How to play co-op games with your partner (without arguing)

Playing co-op games with your loved one is a great way to spend time together, so long as you don't ruin your relationship over it.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land, co-op games to play with your partner

If you’re lucky enough to share a love of gaming with your partner, you’ve achieved the first goal. The next big step is learning how to play co-op games together without wanting to destroy each other.

Co-op games can test the patience of any relationship, and when it comes to your partner, it’s best to be extra careful. But with good communication and creative gameplay, you’ll find each other’s rhythm and share the rewards of defeating bosses, and finishing levels together in perfect harmony.

Here are some tips, garnered from personal experience, on how to make the most of co-op games with your partner (and how not break up during a bad round of Overcooked).

Build your battle plan

Some games require a coordinated effort. If you know what’s coming next in your journey, you might like to build a simple battle plan. If you fail too many times at the same level, for instance, you’ll quickly understand how much more efficient it will be to join forces and designate tasks before jumping back in.

Moving Out from Australia’s SMG Studio requires players to work together to lift (or hurl) furniture out of the house, and place (or hurl) it into a delivery truck. It doesn’t matter what gets broken along the way – it’s all about doing a ridiculous job. 

But when you run out of time because your partner is too busy moving a sheep out of the bedroom, something’s got to give.

I like to play Moving Out with the following strategy: work together first. After all, it’s much easier to pull a fridge out of the wall when you have someone to share the load. My partner and I will start with all the heaviest items requiring two players to lift. We’ll throw the couch out of the window, or shimmy the bed through a narrow doorframe.

Only then, do we branch off into solo play and – working independently towards our mutual goal – take the lighter items to the truck: gaming consoles, boxes and, of course, sheep.

Read: How ‘Moving Out’ entertains us while the world stays in

Test your patience

Co-op gaming is the ultimate test of patience in your relationship. It can teach you about your own (in)ability to take a step back and let your partner be, allowing them to meet the challenge in their own time and way.

In an open-world game, you might be tempted to rush to the next activity, while your partner prefers to explore the terrain, searching behind every shrub, box, or boulder for a hidden item or side quest. In games like Baldur’s Gate 3, there’s a lot to explore and plenty of different storylines to pursue.

So take it from me: Don’t rush off and leave your partner behind, or tell them impatiently to ’hurry up!’ 

If there’s no time limit, just be happy knowing when your partner is getting the most out of the game – just sit back and enjoy the great work of the art designers while you’re waiting.

Help each other out

It’s one thing to build a battle plan; it’s another to throw that battle plan away and just go for it.

One of the most stressful-fun co-op game franchises you’ll find is OvercookedIn this title, you and your partner are responsible for preparing, cooking, and plating up dishes for your customers – all before the orders expire.

It leaves absolutely no room for arguments or resistance.

Everything in this game is on a countdown, from the pot on the stove, to the dishes you need to prepare, and the level itself. That’s why it’s all about helping each other, and taking the initiative to make things easier (or come to your teammate’s rescue in a disaster, of which there will be many).

Read: The 7 best cooking video games, ranked by accuracy

In the Overcooked series, your kitchen layout can be restrictive, and force you into dedicated duties – trapping you behind a bench so you can only chop a particular ingredient, or placing you next to the sink of dirty dishes, so you’re the one washing up for your partner. Or, it might give you free rein so you can choose how to divide tasks.

When it comes down to it, every second counts, and you’ll need flexibility to adopt a new plan without hesitation. So if you find yourself waiting for rice to cook, but can see your partner is frantic, chip in and help them out!

Don’t play the blame game

Sometimes, you just won’t be able to grasp a game’s mechanics. My partner and I struggled through Yoshi’s Crafted World, which is simultaneously adorable and incredibly frustrating to control. One player will always run out of eggs to throw, while the other has a full stack. You’ll accidentally eat each other, all the time. You’ll land on each other’s backs instead of the ground, because your characters are so close together on the screen.

Remember that sometimes, the game is just tough. Don’t place the blame on your partner; they’re trying their best. And don’t feel awkward if you’re the one messing up, either. If everyone had the same skill level in every game, it wouldn’t be very fun!

Try to let go of your tension or resentment when you say, ‘Would you mind jumping off my Yoshi’s back, please?’

(Even if you’re really thinking, ‘GET OFF MY DAMN YOSHI!’)

Share your skills

You might be great at a particular boss battle, but terrible at finding those hidden coins. Each player has particular strengths – and the great thing about playing co-op games is that your strengths can be shared.

Games like Kirby and the Forgotten Land are designed to include a co-op experience, but they also come with limits: each player has a different character, and one has fewer abilities. You can choose to play as the title character, or the adorable Bandana Dee. 

Bandana Dee can still move like Kirby, but wields only a spear for a weapon. Yet, Kirby can swallow up baddies – and items such as cars or vending machines – to transform and unleash powerful copy abilities.

Who says you need to play the whole game as the same character, though? You and your partner can get creative by swapping the controls and sharing roles more equally, taking advantage of each of your skills.

If your partner loves driving as Car Mouth in Kirby, hand over those controllers, and let them go wild! If they struggle to jump when they’ve become Pipe Mouth and fall into every hole, step up and give it your best shot.

Kirby rewards good partner play: when you gain health, you can give your partner a high five and share it with them. That’s worthy of a real-life high five, if you can squeeze it in before the next enemy gets to you.


Find your rhythm

When you and your partner grow familiar with co-op play, you might not need to build a plan, designate tasks, or verbally communicate at all. If you keep an eye on how your partner is playing, your own actions may naturally fall into place with their playing style.

Find a rhythm that works for you both, and anticipate what your partner is going to do next as you spend time watching them play.

In Urban Flowyou’re both responsible for getting cars safely through traffic lights on the same city block. So if you hit ‘green’ while your partner hits ‘green’, there’s going to be an accident!

Watching your partner’s actions will help you make your own decisions, and literally find your urban flow. If their traffic is safely queued behind a red light, you know it’s time to let your own string of cars move freely, without risk of a pile-up. When you’re finished, you can shine the red light, and wait for your partner to let their cars travel through the town, too.

As long as you look out for each other, you’ll find it easier to get into a rhythm and win the game together.

At the end of the day, your gaming experience isn’t about winning without fail, or showing off to your partner. It’s about coming together to have fun. So pick a game you’ll both enjoy, and get started on your co-op journey!

For more ideas on co-op gaming with your partner, take a look at our selection of co-op board games for two players. This article has been retimed since its original publication.

Steph Eslake is an arts journalist with an Animal Crossing addiction. When she’s not clocking up serious hours on her Nintendo Switch, she’s writing about classical music and art for publications such as The Guardian, ArtsHub, and her award-winning magazine CutCommon. Steph is now producing a book to teach others how to hack the field of arts communication.