GW: Just How ‘Social’ is Online Gaming?

The exact sociable nature of online gaming has long been in debate amongst, well, nobody. There are three parties to this lack of debate, the gamers, who generally believe it is, the media, who are adamantly idiotic in their arguments against it, and the general public who are caught in the crossfire, who generally either don’t care or lean in a particular direction. There’s no actual debating of the issue, just people believing one or the other and not listening to counter-arguments, so it falls down to loyal TSAer DJ Judas to start one off. GO.

In recent years there’s no doubt that gaming has become incredibly popular, the power of the medium was recently summed up rather emphatically (and smugly) by Modern Warfare 2. But do these high sales figures mean that gaming is now mainstream and, more importantly, socially acceptable? Or does it simply mean that more and more of us are becoming the socially inept recluses the scaremongering media would have us believe?

Evolving alongside gaming’s popularity has been the console’s online abilities. Touting features that allow anyone with an internet connection to play with or against anyone else in the world, the online capabilities of consoles have become expected, and the norm. This means that any new game released either has to have these features as standard or be the long awaited sequel to a franchise that originally existed in a console world devoid of online capabilities if said game is to be truly successful. The expectation and draw of online gaming is portrayed once again by Modern Warfare 2, with many people choosing to not even play the campaign, instead simply focusing on the online portion of the game.

Console online gaming has been advertised as a social pass-time whereby at any point you can connect and play with your friends, family, and complete strangers. I will be the first to say that online gaming can be great fun and is a great feature, but when it starts being advertised by console manufacturers as ‘social’ is the point at which alarm bells should start ringing. For me, this is compounded by social networking sites such as Facebook, which ironically can be highly detremental to one’s social life. I personally know more people that have been affected in a negative way by sites such as Facebook than those whose life it has enhanced. Facebook breeds paranoia and is an extension of the gossip mentality which feeds such British publication wonders as OK magazine, Hello and other so called celeb stalker magazines. In my opinion.

It is with this in mind that I draw parallels between the PC online gaming evolution and that of consoles. PC’s have always been at the forefront of online gaming, with online being a standard feature in titles for a full decade before it became truly standard in the console world. Therefore it can be assumed that the way in which the online realm for consoles evolves will be closely linked to the route PCs have taken. Of course with the advances in technology, consoles haven’t had to wait for high speed net access before it can truly take off, as it is already here, but there is one route that consoles have yet to take; that of the successful MMORPG.

The stereotype of online PC gaming is now of the highly reclusive geek who plays World of Warcraft, thanks to its overwhelming popularity of course. But there are no real differences between the PC world and the console world now, other than that one is more socially acceptable, because it is advertised and touted as ‘social’.

I played in the World of Warcraft for 3 years after its release and I can assure people that the vast amount of time it consumes is most definitely not social. While I truly enjoyed playing the game, there were no arguments about how anti-social it was, and there was a clean divide, whereby people understood the difference between what a highly online-social game they were playing and that it stood completely apart from their real social life. My worry is that ‘social’ is such a successful word to throw around in PR spiel that this awareness of the division between online sociability and true sociability will be lost when a MMORPG inevitably becomes successful on consoles.

I enjoy playing online, I play online with people I encounter on forums and through various other online means. But true multiplayer enjoyment can only be had for me by getting the mates round and getting some epic splitscreening on the go. Sometimes playing the same game for 6-8hours straight, sometimes manically swapping disks like there’s no tomorrow. All I know is that my passing time by playing games ‘alone’ is most definitely not social from my better half’s perspective.

I suppose the question is; do you think that an activity where you are not in the physical presence of others participating can be truly social?