It’s incredible how a phrase overheard on a train can spark off a line of thought. The young ladies having this conversation were, of course, talking ‘shop’ and discussing the use of social games in child development (no, I wasn’t eavesdropping…) but it occurred to me that this topic of discussion is as equally relevant in our world too.
The social element of gaming is now a standard for the majority of games and those which do not fully embrace or support this are judged as having missed something very important. It’s pretty widely known that I’m not a real online gamer but even I like to have the option to have a quick race against others every now and again.
But the social aspect is important in other ways too. WoW is pretty much built on an interactive, social framework – yes it has some great world features, characters quests and stories but even these involve interaction and the correct levels of communication for their execution and completion. These are teaching elements as they show the results of good and bad choices.
The social gaming spoken of by my Birmingham to Watford muses is defined to be a set of growth mechanisms – their target being the information sponges which are the minds of children. But our interactions should be no less challenging and fulfilling. We too have a capacity to learn and grow, albeit somewhat jaded by our life experiences but it’s still there.
Being able to interact successfully, or the lack of the ability to do so, is one of the few remaining stereotypical character traits still levelled at gamers. The image of the withdrawn, pale-faced teen who is unable to make eye contact and maintain a conversation unless it’s concerning poor collision detection or frame rates still exists in the minds of the general population.
Yes, I’ll admit that these elements are personified every now and again, we’ve all met and probably know someone who genuinely lacks the confidence to interact with others in a fruitful and meaningful way – but this is not a “gamer” or even a technologist trait. I’ve been to technical events, business events and even meetings with senior management types and this personality exists everywhere. He’s the guy (it is usually a guy I’m afraid) who is silent until his topic comes up in conversation and then manages to talk for just a little bit too long and in just a little bit too much detail for the given social situation before lapsing into nervous withdrawal as the conversation moves on.
“Social games” is now also the monicker applied to the plethora of apps bolted onto Facebook (and the like), Mafia Wars, Vampires, etc. These ‘games’ now are almost defining social games; turn-based, casual, interactive and based on platforms intended for person-to-person interaction such as Facebook. I have to say I’m not a huge fan myself… I’ve not joined a Mafia family, bitten or been bitten by a Vampire, helped grow a farm or any of the other 50 squillion invites which head in my direction, as to be honest I don’t see the point. I have trouble remembering to update my Facebook status more than twice per year let alone keep track of other goings on!
But are social games helping gamers to grow? I would say that the answer is not a simple yes or no. The answer is that the ability to interact successfully in any medium or environment, even one created inside a game-space, is a good thing. I’d also say that the wider acceptance of gaming as part of a ‘normal’ (whatever the hell that is) lifestyle also creates a willing acceptance of the more, shall we say, focused amongst our community in the same way that petrol-heads and sports fans are. I will even posit that the ability to interact is a transferable skill which can, if nurtured, lead to growth in general social skills but it isn’t a solution.
The irony is (you have no idea how ironic this statement is coming from me) that the best way to grow socially is to be a social animal, to make the effort, to get out and meet people. The gamer meet-ups such as Ready-Up’s recent success in Glasgow (I was moving house otherwise I’d have been there), conventions, shows and events; these are all places where people meet and converse, using their voices, in a social environment. Relationships are born and friendships are made, real and lasting friendships based on that intangible, indefinable connection between two people.
I will close this missive by thanking you for taking the time to read this and for getting to know me a little better. I hope that one day we’ll meet up and we’ll be able to have a chat about things generally and that we’ll strike up a relationship, perhaps even a friendship as a result. And I’ll leave you with this: the importance of ‘social’ gaming is that it allows us to game socially. Cheers!