As a primarily solitary gamer, multiplayer-centric experiences generally don’t appeal to me. I prefer an environment where I can learn and progress at my own pace without the constant pressure of other players forcing me forward. So when a game anchors the core of its experience in multiplayer, any enthusiasm I may have had is usually drained completely. I continue to drift ever further from the multiplayer scene as local multiplayer goes the way of the dinosaur, and the vitriolic attitude of competitive online play reigns supreme.

Cooperative multiplayer games, particularly when played with close friends, remain as almost the sole sustenance for my occasional multiplayer cravings. The pressure of other players is still present, though largely alleviated. Friends don’t judge as harshly as strangers do for innocent slip-ups or lack of experience with a game. And when I get frustrated at an especially difficult portion of a game, at least I can be  frustrated with my fellow players instead of at them.

Minecraft is perhaps my all-time favorite co-op game. It isn’t cooperative by design, but the multiplayer survival servers are by necessity. It’s said that there’s safety in numbers, and numbers are all that stand between your camp and a pack of raiders. Without a cohesive group of players by your side, it’s unlikely you’ll have the armor and weapons necessary for defense before someone attacks. Raiders themselves need allies as well, lest they become vilified by the community and frequently targeted by other players. Servers without PvP encourage cooperative play, too. If you don’t work with others to advance through the game more quickly, then why not play a single-player world?

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A great, supporting single-player experience helped persuade me to try my hand at Minecraft’s multiplayer. I’ve poured hundreds of hours into a single survival file, slowly accumulating knowledge of the game’s countless recipes and mechanics. While I would never call myself an expert, I’m no stranger to survival. The kind of trial-and-error learning experience that Minecraft’s single-player provided prepared me for the hostile realm of multiplayer survival servers. If I had attempted a session of multiplayer survival before becoming accustomed to the game in single-player, I may have abandoned the multiplayer half of the game indefinitely.

And it’s a good thing I never gave up on Minecraft’s multiplayer, because when working cooperatively with others, just about everything that makes the single-player great is magnified. Discovering villages, temples, and rare resources is wonderfully fulfilling, because it means more supplies for the group at large. The already rewarding process of constructing and fortifying a base is made more so when it’s a group effort. Combat is far more exciting with back-up, and when you know that losing vital resources is a blow to your fellow survivors, death stings that much more.

Cooperative play in Minecraft also rationalizes some balancing that doesn’t make much sense in a single-player context. A farm that easily produces more than enough food for an individual player requires consistent attention when feeding a camp of four. If players aren’t careful to harvest and restock their farms on a regular basis, then they’ll find themselves with a dangerous and time-consuming shortage on their hands. And a few items that normally seem painfully rare, like horse armor, can be obtained at a surprisingly consistent rate when everyone in a group pulls his or her weight.

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Speaking of players contributing to their group’s success, cooperative Minecraft is excellent for motley crews of survivors with varied degrees of skill and experience. I don’t have to be a Minecraft expert in order to be a productive member of my team. Unlike many multiplayer games, where other players’ skills far outshine my own, there’s a wide enough range of  essential tasks to be taken care of that I’m never left in the dust. While other players work on grinding experience to enchant weapons and armor, I can harvest wheat or mine for diamonds. No matter a player’s skill with Minecraft, he or she always has an important role to play, even if that’s simply gathering logs to burn for more charcoal.

In a lot of ways, cooperative Minecraft is a step up from the single player game. It’s the sort of multiplayer experience that I can appreciate enough to dump ludicrous amounts of time into a single world with my friends. That’s saying a lot. Between the endless exploration, satisfying sense of community, and ongoing updates, I see myself returning to the multiplayer side of Minecraft time and time again. I’ll always appreciate the therapeutic isolation of its single-player, but taking on the Ender Dragon is simply more exciting with good friends by my side.