Gaming as a Social Phenomenon

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.

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About Malgayne

Community Manager at Google. Formerly at Sourcebits, Spark Plug Games, Zynga, and Wowhead.com. I like chiptunes and hefeweizen.

3 thoughts on “Gaming as a Social Phenomenon

  1. The only reason I’ve played WoW for as long as I have is because I have a bunch of real-live friends who play as well (enough to fill out a 10-man run with a few left over), and even the sometimes it’s not enough that I don’t end up taking breaks from the game for a few weeks. It really is the social aspect of a game that keeps me around after beating it twice (once for the ending, once for the ‘perfect’ game).

  2. I’ve found myself wondering when it became more about a social activity and less about the game. Or was it always that way, really? I know people who only really log in to hang with friends.

  3. I remember when I was 17 (17 years ago lol) and me and 6-7 mates would walk to the local country pub, walk the two to three miles back to the house through country lanes in the pitch dark and then sit up all night in one of my mate’s holiday cottages and play Mariokart on the SNES all night whilst drinking the takeout from the pub (that is way too long a sentence).

    I completely agree that gaming these days is social. There is a certain joy in watching a friend storm a level in an fps or where the graphics are so beautiful it is just like watching a movie, you just revel in the sights and sounds.

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