From the very earliest computer games, one of the most popular aspects that helped to make them so popular was that they could support multiple players, meaning that more than one person could play the game at the same time. This meant that people could play against each other in competition, so that it was not wholly a player versus computer environment. Most people enjoy competitiveness against friends and family, and reveling in success. Most of the highly popular computer and video games available today are multiplayer games.
The idea of multiplayer has three different meanings or interpretations, however. The first, and original, multiplayer games were simply those in which you took turns. The first player would attempt a level, or complete a race, or carry out some other task which would have measured in some way – perhaps with a high score or time. Once they had either succeeded, completed the race or failed at whatever task they were challenged with doing, the next player would take over and have a go. In this way, each person was able to have a go at the same task, and try to beat each other by either getting a higher score, a faster time, or by using whatever other measurement of success.
The second type of multiplayer game to come along, and which is still around today, are the split screen games. These work best for races, where the screen can be wide but fairly short – good for racing when you need to see a wide perspective to prepare for corner and obstacles, but there is no need for a tall screen as you're racing on the flat.
In this setup, the two players see their own character or vehicle in a portion of the screen at the top, and the other player or vehicle in the portion of the screen at the bottom. Both portions offer the same perspective to begin with at the start of the race, but each follows a specific player. It is possible this way for both players to be competitive at the same time, and against each other.
The player behind will even be able to see the player in front, and by glancing quickly at the opponent's portion of the screen it is possible to check on where they are and how they're doing. This offers real time action and competition, and is an engrossing way of playing.
Not all split screens are horizontal – some fighting games are vertical so that you can see the full height of the opposing player, but the majority are split horizontally. Obviously for this kind of game, either having a big screen or sitting close to a screen is best in order to see the detail clearly.
The third type of multiplayer game is the type which has players competing against each other, but where the players are not actually physically anywhere near each other. This can mean that they are actually playing against each other while on sides of the planet! These games use the internet to connect players together, and then each player sees the game from their point of view on their own screen, and sees the opponent as a character within the game. In many cases rather than being an opponent, the other player may be an ally, and work together to complete a task or quest.
Whilst solo games will always be popular, multiplayer games have long rule the popularity stakes.