Social unsocial gaming

In the 1980’s and 1990’s electronic games were usually blamed to remove children from each other, that games separated players from their normal friends. However, much like on many of claims like this, that’s only partially true.

Let’s consider arcades at first. They were nothing short of social event. While I’ve gone over how arcades were part of continuing cultural phenomena, including criminal activities and rebelling teenagers, I’d like to reiterate that arcades have always gathered people of all walks of life to a common place. Penny arcades first, then video arcades. While the image of arcades as masculine place of triumphant to-be adults has long since died and replaced with kids’ place of play, only to be taken over by free-to-play arcades for young adults with barcades, they nevertheless have always served as a place to escape to in some extent. A round of Street Fighter II might have had a group significance, it also served a way for those who simply wanted to vent something out and be alone.

PC gaming has always been a bit more a hobby for the hermit kind, that much I’m willing to give in. However, even then most children who played computer games played them with either a friend or a family member. Furthermore, computer games would bring people together in groups to discuss the games themselves and ways to upgrade or fix computers. Geek squad is most likely derived from these kind of groups of people with specific computer know-how most people seem to lack. Nowadays Internet connection is making playing with other people very easy, and the old way of thinking of a person playing alone doesn’t apply. A person may be playing a computer game alone in a room, but connected to dozens of different players across the world. Modern social gaming at its finest.

Console gaming has been about multi-player since Pong hit the markets. David Sudnow goes over in his book Pilgrim in the Microworld how adults, not children, played an Atari console at a party and it was a big hit. This should be noted, as while the perception used to be that gaming is only for children, everybody regardless of their age is open for a game or two. Electronic games may be largely based on boy’s play culture, but the truth is that both boys and girls, men and women, have always played games.Compared to PC games’ hot-seat switching (it’s still cumbersome to shove people next to the same keyboard) console gaming has allowed real-time interaction. Now you may scoff at me and say You can attack USB controllers and whatnot to a PC and just play emulators, but you’re console gaming then.

While multi-player games are part co-operation and part contest, playing a single-player game socially is a different kind of shared experience. Streamers nowadays seem to get the same kind of kick from socialising with their viewers as they did when they were children, interacting and discussing the game. What’s lacking from here is sharing the game and taking turns at beating a stage. Peer learning is the key here. By sharing the physical space with someone and exchanging ideas and turns, players learn from their peers that they can then put into use later when they are playing alone. However, it would seem that the significance of peer learning diminishes with age and older game hobbyists tend to prefer their own, single experiences to challenge themselves. Nevertheless, the significance of socially playing a game has not vanished, and streaming indeed has given it a new form. Perhaps streaming is the next step in this chain, where the streamer first has learned from his peers, then challenged himself  before stepping unto a stage to both entertain viewers and to showcase his learned skills.

In late 1990’s and early 2000’s, video games were still mostly an option to do when you were bored. This applied specifically to girls, who saw more merit in more traditional hobbies. Boys on the other hand regarded games a better option over reading a book, listening to music or watching television. For computer gaming at the time, this could mean boys had a somewhat powerful gaming machine and an Internet connection to play either a strategy game or a first person shooter together. Console gaming, outside the Dreamcast, didn’t offer much online functions. The amount of games boys and girls played games is significantly different due how different the play culture is between boys and girls. While we could argue that gender roles have something to do with this, it would be extremely interesting to see how much genetics have a role in how a child takes part in their gender’s play culture.

There are those who have been separated from their friends and peers because of games. However, the same applies to any hobby. Books, radio, television, movies, etc. It is more about the person himself than the hobby they choose. Gaming can be extremely social event with its own set of rules depending on the people and the game being played. Just like how one can’t expect to enter a foreign culture and find it acceptable from the get-go, so does modern social gaming expect new players to get accustomed to the modern Internet-driven multi-player landscape.

It would be foolish to assume there would be just one form of game culture when it comes to online gaming. Each region and even game has their own set of sub-cultural rules and behaviours that can even vary between server rooms within the same game, in the same region. The much laughed Call of Duty kid who calls others by names and acts like a brat may be a black and white stereotype, but as much as it is true just a much there are those who act completely the opposite with courtesy and encouragement towards their fellow players.

Electronic games, as much some people hate to think about it, connects more people than it separates. We can choose what games we play and whom with we play them, and we shouldn’t expect to be able to share a game with everybody, either because of cultural or preferential differences. We can be social in the circles we choose in, and while it is healthy to venture outside and see what others are doing to broaden out horizons, we should just concentrate on enjoying this social hobby instead of tearing it down.

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