Posted by: bracehare | October 17, 2011

Gaming as a social activity

There is a stereotype about gamers, which borrows rather derivatively from stereotypes about various “nerd” and “geek” demographics in a more generalized sense.  It doesn’t really require full and specific discussion; I am sure the reader can fill in the blanks easily enough on their own, perhaps even to the point of visualization.  Suffice it to say though, gamers are often viewed as antisocial recluses, content to idle their hours away in a dark room, eating *insert snack food here* and engaging in the simulated killing of thousands upon thousands of humans or humanoid lifeforms.  I am not going to suggest that this demographic doesn’t exist.  However, I don’t believe it is an accurate representation of current gaming culture.

To begin with, even if this representation were true; even if gaming were inherently antisocial; it would share this in common with many activities, including watching film and reading.  In fact, historically speaking, reading has been the pastime most denigrated under this logic.  There was a time when the term “bookworm” was a serious derogatory slight.  I am not here to argue the relative merits of film, books, and games, but simply to note that they are all typically solitary enjoyments.  However, social activities and in a sense entire cultures spring up in reference to them; the book club, the film club, mailing lists, collegiate literature and film courses, and so forth.  In the context of gaming, the primary social context (aside from perhaps tournaments for competitive games) actually tends to be the online discussion forum.  As a new technology, discussion forums are liable to be denigrated unfairly, but in an essential way they show that gaming is surrounded by social trappings in the same way as any other ostensibly antisocial activity.

Of course, games are not antisocial either.  A major gaming console, the Nintendo Wii, has actually been extensively and almost exclusively targeted at gamers looking for a multiplayer gaming experience.  This has lead some people to refer to the Wii as “the party console”.  The boom in online gaming in recent times has taken the face-to-face aspect out of multiplayer to a large extent, and this is perhaps a counter.  However, online gaming also allows friends to engage in leisure together despite any physical distance between them.  This geographical disparity, overwhelmingly caused by factors other than games (such as moving out of state to pursue a new job, joining the military, and etc) is nonetheless substantially mediated by them.  In this sense, games are no more antisocial than the telephone!

Finally, there is the matter of competitive games.  It is often said that sports have a positive effect on personal growth and development.  They teach camaraderie, perseverance, teamwork and so forth.  While most competitive video games doubtlessly fail to promote physical development, they at least seem equally able to provide for character growth.  Even single player competitive games seem at worst no more antisocial than, for example, poker, which anyone who has ever sat down at a green felted table knows can be quite a social game indeed.  Then of course there are games which do provide for physical development.  I grew up in the dancing game community.  At my peak level of competitiveness at these games, I joined a Taekwondo Dojang… and was immediately turned over to play with the black belts, on account of having too much energy.  I would certainly say I learned to experience camaraderie and mutual respect in the context of video games.   I would also say that I learned discipline.  And while I offer the reader no argument as such to establish these statements, I nonetheless affirm them every day by living them.

– Jessica Evans

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