Let’s face it, keeping “date night” both inventive and alluring week after week is a challenge for even the biggest hopeless romantic. Getting dressed up is a chore and, besides, repeatedly eating out is a travesty for your body and wallet. Venturing to the theater seems like a natural second option, but who wants to be a living and breathing cliché? Certainly not me.
You could always snag inspiration from one of those films, though. The warm glow and (obviously) artificial floral aroma of candles comes to mind. Light about 50 and place them around your house or apartment for an instant romantic ambiance. That’s how that works, right? Maybe not so much. In my (tragic) experience, that’s the perfect way to ruin a new set of curtains and steal the life of a precious houseplant. I might still be mourning. Don’t judge. However, if you’ve been itching to discover if your partner is either pyrophobic or a pyromaniac, read no further. This is exactly what you need.
For everyone else: I’m out. This is an impossible task. I refuse to agonize over date night planning for another three hours. I’ll be over here chilling on the couch and playing video games if you need me… wait. I take that back. I have an absolutely splendid idea — you could skip all the frivolities, hunker down on a comfy sofa with your date and play video games. What a concept. You can thank me later.
Between immersive single player experiences that can be traded back and forth and cooperative titles that put your communication skills to the test, video games can “level up” a cozy night in with ease. Regardless of your status as an avid player, casual or pure newbie, these five games are a surefire method to strengthen your bond within a few hours or less.
1. Portal 2
Seamlessly combining solo and team gameplay, “Portal 2” is a plethora of hi-tech hijinks for you and your partner enjoy on your next at-home date. Its quirky physics-based puzzles are an organic fit for any couple that would rather put their heads together for a few hours instead of beating the snot out of each other’s virtual characters.
Admittedly, you can still do the latter — just in a more devious fashion. Half of my favorite memories with this title come from “accidentally” flipping the switch on the “Hard Light Bridge” while my then-boyfriend was walking across and then laughing as I plummeted into the ground when he turned the tables on me three stages later. With each new mechanism comes a new way to screw with each other using a pinch of clever finesse.
When you’re in the mood for a true cooperative feat, the co-op mode of “Portal 2” throws you back into the bowels of Aperture Science Laboratories for another escape mission through its lethal test chambers. This time, however, it takes two to triumph.
Assuming you can tackle the frustration, it won’t take long for you and your significant other to problem solve with perfect synchronicity. Who needs relationship counseling when this game exists? Moreover, you can easily switch over to single player and tag-team the main story campaign instead, exchanging “gamer” and “watcher” roles when a fresh perspective is long overdue.
Have you ever lain awake with your partner at night imagining what your perfect life would look like? What about being the last two people on Earth? Maybe you switched your venue to a cushy sheet on the ground with a blanket of stars above? If you did, why are you even here? You don’t need my help.
Conversely, if you’ve done one or both of the former scenarios, “Terraria” is an ideal medium to appeal to your significant other’s sensitive side. Abandon the stressors of reality for a few hours and travel to a cutesy 2D world that is yours to shape and explore. As the game doesn’t advocate for a fundamental goal, couples can have a blast with a variety of different activities based on the concept of breaking pixelated blocks and using them to create other structures and objects.
The diversity of difficulty settings fosters a great environment for truly making the experience your own. If you both decide you’d rather build houses (or maybe monoliths of each other) and not bother with the adventure aspects, “Softcore” mode eliminates the worry of losing all of your belongings after an accidental death.
For more daring couples seeking a survival simulator, ramping it up to “Hardcore” mode is a must. You’ll have to protect one another almost constantly as death is now a permanent status. If you don’t have a surplus of trust and communication now, you certainly will after 30 minutes of this playstyle.
3. Until Dawn
Horror is a popular genre amongst couples seeking a pastime at the cinema — and there’s a good reason why: dopamine. Classified as either your best friend or worst enemy depending on the circumstances, dopamine is a chemical released by nerve cells in the brain to trigger a response in the rest of the body. It’s to blame for the heightened sense of fear you feel during a horror flick. Interestingly enough, it’s also to thank for all those tantalizing butterflies you experience when falling in love.
