Every freaking time that almost anybody mentions a cooperative game, it seems like they’re practically compelled to mention the dominant/alpha-player problem. With many of the newer, real-time games like Space Cadets and Escape: The Temple of the Curse, they’re praised as being some sort of bastion of holy light shining out against the evil terrors of standard cooperative games that are plagued unto the point of ruination with this persistent and ubiquitous “issue” of someone who has the unmitigated gall to tell you what the heck to do.
But let me get something straight here. Having someone in your game that is a domineering jerk that bosses everyone around and ruins your fun is not a game problem, it’s a freaking player problem!
Here’s another revelation: cooperative games are about cooperation! Working together to solve the problem presented by the game. So if one person is taking over and telling everyone what to do, he’s playing it wrong because he’s not cooperating with others; he’s being a jerk-wad who’s playing the game by himself and using other people to move the pieces!
But is that a problem with the freaking game? If someone in Puerto Rico bullies you to do what they say is clearly in your best interest (and not surprisingly in theirs as well), is that some flaw with Puerto Rico? Of course not, that’s just someone being a jerk! So why is someone being a jerk in a cooperative game suddenly the fault of the game itself?
However, let me also say that, sometimes, cooperation is also about shutting the heck up and doing what other people suggest because that’s what’s best for all of you. If you’ve got some sort of maverick attitude that “no one can tell me what to do” and you run off doing crap that’s against the plan that all the rest of the players have agreed on, you’re not playing it right either and you’re the jerk in that game! Maybe you need to swallow some of that gamer pride you have going on and be open to the fact that you may be able to actually learn something if you just listen and cooperate in that cooperative game you’re playing.
I will absolutely agree that playing a cooperative game can be a bit of a balancing act. But you know, working with other people usually is. As the most experienced player, you probably do have the single best idea of what should be done. But the key is to give good options rather than domineering directions. And as a new player, you need to be open to suggestions from those more experienced players, but to do so intelligently, asking quetions as to why it would be a good idea so that you can better understand the game and maybe even making the suggestion better through something that you notice.
Because the real beauty of cooperative games is that, regardless of how big the disparity is between experience levels of the players, when a group of engaged and intelligent players put their heads together and work on a plan, it’s almost always better than the idea of what any one, single player could have come up with on their own! And if you don’t believe me, then you’re probably the domineering jerk that nobody wants to play with anyway…