A few weeks ago, I was at a party with a few of my friends, where I was introduced to a whole load of new people that my friends had met through playing League of Legends.
Sometime, throughout the night, the topic of gaming’s ability to connect people with each other through in-game chat and co-operation was discussed and most were rather astonished at the fact that gaming was actually able to lead to the formation of bonds outside of the in-game environment.
Now, this overall idea has been stuck in my head for the past few weeks as it made me focus on the fact that I too have been able to build and accentuate particular relationships through gaming; an idea that I had never really placed too much focus on before.
Yes, there have been times in which I have spoken about having made a friend online while playing a certain game, but I never really thought of the medium of gaming as a method through which to connect with other people, as with social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.
Ultimately, this whole situation got me contemplating the question: how important is the social experience in gaming, nowadays?
In order to answer this question, it may perhaps be important to examine the different manners in which one can be social, while playing video games.
The first (and most obvious) scenario is that of the basic multiplayer experience, which encompasses general competitive multiplayer experiences as well as that of co-op experiences.
In terms of competitive multiplayer experiences, people tend to form clans and social media groups based around these competitive game modes that ultimately help accentuate the overall gaming experience and, for some people, has led to situations where after some time a person can’t imagine themselves playing a particular game without certain clan or community group members.
Personally, I’ve never really felt that the casual competitive multiplayer experience (for example, a Team Deathmatch game in Call of Duty) has ever led to me forming some sort of friendship with another player other than a simple friend request to a person I may have seen playing a game rather often in order to make finding matches for said game easier, and perhaps its due to the fact that I don’t take these experiences so seriously.
I think that I have always enjoyed online co-op a lot more than competitive multiplayer experiences – beating the AI rather than another group of people – and this definitely shows in the fact that I have made some friends online through such game modes. (Make love to your fellow man, not war.)
Ultimately, both game modes require a group of people to work together in order to achieve a task, whatever it may be and this leads to instances in which you need to communicate with others and for some, it is this social interaction that makes the game worth playing, regardless of whether the relationship actually goes further than just being based around a video game.
Couch co-op (or local co-op)
One doesn’t have to be online to have a social co-op gaming experience.
It has often been said that couch co-op is dead, but if games like Overcooked and Mario Kart have taught me anything, it is that couch co-op game modes still have a space within gaming today.
While it is great fun to engage in online multiplayer experiences, they are not always the optimal activity in specific social situations.
If you have a group of friends over, games such as Mario Kart can be seen as a fun group activity that can get people laughing (and, unfortunately, angry too at times) that could not be achieved with the average multiplayer experience.
Watching Another Person Play A Game
One doesn’t always have to actively be playing a game in order to engage in a social gaming experience. If anything, the rising popularity of Let’s Play YouTube and Twitch channels has proven this over the last few years.
Now, a lot of people (gamers and non-gamers) don’t seem to understand why some people watch Let’s Plays. To be entirely honest, I felt similarly up until the beginning of last year – it didn’t make sense to watch a person play a game when you could play it yourself.
However, when I really started thinking about it, I was reminded that as a younger sibling, I always used to watch my older sibling play new games first if they were not co-op and I quite enjoyed it.
Sometimes, I wouldn’t start my own playthrough for some games because I would have already watched my brother play the game in question and shared in that experience with him and starting it up again, not only felt repetitive, but empty too as there was nobody to share the experience with.
If you’re watching somebody play, whether in the same room or online, you are actively going through the experience with the person who is playing the game, perhaps, sharing the same reactions and, at times, even discussing potential decision or in-game strategies together.
So, How Important Is The Social Experience In Gaming?
On several occasions, I’ve highlighted the fact that multiplayer is the most popular aspect in gaming at the moment. If you look at the list of the most played games at the moment, you’ll find that it is most likely filled with overtly multiplayer-focused games, such as League of Legends and Overwatch.
This fact on its own highlights just how important the social experience has become in gaming.
This is not to say that single-player games are dying (because they aren’t), but rather that players do frequently yearn for social aspects within the hobby to break up solitary experiences and vice-versa.
Massive stakeholders in the gaming industry, such as Sony and Microsoft, have also acknowledged the fact that gaming has become an increasingly social experience and have adapted their approach to the market with this idea in mind – the PS4’s share button being the first ‘innovation’ that comes to mind.
Personally, I’ve always felt that the social experience has been a very important part of gaming in general. Whether it’s been through watching somebody, couch co-op or multiplayer experiences, a social element has always been present within my perception of the hobby.
This is not to say that I don’t like playing games on my own (as I would say that has been the bulk part of my experience as an adult gamer), but I openly acknowledge the fact that I don’t think I would be as interested in the hobby if there wasn’t a social aspect to it.
I do still engage in all forms of the above mentioned social gaming activities and do believe that it has increased my love for the pass-time.
Thus far, I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made through gaming and for the experiences I’ve been able to share and look forward to seeing how exactly gaming will evolve as more gamers begin to place more focus on the social aspects of the hobby.
How important is the social aspect of gaming to you? Have you made some good friends through gaming? Maybe, you’re more of a solitary gamer? Please share in the comments down below.