Being social with games
Wednesday, December 8, 2010 4:08:10 PM
I originally intended to go on a large scale frontal attack on the "Don't waste your time with video games" comments, however after thinking it over I'd rather be constructive and talk a bit about the term social as most of the "Don't waste your time" arguments seem to take it for granted that gamers and games are by nature not social.
When people talk about gamers non-gamers tend to think about a overweight teenager. A teenager with with zero friends living with his mom sitting in front of a TV or computer wasting away his life with soda and hot-pockets. No social contact with anyone other than his mom, no real friends, no social skills and or interests shared with anyone at all.
I'm not saying I'm perfect, I have wasted time in front of my computer with a mountain of pizza and soda playing games for a limited time, but I don't really feel that the stereotype applies to me or the gamers I know. Calling gamers anti-social brings a lot of challenges should you try to explain the popularity of multi-player games, as well as gamers enjoying single player games in company. Both things I enjoy more or less on a regular basis.
The problem is the definition of what being social is. Non-gamers tend to see social as a measurement of how many people are gathered at the same location. If you say social to a non-gamer they might think of a party or meeting some friends for a beer (or coffee I guess, but who wants to meet someone for that?). Websters however gives this definition: Social (adjective): "marked by or passed in pleasant companionship with friends or associates <an active social life>". So as long as two people enjoy each others company it's a social experience.
The reason why people think of gaming as a anti-social experience is in fact not that gaming isn't social. I believe that it's because people have a problem seeing how gamers communicate and create a social experience. Video games are just complex versions of the good old poker table. People sit around playing together while sharing stories and having fun. No one would define a poker night as an anti-social event would they? Is playing cards while on holiday not a social experience? Well, gamers do the same thing, we just use a mic to talk as it's more convenient than bringing a computer around to each other. The term social seems to somehow be used as a anti word for gamers, but "normal" people are on their end allowed to be social on Facebook and through social media.
Social settings are not tangible, but can also appear in virtual settings. Almost every game I've played has had either a text based or voice based communication element. The more social the game is the more popular they become. World of Warcraft has 12 million subscribers, all organized into their own groups learning how to act and handle them selfs in a virtual community. In fact gamers tend to have more friends than non-gamers both close and friends in a wider sense.
I do realize how gaming can be seen as antisocial though, if someone says "I have to go home, it's raid time soon." Non-gamers would not understand. However it seems that nobody would object if someone says "I need to go, I'm meeting some friends." For some reason having a set game time where you and a bunch of friends plan to play together with regular gaming times seems to be used as the primary example of gaming being a anti-social experience. The truth however is that most of that time will be consumed with jokes, chatting and having an awesome time with friends.
While that holds true for some gamers depending on the game, there are also other ways to enjoy gaming together. Inviting friends over or out somewhere, just to hang out and play games also tends to be labeled as a antisocial experience. However if you do the same with more social acceptable games such as sing star it's suddenly a perfectly acceptable thing to do. I'm unable to explain why this is, if someone could enlighten me please do.
Despite all this it seems that gaming is slowly gaining ground and thanks to the growing popularity of communicating Online through Facebook, blogs and messenger services the need to be at the same physical location to be social seems to be on the decline. The continued work to make gaming more "mainstream" also helps to remove the antisocial stigma connected with gaming. Facebook and phone games are on the rise, and mostly among people not in the traditional gamer category. Advertisement on TV and the rise in mainstream media talking about games will only help improve on this trend. In fact gaming is even crossing the barrier with the first ever nomination for a Grammy in 2010!
The hardcore gamers still have a long way to go before being accepted, but the rise in social and casual gamers helps tear of the label antisocial from gamers. Further more the gaming industry seems to realize that they need to work to remove the stigma gamers have, I can't wait to see more gaming penetrate "mainstream" society. Until then, gamer pride marches anyone?