The social nature of gaming

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Author: Will Westwater

This winter break, video games allowed me to spend time with friends from all over the world. Gaming is inherently social; through multi-player games and online platforms, I’ve shared my hobby with dozens of gamers, both in-person and online.

The old perception of gaming as a solitary pursuit seems viciously inaccurate. Some of my most memorable weekends have involved gaming with friends. Looking back, I realize we were forging strong friendships with each headshot, KO and roll of the dice. With video games, even strangers become allies. Cooperative play requires teamwork and fast communication skills.

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“Journey” blurs the line between single and multiplayer and expands the social experience of gaming. Though primarily single player, “Journey” drops other players from around the world into the game at random. Microphones are not allowed, and communication is restricted to a series of chirps and pings designated to the circle button. Like a smile or a shake of the head, the chirps become a universal language as you and your newfound friend traverse the vast dunes of sand and snow. Playing “Journey” with a voiceless ally amplifies the emotion as you endure and prosper together.

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Experiencing “Journey,” playing ballistic “Halo 3” matches and bonding over the silent and focused final lives of “Smash Bros.” wouldn’t be possible without other people. Gaming has been this way since arcade cabinets and the Atari 2600.

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Last summer, Twitch TV, a video game streaming website, decided it was time to address the misperceptions about the modern gamer. The site challenged video games’ anti-social stereotype by publishing a study about gaming habits. The study defined gamers as people who had played a game in the past 60 days (everything from “Candy Crush” to “Assassin’s Creed”). The Lifecourse Associates online survey aggregate results found that gamers are more family-oriented, educated, optimistic, financially successful and socially conscious than non-gamers. In addition, the Entertainment Software Association found the gaming gender gap is far narrower than people think, sitting fairly evenly at 52 percent male to 48 percent female.

Yes, the data was funded by Twitch, and yes, the standard for “gamer” was set pretty low (if you care to think like that). It is sad that this medium feels the need to fund studies to justify its audience, but all new forms of entertainment take a little getting used to. I understand people’s initial question of whether or not gaming may be a healthy use of time, but data or not, I know gaming has brought me closer to strangers, friends and loved ones.

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