Sunday, January 13, 2013

Gaming and being Social

A lot has been made about the role of gaming in creating lonely and isolated teens and possibly even adults. I think that it is a complex problem and that gaming can have multiple impacts on any individual- I would actually like to suggest that we stop treating the problem as a pro-con problem and instead admit that any impacts of gaming are complex (cognitive, social, emotional) and depend on both the gamer and the game.

I am a casual gamer, I usually like games that can be played with short bursts with minimal set-up times that can be learned quickly. I simply do not have the time or attention span for more. A few months ago I decided to try a social game on Facebook. I have played social word games before but not games that involved long term engagement. As I like strategy games I tried a strategy game that required me to manage resources and raise an army that can battle computer simulated foes as well as other players. When I started playing I immediately turned off the chat feature. I was not interested in the interaction just in the gaming experience. As the game is geared toward short bursts of activity I slowly built my forces over a few weeks until I decided that I was ready to challenge other players. I attacked a few small outposts. The next time I logged in I found that my forces have been attacked by multiple players and repeatedly laid to waste. This seemed to be more than just an attack. I turned the chat on and asked. The response came immediately: "This is not how we behave in this sector". At this point it dawned on me that by not understanding the social aspect of the game I was missing a window into how gamers are creating social norms and mores within games.

I do not know how this links with life outside gaming if at all. What is certain is that it does not necessarily true that gamers would be less capable socially- the need to communicate with peers whom you cannot see and develop norms and values may have great value in a digitally connected global society. There may be a great potential in developing such games to teach ideas in history and civics.
There might be some strength in helping students see the connection between their online social experiences including gaming and their behavior in the real world.

Happy New Year!

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