In an age where technology has revolutionised the way we connect, a cute trend is emerging: couples and platonic pairs who find joy and shared adventure through the world of gaming.
These dynamic duos often defy traditional notions of bonding, opting for pixelated realms over candlelit dinners, and find that virtual escapades are able to forge pretty strong bonds.
Take newlyweds William Lim and Shalini Devendra, for example. They have been playing video games together on multiple devices ever since they met each other back in university.
Lim, 25, is a marketing associate from Damansara Jaya, Selangor, while Shalini, 29, is a practising psychologist from Singapore.
Both were keen gamers even before they met, but it was really 2020 when they first became couch co-op partners.
“During the Covid-19 pandemic, we started playing games together a lot and tackled all levels of Overcooked 2,” Lim says, referring to the cooperative cooking video game that can be played on various platforms, including the Nintendo Switch, Sony PlayStation, and Microsoft Xbox.
“In retrospect, it’s pretty funny thinking about how many kitchen fires I had to put out,” he says, alluding to the game’s myriad challenges that swiftly escalate into chaos.
Sha, as she is fondly called, chips in: “That was when we first started playing Overcooked, and I had really messed up. The whole kitchen was on fire, and I gave up trying to salvage the situation. I watched as Will desperately tried to save the kitchen while I continued making things worse.
“I have a whole video of him looking completely horrified. I realise that sometimes there are situations in which I know we’re completely done for, but Will can’t seem to accept our fate in the game!”
When asked what gaming characters they would swap lives with, Lim readily offers Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher.
“His life of killing monsters and earning coin money seems exciting to me,” he says, laughing.
“The world he lives in, including its characters, is one I would very much like to explore.”
Sha, on the other hand, says, “I think I’d like to be Pikachu! I grew up loving Pokemon, and I still do. Absolutely refusing to stay in the Poke Ball and being fiercely supportive of my friends and loved ones are themes that resonate with me.
“It’s really funny because both of those characters are so different from each other! I guess the similarities would be the adventures and the moving around, which are elements that appeal to us because we’re both people who love trying out new things together.
“It also shows that we both like a competitive edge but also appreciate teamwork so much.”
When asked what genre of gaming they would venture into next, Lim says he would want to try more first-person shooter (FPS) competitive games that they could play together on a PC.
“I’d like for us to move on to more serious, fast-paced games,” he says, and Sha agrees that it would be great to have a nice PC setup so they can explore more games together.
Lim feels that the teamwork aspect of games is most captivating, while Sha reckons that while they have different interests in games, there are also many games that overlap.
“I do love puzzle games and cosy games, and we’ve tried them all together. As much as I love a good competitive game, I also enjoy the co-op ones. They are calming and fun to play, especially with my partner,” she says.
Lim adds: “I prefer team cooperation to competition too. It’s the best of both worlds. Games like Rocket League and Valorant are good examples of this.
“Typically, co-op games require two players, making it an easy choice when searching for a game for just my wife and me to enjoy. A competitive game is fun because it involves other players that we aim to beat online.
“There’s a setting for both of these types of games, and we venture into both based on our mood at any given time.”
It takes two
Couple Syaffa Kamarudin and Mikhail Haris enjoy playing video games for about two to six hours every day, depending on their personal schedules: Syaffa, 24, is self-employed, and Mikhail, 25, is busy with his studies at the university.
The duo started playing games together in April of this year when Mikhail gifted Syaffa a Switch to play her favourite game, Animal Crossing.
Both Mikhail and Syaffa enjoy creating things, customising characters, and exploring the game world together, as well as completing the story mode in some solo games.
Syaffa says that Animal Crossing is fun but has its challenges: “There have been tricks we have had to learn along the way to accumulate certain resources to achieve a target, and we have to refer to the Critterpedia website to understand certain things.”
For Mikhail, the challenge in gaming lies elsewhere.
“There are some games that require a lot of grinding to get to a certain level. This can be tricky to achieve without extensive playing and building muscle memory in order to complete it together.”
Syaffa started out playing puzzle and building games such as Tetris and Minecraft, while Mikhail prefers FPS and role-playing games such as Counter-Strike and World Of Warcraft.
They also enjoy taking turns playing games, tackling a broad spectrum of genres, including games such as Inside, Limbo, Cyberpunk, and Satisfactory.
When it comes to strategies and individual strengths, Syaffa laughs, saying, “We are both good at problem solving, especially in puzzle games; but since it does get frustrating, we take turns because Mikhail can get quite frustrated!”
