Nov

30

How Social is Social Gaming?

Mark Stephens

Social gaming – is that the right name for it?

I‘m old enough to remember playing games socially – we just called it “playing games.” The social element went without saying!

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At first it was board games like Scrabble, Monopoly, Cluedo etc; sometimes card games too. Then it became two-player Binatone Pong tennis games; this soon turned into Atari consoles and later computer-based games like Manic Miner for the ZX Spectrum – and all the rest of the multiplayer games that have followed since PCs entered every house and fights for control of the joystick or game controller broke out in living rooms all across the developed world.

The point is that other people were in the room; we used to chat about the game and other things – youngsters today would have thought us weird maybe!
What are termed “social games” nowadays are often played sitting alone at a computer, with a phone or on a console and you may be interacting only with an intelligent robot!

The only thing vaguely “social” about it is that it might be played on a social network like Facebook or Google Plus – or have some other social network facility inbuilt (Openfeint for example.)

Technology has Changed the Definition of “Social”

The social aspect has always been an important part of gaming. Kids learn through social interactions they have with their parents and siblings; there’s always that human need for social contact. Even in the animal kingdom games play an important social role.

Team-based games have always been great for developing social and communication skills too; a feeling of mutual accomplishment from knowing that you’d all pitched in to reach a goal in a certain game was a good feeling.

The online world has changed all this. It has opened up new, exciting gaming possibilities that you can pursue flying solo.

Playing a game against a complete stranger sitting on the other side of the world would have seemed amazing only 20 years ago. Being able to text, speak and see their face via a webcam at the same time was even more unthinkable.

It’s a solo pursuit in that there is no true face-to-face interaction or team play; but it’s social too, in a virtual sense. You can be virtually social now, so the social side of gaming is still there – it’s just changed in definition.

Turn-Based Social Board Games

It’s interesting to see is that, with all the fantastic graphics, audio and remote networking abilities we have now, it’s still some of the old games I used to play as a kid that are among the most popular.

Turn-based board games like Scrabble, Connect Four, Chess, Go, Backgammon – they have all made the transition over from the living room floor to the iPhone or Android.

Many of the “classics” work very well electronically and, with the social networking element built in, you never need to wait till your friends arrive to actually play them.
The real “social” side of social gaming kicks in when there really is no-one else around, you log on at 3am when you can’t sleep, and see 20,000 other people logged on who you can play a game against instantly.

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Getting Help

Even getting help or cheats with a game is no longer social – in the old sense of the word.

What do you do if you want tips on something these days? Unlike in some dubious quiz show, you don’t need to “call a friend”. You Google it. You YouTube it.

Not particularly social.

Playing against the Bot

Many games have intelligent robots to play against too, if you aren’t bothered about playing against real flesh and blood.

Once you have proven yourself against all comers on the game’s network, consistently beating the bot shows you have really mastered it. These bots are usually really tough – take Adama in our MindFeud game for instance: he’s one tricky customer to beat!

The great thing about playing a computer-generated opponent is that there is no waiting and there are no “pushover” wins; their turns are taken almost instantly and they don’t make mistakes. It can be a fearsome new challenge once you’ve dominated your usual opponents.

Social? No…not really.

A fun challenge? Hell yeah!