Thanks to dopamine, watching an hour and a half of looming jump scares with your significant other will pull the two of you closer together. It’s simple science, folks. So, by that logic, any number of video games with horror elements should achieve the same effect. “Until Dawn” is a fitting title for the job. Placing you at the helm of eight teenage characters as they try to survive the night while being hunted by a masked madman, this game will keep you and your partner on your toes until the credits roll.
Chiefly, two unique gameplay mechanics evolve the usually single player storyline into a terrifying treat to indulge in on date night. The consistently emphasized “Butterfly Effect” makes every choice count — even the seemingly mundane ones, like choosing whether or not to hand someone a flare gun (hint hint). This gives you an opportunity to involve each other in the outcome of the plot, which could change significantly from one play-through to another.
In addition, each chapter of “Until Dawn” is separated by visits to “The Analyst,” a cryptic psychologist with some obvious boundary issues. At certain points, he will force you to answer a (seriously invasive) set of questions about your phobias. This is a golden opportunity for couples to ascertain those same intricacies about one another while determining which option to select. Be warned, though. If you opt for needles over gore, for example, don’t be surprised when they magically appear later in the game to cash in on your fear.
“Monopoly” may hold the title of “Most Likely to Destroy a Relationship,” but I’m convinced “Overcooked” isn’t far behind. Even so, that doesn’t stop the game from being a fantastic adventure. Don’t sweat it. As long as your communication with your beloved is on point, you’ll (probably) be fine.
As the name suggests, “Overcooked” centers around one to four chefs — depending on the number of players — who travel around to master their chaotic brand of culinary craftsmanship. With the Onion Kingdom’s very life on the line, you and your partner have to get good at cooking and do it fast. Between working in split kitchens on two parallel, moving semi-trucks and animals climbing into your kitchen to snatch finished dishes off the counter before the other player can, it’ll take every ounce of teamwork you can muster up to succeed.
The game is a shining example the “party” genre, meaning that the story threads holding the plot together are extremely thin. This is far from a negative, as it results in better gameplay and gives you the ability to pick it up and play whenever without having to recall everything that happened before. Furthermore, feel free to add another couple to your chef squad. You’ll only have to catch them up on recipes before securing a fun-filled, double-date night activity.
5. Left 4 Dead
Be honest. Do you actually think your relationship could endure a zombie apocalypse? Well, it’s time to find out. Zombies are quite the staple in pop culture and video games were quick to capitalize on the fad. Nonetheless, no gaming title did it better than 2008’s “Left 4 Dead.” Scrapping a detailed narrative in favor of perfecting multiplayer strategy elements, this survival-shooter throws you into the center of a zombie outbreak with three other characters and encourages you to head for the next “safe room.”
The heavy reliance on cooperation cultivates an idyllic atmosphere for enhancing your attachment to “Player 2.” At times, you’ll be the sole person capable of assisting your incapacitated partner off the ground. Later, they’ll likely have to return the favor and sacrifice their last medical kit to ensure your longevity. The computer-controlled members of your team are decent at holding their own, but pretty garbage at following your desired tactics or supporting you in a timely manner. You’ll have to lean on your date for that and vice versa.
“Left 4 Dead” received a mass of criticism upon release for a lacking selection of available maps. Luckily for you, that doesn’t stop the game from holding your interest on successive experiences. Depending on your group’s performance during the level, the artificial intelligence system makes slight tweaks to accommodate you.
Nearly died five times? Expect extra stashes of weapons and health items in tandem with fewer hordes of undead. Alternatively, you could be totally crushing it and starving for a healthy dose of difficulty. Don’t worry — you won’t be coasting for long. As a result, it’s the perfect third-wheel for numerous date nights as you refine both your zombie-slaughtering skills and love connection.