Have you ever sat down to a movie, watched the characters interact with the forces around them, and thought – “wow, that was a stupid decision! If I had been able to tell them differently, maybe they wouldn’t have died in that shed where the killer was obviously hiding.” It’s frustrating, right? You’re only able to partake in the story as a spectator, and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s not always going to provide the satisfaction of knowing that you yourself directly influenced the action. So what’s the solution? Is there even one?
Yes. Enter the concept of “backseat gaming” – and leave behind the notion that “backseat” is inherently negative.
Wait, you might be thinking. Isn’t the point to influence the action and not just watch it unfold? Well, if you’ve ever had – or been – a backseat driver, you’ll know that you do have control over what happens solely through the use of your words. You might say to someone, “there’s a car in your blind spot!” or “use your turn signal!” And usually, they’ll listen. You as a passenger might even notice things the driver failed to, and you’ll both be better off because of it. The same thing applies to video games. While Player 1 is super focused on that intense boss battle, you – the honorary Player 2 – might notice something in the background that looks like it can be interacted with, or you might see the indicator of an item stashed behind debris. You can look up guides to the game and gently nudge your Player 1 in the direction of the story progression – or a shortcut. You can even help by studying boss movesets or weaknesses and relaying them to Player 1, who might’ve overlooked those things due to the adrenaline of the fight.
Okay, you might think. So you can help by guiding them in the right direction. Is that all, though? Maybe for the average – or intense – gamer, being able to converse about the more technical details of a game is satisfying enough. Having some stake in the outcome of the game is nearly guaranteed, since you’re boasting the knowledge of how to handle upcoming challenges. But what if you don’t know how the game works? What if you’re watching someone no-hit run a Dark Souls game and you want to get in on the action?
Well, you can! Backseat gaming doesn’t have to be something as complicated as deciphering the intricate triggers of certain boss moves or studying the game’s world map to find out where all the items are hidden and the enemies are located. It can really just boil down to something as simple as, wait, you can use magic? Can you show me? Can you fight the next boss with it? And suddenly, you’ve influenced the game! You have all sorts of options when it comes to partaking in the development of the story. You can weigh in your opinion on dialogue choices, you can choose from several cosmetic customization options to make your character a nice balance of your interests and Player 1’s interests, you can pick weapons and build bonds and pick what characters to fight and when. Even if the game has no fighting – like Animal Crossing – you can help your Player 1 decorate their home or their town. Every game has the potential for an honorary Player 2 – it’s just up to you to take that back seat and game on.