Monday, August 11, 2014

Is "Social Gaming" A Misnomer?

Leigh Alexander has a great article in The Guardian that delves into multi-player games as a social activity in general, and the recent beta of Bungie latest game, Destiny, in particular. An excerpt:
I watched a colleague of mine play through the beta of Bungie’s latest game, Destiny. It has all the beauty and heft of a massive, futuristic space opera, it has a gorgeous user interface, and it will be a high-end online game where friends can do missions together forever. It is a genius way to do business: create a game where the mode of participation is endless investment. As Destiny is a cutting-edge product you feel almost peer-pressured to participate. 
It is social in that business sense: you must collaborate with and keep up with your friends, ensure that your statistics and equipment – your fitness for competition – are ever increasing. You participate excitedly in this capitalistic metaphor.
Yet are people really playing “together”?
Jenn Frank tackles the idea of socialization-- or the lack thereof-- that happened between her and Ted (her fiance), and how utterly alien it felt for her (she was traditionally the sole "gamer" in a relationship) to feel like a so-called "game widow", especially when Destiny seemed to designed to be a constant, always-on experience:
Later, Ted tells me there is no “pause,” not in the sense where games often have a “pause.” He isn’t even playing multiplayer; he is on a solo mission. “I can’t put the game down,” he explains to me, helplessly. 
This, I do understand. 
I am not angry with Ted. I am furious with Destiny, however. Due to a design flaw—in this case, the flaw is with a game that cannot be paused—I am finally experiencing true relationship strife.
And while this phenomenon may sound most familiar to those who play MMORPGS like World of Warcraft and its ilk, Jason McIntosh wrote about a similar strain on his relation with another game that has no pause feature even though it's not always a multi-player game: Dark Souls. As he explains in "Dark Souls: Pain Without Pause":
But for most of the game your character is strictly alone in their world; you often see the flickering shadows of other players rushing past, but cannot interact with them in any way. And indeed, I never reached any true multi-player segment, so as far as my own experience is concerned, the lack of a pause button serves only as another tool the game uses to mold the player into the correct mindset for disciplined play... 
Whether it was bad for me just then or completely unworkable for me at all remains to be seen. I can offer none of this contextualization as an excuse for my behavior; I became an unpleasant jerk while playing this game, and that was awful and I never want to have that happen again.
Personally, while I've been on both sides of the divide over the years, I've seen a shift recently in that many AAA game companies try to design it so that they capture as much your your attention and investment of time and money that it can often end up having a detrimental effect on one's social life and relationships. Of course, moderation is the key, but a system like Destiny seems to be working very hard to upend that part of the equation.

What do you think, readers?

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