Video games were once marketed as places for lone soldiers to “save the vulnerable from inevitable harm” (Social Gaming and the Culture of Video Games). In the 80s/90s, these type of video games were said to be isolating but remained very popular among teenage boys, but now gaming is now perceived as a social, collaborative spaces to communicate with the real world and virtual friends in an online environment (Social Gaming and the Culture of Video Games). Sherry et al. (2001) acknowledge that there has been a shift in how video games are perceived suggesting that “the practice of standing around on the street corner has shifted indoors to video game play”. It seems Sherry et al. are suggesting that players are now opting to meet and chat with their friends in a virtual context rather than a real one (Social Gaming and the Culture of Video Games).
The Video Game Player’s Social Network
Newman argues that significant supportive and non-confrontational social networks have been derived from online gaming (Social Gaming and the Culture of Video Games). Users are freed from societal pressures and tradition, feeling more comfortable and confident with online interactions rather than face to face ((A) Social Reputation). Players are also communicating with, and praising each other in game play. It is suggested not all video games are isolating, solitary experiences (Social Gaming and the Culture of Video Games).
A player’s social network often helps with ideas and tips when a player is ‘stuck’ in a game like locating a secret door (Social Gaming and the Culture of Video Games). The player’s social network is also important for sharing and trading knowledge about game play; an important aspect contributing to social interactions taking place among video game users. Game users learn, develop and improve skills from watching others in their social network play the game (Social Gaming and the Culture of Video Games), promoting social interaction among the gaming community. At this point, online gaming can be treated as a social space allowing users interact with each other and share knowledge and ideas.
It is understood that social interaction takes place in online gaming environments, but it poses the questions, why there? What are gamers benefiting from, that the real world doesn’t provide?
Why choose online environments over real ones?
“Internet-based social spaces have come to be branded as ‘pseudo communities’ that provide a superficial sense of social support and displace the time that could be spent fostering meaningful offline relationships” (Playing for Social Comfort). Research on social interaction and friendship formation has indicated that there are two types of social ties that may contribute to our understanding of why players opt for online friendships: 1) feeling informed or inspired by each other and 2) emotional support and understanding (The Social Side of Gaming).
Jane McGonigal in the talk above suggests that people are better at games than we are at reality, which may be a factor as to why some people choose online over reality. She adds that gaming provides constant feedback, either from the game or your social network, which coincides with the point of feeling inspired and supported as mentioned in (The Social Side of Gaming)
McGonigal believes ‘we like people better when we play games with them’ while some users believe the virtual world allows them achieve things they can’t achieve in the real world. A virtual world allows users believe they, themselves are capable of cultivating and managing friendships (Playing for social comfort). Perhaps this may be the answer to why some people have opted for online friendships in game play. Playing online may allow the adoption of an alter ego where they user believe they can achieve anything, where everything is possible.