Playing Together: It’s What We DO

Remember when you were a kid? Think back. You’d get together with your friends and play. You’d burn for it. You’d be squirming in your seat at the lunch table on a weekend, dying to get away, so you could meet up with your best friend and carry one with the Lego or tree fort or G.I. Joes or whatever. Remember what that was like?

Try for me here.

When we were kids, we all socialized through games. It’s what kids do, right? And it’s what set us all up to be the well-adjusted, productive members of society we seem to be today.

Well, play is back.

People are already talking about 2007 as a landmark year for gaming. The year games grew up, and all that. Perhaps. There have been some really good titles lately. But the really important thing about games in 2007 isn’t the titles or the audience figures. (Even though Halo 3’s release was the biggest ever opening-day gross for any entertainment product, ever.) The big deal in ’07 is the gaming audience. It’s changed. People are starting to play together again.

Interesting look at that in this New York Times article:

At a moment when technology allows designers to create ever more complex and realistic single-player fantasies, the growth in the now $18 billion gaming market is in simple, user-friendly experiences that families and friends can enjoy together […] It may be a sign of the industry’s nascent maturity that as video games become more popular than ever, hard-core gamers and the old-school critics who represent them are becoming an ever smaller part of the audience.

People are starting to play together now. Or rather, they’re rediscovering how to play together. We all did this as kids – all the time. It was great. The fundamental feature of video games is interactivity. No other medium has this feature. You can interact with the game, and you can interact with other players. This means that games, unlike any other medium, can be a part of socializaing. You can socialize and discuss other media. But only games allow you to socialize through the medium.

Some games can make socializing more fun. This is their power. People want to play together. That’s why the Wii has taken off. The games aren’t as critically acclaimed – in fact, a lot of them are simplistic compared to what you get on other platforms. But you can play them together. Tennis? You can play that with your gran in the living room and have a great time.

Bioshock? Well, a brooding noir first-person-shooter treatise on objectivism may be a critical success, but there’s something of a cognitive barrier to entry . . . unless you’re already steeped in the FPS genre and know what to do with one of these.

I love long-form single-player games. But I love doing that with books, too. And you can’t read a book with someone.

So here’s to the social-gaming revolution.

Now go play with your friends.

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7 thoughts on “Playing Together: It’s What We DO

  1. All very true.

    I will add this: perhaps it is not just that social gaming is on the rise, but that the acceptability of adult gaming in general is increasing.

    20 years ago video games and dungeons&dragons were the strict social domain of the 8-14 year-old set. Now, parents play WoW with their children, and rooms full of 30-something business execs gather to play table-top games on the weekend.

    I hail not just the social-gaming revolution or the still-powerful single player experience, but the entire culture of the acceptability of play in general.

  2. oh yeah, I will also add a voice of dissent; I thought Bioshock was fool’s gold.

    Repetetive gameplay, repetetive environments, an underwritten story (yes. underwritten.), and one of the worst twists in modern gaming. I mean, I LOVE having all agency removed from me. I like it when a game makes fun of me for blindly follwing it’s invectives. I was doing that because I wanted to have fun playing your game! So sorry… assholes!

    grrr!

  3. It still amazes me that people don’t consider gaming something that they do or are interested in, and yet everyday what are the back 3-4 pages of every newspaper dedicated to?.. You guessed it, Play. I do think that the Wii has increased gaming acceptance and increased games discussion on the whole. It has created an entry level conversation point for people all over the country. Hell, my wife even just went halves with me on a PS3?? I mean, that there in itself, is a breakthrough.

  4. “Bioshock? Well, a brooding noir first-person-shooter treatise on objectivism may be a critical success, but there’s something of a cognitive barrier to entry . . . unless you’re already steeped in the FPS genre and know what to do with [a video game controller].”

    I think this is one of the reasons that the Wii is enjoying such commercial success; the motion-tracking Wiimote makes getting into many of the games dead easy – just wave the thing around and see instant results. No need for complex button combinations, just a flick of the wrist and away you go. It’s very intuitive and easy to get into.

    Of course many Wii game do demand finer control for specific actions, but you can pretty much get through all of Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess using the extremely simple motions you learn in the game’s first ten minutes. That’s true accessibility and I think it’s just what the industry needs to get into even more homes and attract a larger audience.

  5. Tanith, you’re right. This is the Wii’s genius. You point, you play. And through clever design (and marketing!) this is the image they’ve managed to project.

    The Wii says: get people together in your living room, wave the stick around, and you laugh with your friends. That’s what PLAY is. Anyone can get behind that.

    Compare with this. It’s really cool, but show it to your girlfriend and she’ll probably say ‘WTF?’ It preaches only to the converted.

    The great thing bout the Wii (and the systems like it that will undoubtedly follow) is that

    It’s very intuitive and easy to get into.

    But that doesn’t mean that you can’t do complicated, subtle, sophisticated games with it! Easy to learn, unintimidating, but with great depth – good combo.

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