple decision to include split screen opens up a plethora of options for the player. Want to run a match with three of your friends over at your place? Give them each a controller and find another online group to tango with, or you can play locally two on two. Destiny is another game I believe could benefit greatly from the addition of split-screen multiplayer. Just having the option increases player control and benefits the experience overall. Imagine: instead of being at your respective houses communicating through microphones you could turn to your partner and high five after a successful mission. It’s simple things like that that are missing from today’s multiplayer games.
Split screen is not extinct—very much endangered, but not extinct. Nintendo is keeping it old-school with a lot of their flagship titles. Mario Kart comes to mind; although online capable, it still relies heavily on split-screen play between friends in the same room. In any case, the life of split-screen gameplay is dwindling, and the way things are going people won’t ever have to leave their houses to play games with each other anymore. Here’s hoping that games can bring back split screen and promote human interaction rather than marginalize it.