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Gaming and its social element
Posted on Tuesday, June 3 2008 @ 09:55:20 PST

How old are you? No, there's no hidden agenda to that question and with the second question all shall become clear: when did you start playing video games? Well, maybe everything doesn't become clear here. My point is gaming has changed. Track down any obvious non-gamer and ask what image comes to mind when they think of a typical gamer. I'm willing to bet many still imagine the spectacled geek huddled over a computer capable of a 16bit display obsessing over a digitized version of Dungeons and Dragons, surrounded by darkness apart from the flickering screen three inches in front of him. I'm sure at some point on the vista of history that stereotype had some adherents but the pursuit of gaming has come a long way. I remember playing on my Commodore 64; clearly this beast was not suitable for multiplayer gaming but it still managed to bring my dad and I together when I went out to buy another 50p game and played it in front of him. After that came excursions to a cousin's house to play on his NES which was quickly followed by journeys to my best friend's place for a go on the Ren and Stimpy game on his Mega Drive. This game required cooperative play by two characters, much like Army of Two but you know, good. It was enormous fun not only because the game itself was enjoyable but because communication was a necessity. Right up until this point gaming had never been a totally solitary hobby; it had the capacity to be both a social and isolated pursuit and behaved as both for me.

Things changed further when my circle of friends changed and I became friends with a small group of gamers. From that moment on system link games of Halo became common place. The social element of gaming took on a new importance to my social life when the type of playing was not limited to taking turns in some games (like Metal Gear Solid) or racing each other in Mario Kart, we weren't even tied to the same console any more. We frequently had team death matches with two of us on the living room TV and the other two in the kitchen adjacent (incidentally rocket launchers on Chiron provides an insane experience free of tactics but high on shocks and fun). Aside from the competitive games we also did cooperative bouts in the story of Halo itself; gradually increasing the difficulty until we were doing the Library level on Legendary. With the next gen consoles comes a whole host of multiplayer games, only yesterday did my friend and I play cooperatively through Acts 1, 2 and 3 of Gears of War on Insane. Around 7 hours into the session we were reduced to tears when we finally struggled through a ridiculously annoying section. Of course the online revolution is also in full swing with many games offering not only competitive online modes but also cooperative modes, sometimes involving the main storyline of the game and other times creating new modes where players have to work together. Playing online provides an excellent way of meeting like-minded gamers and playing with friends without leaving the house but should we really be aspiring to such non-physical communication? Personally I prefer being there, whether I'm working with a friend to kill the Locust hoard, kicking their Spartan ass around Chiron or having mine handed to me in Blood Gulch having the tactile experience of someone being next to me is far preferable to having only their voice in my ear.

Despite the conflict between online gaming and actually getting together with a group of friends to set up a LAN session there is no disputing that gaming is a social outing. Whether you're muting annoying 12 year olds on Xbox Live, screaming down your headset to move your god damn team mate our of your line of sight, laughing at the misfortune of your friend sitting right next to you, or even discussing your latest gaming experience over a round of beers gaming involves people. Perhaps this is a bit counter intuitive considering a lot of one's gaming time is generally spent blowing your compatriots up but gaming brings people together and in a time when many people love to blame society's ills on gaming it's nice to remember this as proof of how wrong they are.
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