Asymmetric Cooperative Play

2010 May 23
by Dave

I was given a pre-order of Super Mario Galaxy 2 for my recent birthday. Sunday was the North American launch and I spent a couple hours playing it with my six and a half year old son. This is the first game that we have played that fully engaged both of us at the same time at difficulty levels that kept us both interested.  Nintendo’s mastery of asymmetric cooperative play is a very important development that will have positive repercussions far beyond the Mushroom Kingdom.

Multi-player mode in SMG-2 has the first player doing the heavy lifting of controlling Mario’s running and jumping etc. while the second player assumes a less difficult role of helping to collect star pieces, stunning enemies and retrieving power ups with a cursor controlled by pointing the Wii remote at the screen. The second player cannot die and can only take actions that help the first player by taking some of the work load and by providing a second set of eyes focused on watching enemies. This formula lets the game be very challenging, and still allows me to enjoy it with my son. He is fully engaged and focused on how I am coping with the challenges presented in order to see how he can help. This is a fantastic method of allowing me to teach him how to play a Mario game.

Nintendo has been working for several years to fine tune their implementations of Asymmetric Cooperative Play. I think that they have finally codified the design elements necessary to make it work and I hope that they publish a software development environment before I am ready to teach my offspring to code.

Off the top of my head I can think of several ways that an apprentice coder could ride shotgun. I think a system that hi-lights undeclared variables and allows the helper to write the declarations would be a good start. Of course there would have to be a dialog going on between the teacher and apprentice at the same time but that is the whole point.

Humans long ago figured out that the best way to teach skilled workers is to have them do the simple parts that are necessary for the completion of a complex task in conjunction with a master who does the hard bits and explains what he is doing. This requires that the helper be focused on the task so as to be ready whenever help is required, and provides motivation for learning through a sense of accomplishment and partial ownership of the task.

I think that many modern trades would benefit from this system. The economic incentives for it are a bit of a sticking point in our current climate of high labor mobility, but I think that they could succumb to the same careful iterative design that allows my son to glory in his role helping to defeat the giant serpent with a tummy ache that Bowser jr. unleashed on us.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS