As I write this post, I’m sitting in the room with six other guys. Two of them are playing BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger. The rest of us are watching, shouting, and offering commentary. But all of us are “gaming”.
A little while ago, some friends and I were doing this for a different game (I think it was Shining Force, one of my old favorites), and my father came in. He expressed some concern that there were five or six of us in the room, but only one person had a controller. Perhaps, he said, it might be more polite for us to play a game in which more than one person could participate.
I was honestly surprised. I mean, I hadn’t even stopped to consider that this situation might not be fair, and neither had any of my friends. I suddenly realized that I belonged to a generation that treats gaming as a social phenomenon—a group of people who can all sit in a room together while one person plays some crappy old Genesis game, and when asked, can still legitimately say “We’re gaming.”
Gaming has always been a social phenomenon for me, and I may be unusual in that gaming (for me) is an exclusively social phenomenon. Even single player games are only REALLY fun for me when I can play them with my friends. I don’t like playing on portable game systems, because it’s too hard for people to look over my shoulder—and too hard for me to look over my friends’ shoulders. I think this is part of the reason why I started playing World of Warcraft.
Fact is, World of Warcraft is kind of a boring game. The solo content, while very good in comparison to other MMOs, is really pretty boring in comparison to a high quality single-player game—but unlike those games, WoW is automatically social. In fact, the reason why I started the game in the first place is because a friend of mine moved away to San Francisco for college—and WoW was a good way for us to stay in touch, and continue to do things together.
The social nature of WoW is also the reason why, when too many of my friends stopped playing WoW, it just wasn’t fun any more. There’s a lot of single-player content in WoW, but most of it is about advancing your character and getting better gear. And if you’re working towards the eventual goal of being a better player in groups with friends you care about, then great—but if you’re just playing by yourself, and there isn’t any long term goal, then who cares? It wasn’t until I finally convinced my brother to pick up a copy of WotLK and start playing again that the game once again became fun for me.
I find this to be an interesting counterpoint to the (now, fortunately, very uncommon) belief that gaming is an inherently anti-social behavior, and that the best thing you can do for your kids is to shut down the game system and make them go outside. I now belong to an entire generation of people for whom gaming IS a social activity.