Social Gaming Without the Gaming
Earlier this evening, I logged into my Discord server as I do each week, to catch up with some internet friends while playing The Elder Scrolls Online. For some technical reason, the game was unavailable, so we chatted among ourselves while pursuing other activities. I don’t think any of us actually played another game while we talked. However, despite the absence of any MMO related entertainment, we managed to keep ourselves amused for three hours. For me this anecdote highlights a point I’ve made many times in the past, that games do not create social interaction but merely facilitate it. Furthermore, the social element of the MMO genre is often misunderstood, misrepresented and over sold. Much of the enjoyment that we get from the social aspect gaming is from our interactions with friends. However, this is not solely dependent on the game which is ultimately nothing more than a conduit.
How often have you done any of the following? Logged into a game not because you have a pressing need to run a dungeon but because you simply wanted to hang out with like minded people and have a chat. Used your guild mates as a form of group therapy because you just got dumped, didn’t get that promotion or have just had a bad day. Decided to just ride around the virtual world for a while and talk shit with friends, rather than go do the dishes or some other chore you don’t feel disposed towards doing. I suspect a lot of people will have done one or more of these? I know I have. Sometimes the most appealing aspect of social gaming is access to people. The world has changed a lot in my lifetime and the close knit social communities I knew in the seventies are not necessarily there for a lot of folks these days. You don’t always know your neighbours or remain friends for life with the people you went to school with these days. MMOs offer an alternative to this in so far as an opportunity to strike up friendships if you so desire.
Gaming can be greatly enhanced by social interaction, especially when it is with friends. I often think that developers lose sight of this subtle distinction. Too often they confuse random grouping in co-op gaming with the social dynamic you find in close-knit guilds and erroneously think it will yield the same results. It does not. I have had some good experiences with random grouping, but they have been few and far between. Too often they are a necessary evil that you have to endure to achieve your goal. On the other hand, gaming with my peers, who I know and respect, has provided some of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had in recent years. I still regularly talk to people I’ve known via guilds and kinships irrespective of whether we actually play MMOs together. Some of these friendships are over a decade old and have out lived some of the MMOs that spawned them.