‘Gamer’ is a word with a tonne of stigma nipping at its heels. I often wonder if my own mother would rather I was addicted to drugs than games. The common complaint I hear is that gaming and gaming culture breeds antisocial behaviours. After all, how will you have those Just William style adventures if you are locked in your bedroom playing Darksouls? Well, allow me to argue that gamers are a lot more social than people think. In fact, gaming offers a whole host of tools that enhance the way we socialise. Being cyber social isn’t a cross to bear, on the contrary, it may well be superior to the average social interaction.
In real life, people are thrust in our general direction by the tides of fate. Even if you have nothing in common, odds are you’ll end up calling a few of them friends. That’s what happens when the social Stockholm Syndrome known as the Mere Exposure Effect kicks in. It made sense in the past for proximity to be the main criteria for friendship. Now we live in a vastly more interconnected world. The world where I can talk to someone on the other side of the globe in real time isn’t one where physical distance should be a criterion for friendship, and it isn’t. Internet friends are just as real as the kid you mutually suffered through school with all those years ago.
So let me dive into the subject at hand. How games bring people together and how online interactions are superior to real world ones, especially in the context of those ‘life interfering’ MMORPGs.
MMOs Provide A Social Situation Free Of Preconceptions
The real world, being imperfect and generally a dumpster fire careening down a hill, isn’t fair. We all have a colourful assortment of cultural baggage weighing us down. We never really enter a conversation with a clean slate because naturally, people judge what they see. This isn’t something you can easily escape, especially when you are held accountable for your ancestry. Even positive attributes such as being sexually attractive or healthy can invite judgement on you and your life experiences.
The virtual world simply isn’t the same. In fact, can you think of a more level playing field for a meeting of minds? You are wholly in control of how you present yourself online. Entirely free to shed any negative or positive context you usually carry into social situations. The only baggage you are going to get in most games is what alliance you belong to and represent. That fact alone should be a selling point for the superior social experience gamers have available to them.
Isn’t it ironic to think that some of the most authentic social experiences you have, may well occur in an entirely virtual world? The anonymity leads to an honesty that is hard to manifest in the real world for fear of the consequences. Yet, in this safe setting when asked what you really think there isn’t really a reason to be afraid to share. Hell, I’ve seen people walking around with ‘BDSM’ on display (as their guild), that’s more honesty than I’ll ever wear on my sleeve.
Socialising Online Is Like Having Super Powers
In today’s modern world, we essentially have the tools to shop for friends. Nowhere else do you have the ability to search through thousands of people like this and hone in on what you like. It isn’t even difficult, I can find Pepe fans, Anti-Social Media groups, and all kinds of random niches. Part of the reason people find gamers to be antisocial might be that we simply have higher standards. Why should we settle for someone we don’t have much in common with when you can find someone you want at a touch of a few keys. I think Aziz Ansari says it best in his bit about online dating; “in real life, you can’t just burst into a bar and go ‘Jewish and my Zip Code!’”.
It is also easier to manage social interactions online. Turning invisible if you don’t feel up to talking or passively lurking and only chipping in occasionally. You are reminded of friends birthdays and notified when they log in. Who wouldn’t want to augment their social life in such a way?
Along with tools for finding people based on interests, MMOs also create shared experiences people can bond over. Perhaps you go through a particularly harrowing dungeon, but that damn singing bard belting out The Macarena kept you in high spirits. Perhaps you and another person both have a particularly obscure title or weapon from some crazy side quest. The point is the MMO create these points of interest where you can bond over in-game events even if you have nothing in common in the real world.
In Game Content Can Bring Players Together
Just like in the real world, the context of your relationship changes how you interact with each other. Meeting a member of your alliance may evoke a small token of patriotism such as a flame salute or another token of recognition. Outside the context of in game lore there’s no real reason to bother, but sometimes it just feels right. I said it before and I’ll say it again, I view my guild as a family. I’ll deal with people in my guild far more tenderly than I would the average Joe because of the context of our relationship.
Overall, I find most of these additional contexts and groupings beneficial. In the real world these sort of social contexts are isolating. In the past we’ve gone to war over religion, football, and a bucket. We don’t have the best track record. Whereas, not being in the same group in-game is not really a big deal because it’s just a game.
The In-Game Reality Can Alter How You Think Of Someone
Hopefully this doesn’t end up being just my psychosis because I want to share an anecdote. I recently got married in-game. In real life we don’t know each other and we live on different corners of the globe. I couldn’t help but noticed our relationship changed when we tied the knot in game. It isn’t just role-playing, it is a sense of dedication.
It manifests in odd ways like making an effort to help each other or sharing resources. The amount of times people mistake us for a real couple aught to be alarming to me. Before getting married we weren’t even ‘best friends’ or anything, we just really liked the look of those white Chocobos. Now, I actively look forward to playing with ‘my man’. So the next time someone bitterly complains that gaming hurts your social life, don’t get mad. Just laugh about it with your friends in-game later.