After several weeks of sheltering-in-place, Sam felt things getting a little stale around the house. Having grown tired of watching TV, but not really having much else to do while quarantined in Saskatchewan, the 23-year-old floated the idea to his wife of starting a video game together. She herself is not a gamer — she’d only played a few times with her siblings growing up — but if nothing else, Sam figured it would at least help her “understand what I like so much about them.”
Then came the big question: What game would they actually both find enjoyable and to their tastes?
After all, finding the right game to play is crucial (no different than finding a movie or TV show you both really want to watch). So is, obviously, how you go about asking your partner to join you at the console in the first place. “Whether competition could bring you and your partner closer has more to do with your personal preferences,” explains Alana Ogilvie, a couples and family therapist in Portland. “It’s also important to ensure that everyone either wants to participate or is at least neutral about participating in the activity.” It’s equally important, she adds, that you respect your partner’s “autonomy when asking if they’d like to play with you.”
But provided you’ve succeeded in clearing the low, low bar of neutrality, you could do worse than starting off with these games, which come highly recommended from Sam and his fellow gamers who have spiced things up at home by picking up a controller together.
The Best Video Games for Couples: Overcooked, Towerfall and Unravel
According to Paul, a 28-year-old in Ontario, these are what the gaming community calls “couch” co-op games, or games you sit on the couch and play together on the same screen. “Co-op games in general are great for two players where one person isn’t very into video games, because you’re on the same team,” he explains. “No one person wins or loses; you win or lose together.” It’s for this reason that the Unravel series, which also features easy gameplay and beautiful graphics, is among the most recommended games on r/gaming for converting newbies.
Meanwhile, for Paul’s wife, who “barely plays video games,” Overcooked had the perk of really simple controls. “Complex controls and gameplay can make people frustrated and want to quit, so the easier the controls the better,” he says. “And the repetition and simplicity of the game — paired with the fact that it’s just super fun — really got her hooked.”
At the same time, he says, “Towerfall was great because it has simple controls but a high ceiling for skill. In other words, there’s some difficulty progressing through the levels, which makes it great for new players to taste the sense of achievement that comes in growing their skills.”
Along these lines, there’s also Mario Party, Ultimate Chicken Horse and Castle Crashers. “We played the absolute crap out of Castle Crashers for a very long time,” says Jake, a 30-year-old in Minnesota who’s been playing Nintendo Switch with his wife after they put their baby to bed. “I think simplicity and level-based games make for something a person can play that doesn’t have a whole lot of time or experience. That’s also why a lot of Mario games are great for novice and advanced players alike.”
What About Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley?
Sam and his wife eventually landed on Animal Crossing, because they had a pair of best friends across town who raved about how good it was. No surprise there, really — the game has taken the quarantined and online crowd by storm, no matter where they fall on the skill, interest or loneliness spectrum. “More passive games like Animal Crossing that aren’t so based on beating levels or quick-trigger controllers have been a great way for us to spend time together without necessarily needing to ‘do’ something together,” Sam tells me.
But above all, he’s happy to have accomplished his first goal — giving her a glimpse into why gaming brings him such pleasure. “The best thing about having her play Animal Crossing now is it helps de-stress her,” he says, “which is what video games have always done for me.”