The couple’s favourite co-op gaming moment was while they were trying out Overcooked for the first time.
“There was a huge mess in the kitchen, which was part of how the game works, and we both lost it laughing at all the small mistakes of handling the kitchen, cooking, and cleaning all at once.”
If they could swap lives with a character, Syaffa says she would like to be the character in the rather dark puzzle platformer Inside, who seemingly does not have a name and just explores the surreal and mostly monochromatic environment presented in the 2.5D game.
Mikhail, on the other hand, wants to be the Pioneer in the first-person open-world factory building game Satisfactory, who is dropped onto an alien planet with a handful of tools and must harvest the planet’s natural resources to construct increasingly complex factories for automating all resource needs.
The couple says that they would definitely like to give more indie and horror games a try in the future to combat their emotions and fears together.
When it comes to co-op or competition, they reckon they are definitely team co-op.
“We love tackling problems together. We share our different approaches and understandings of the problems and then try to apply them during our gaming sessions, and we end up learning so much about each other,” says Syaffa.
For better or for worse
Long-time couple Magnus Manickam and Aurelia Michaels fondly reminisce about how they first hooked up over games.
Forty-something Magnus was an avid gamer who decided to mentor his girlfriend when she wanted to try her hand at gaming over a decade ago.
“Magnus was very patient at first, and it was great because whenever I would get stuck in a boss battle or complex puzzle, he would easily get me through to the next stage.
“I think I was spoiled a lot because I never had to overcome any of those really difficult challenges on my own,” says copywriter Michaels, 45, adding that she went through a long list of games like Bastion, Limbo, Borderlands, God Of War, Uncharted, Trine 3, Don’t Starve and CounterSpy with Magnus by her side.
“Even so, the game world was still very unnerving and overwhelming for me because I was not used to controlling so many things all at once.
“I prefer the puzzle games because in FPS, I will inevitably die because my aim is so bad,” she adds.
Magnus had long been wanting to try out co-op games because he had read game reviews that suggested how much more exciting certain games were with two players.
“Most of my gamer friends were too busy or our schedules never quite synced up. So when Aurelia wanted to learn, I was more than happy to show her the ropes.
“I was keen to explore how the gaming experience would change if I had a partner on board,” says the engineer.
Date nights were soon exclusively devoted to gaming, and the couple would spend hours on Magnus’s PlayStation 4, honing their skills on games like Diablo 3, Death Squared, Crimsonland and Unravel Two.
“It was incredibly fun for me, as I never expected the kind of challenges I would face playing with another person,” says Magnus, adding however that it turned out to be difficult to find a game that worked for them.
“Lots of games were not really designed well enough to enhance co-op play and just wore us out after a while.
“It was the action-adventure Lara Croft games – Temple Of Osiris and Guardian Of Light – that finally did the trick.
“These games required both of us to work together; in some scenes, for instance, we would not be able to get out if we didn’t combine our skills or act in tandem, and that was great,” he explains.
“It was a fantastic feeling for me,” Michaels chips in. “Obviously, I am not as good a gamer as Magnus, so more often than not I felt like I was just tagging along just for the ride.
“But in Lara Croft, there were moments when I had a very real part to play, or we would both end up dead. That changed the game for me.”
Magnus shares: “It’s not been all fun and games, though, and we’ve had a few big hiccups along the way.
“Once Aurelia burst into tears because I had been practising on my own and levelled up much higher than her. And to my surprise, this upset her greatly!
“Or there would be occasions when she would be very cross while we were playing because I would be so focussed on accumulating as much loot as I could and there would be none left for her! I quickly learnt that Aurelia can be quite competitive, even in a co-op setting!”
The duo has been on a gaming hiatus since the pandemic, when they were forced to spend time away from each other, but they are eager to return to the action space shooter Lovers In Dangerous Spacetime, which they have yet to complete.
“We started that game on Valentine’s Day in 2020, and we were really enjoying it because there’s a lot of things to focus on – you have to man the guns, the shield, someone has to pilot the craft – you really need to trust your partner and do what needs to be done,” says Magnus, adding that the couple would quickly divvy up the tasks before plunging into the game.
“We sort of put the game aside for a long while. But we’d love to get back to it soon!”
If they could swap lives with a character, Magnus says he would choose Uncharted’s Nathan Drake, as he believes that he is the coolest protagonist of all time, while Michaels says she would love to be Tim in the puzzle-platform game Braid, so that even if she makes mistakes in life, she can learn from them, rewind, and get them right the next time!