Though it has come a long way since the days prior to readily accessible internet connections, gaming to me has always been a social concept. The stigma that gaming is for the antisocial has always bugged me, as even the earliest games have been meant for more than one person. Pong for example wasnt just for one; it was a two person experience.
To look at the social aspect of gaming further we need to first understand the average gamer. This is no easy task but industry figures would say most of those who game regularly are your 16-24 age bracket males. Even the demographic figures I found for Gamespot give an overview of "Based on internet averages, gamespot.com is visited more frequently bymaleswho are in the age range18-24, haveno children, receivedsome college education and browse this site fromhome." So that is our snapshot of the average gamer for all intents and purposes. It is also handy as Im in that exact demographic. Although these demographic figures should be taken with a pinch of salt.
So where does the image of a gaming nerd sat in his underwear, eating Cheetos, drinking Mountain Dew while playing games come from? In a world where millions interact from all around the world playing games like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, are we seen as forever alone?
Surely this is a question of what a person would consider socializing to be. I sit regularly at my computer and talk to many people; I network through various social medias and I often play games online with chums. Yet I dont have a bustling social life outside of my computer screen, does this then mean that I am antisocial? Or have the days where you need to physically be in the proximity of people to be considered social passed? Am I the aforementioned forever alone? Ive never sat in underwear and eaten Cheetos, yet I dont yearn to have constant interaction with others in the same place. I simply dont feel you need to.
Before Steam, Xbox Live and PSN there was only really one way you could game with others, System link/LAN. This meant dragging multiple consoles, PC, TVs and all the trimmings to a friends house, connecting it all up and having a blast. I have taken part in some of these and the persistent technical issues or lack of effort from other participants always meant these events didnt go to plan. But it did mean that you all got to share that experience together, in the same place, which is more social at first to those looking in from the outside.
That is where most of the stigma lays, with the opinion of the outside world. The image Ive been referring to doesnt come from inside the confines of the gaming community, but rather what the non-gaming population perceives. That has always been the case, we have always been the kids with the dorky glasses and the braces. The ones with the obscure reference t-shirts and love for all things virtual. So has time changed that perception?
The answer is twofold, partly yes, partly no. Whilst companies such as Nintendo have attempted to dominate that casual market, the term we use for everyone that wasnt there from the start. Services like Xbox Live and Steam mean we have actually gone from being in each others homes playing and sharing the experience to talking over headsets and sitting miles apart from each other.
This creates an odd parallel where we have one hand reaching out to the masses to show them we arent really what they thought we were. Whilst simultaneously using the other hand to slap them across the face, as we sit in our homes shouting insults at them over an internet connection because they have braved the dangerous waters of our favorite pastime.
But there is more to it than that, we arent monsters and the majority of us do have social lives and care about the outside world. It is this that makes me feel like in a way, gaming has become more acceptable. We have more exposure to the outside world now, more ways to let people know what it is all about and why they should be interested. Things like Extralife and Childs play mean that now gaming has a charitable side, doing great things for fantastic causes. Our nerdy hobby can now make difference to those in need. A truly great time for gaming is upon us.
So is gaming unsociable? Most certainly not. Even the single player experiences cause us to flood to our respective networks and close friends to discuss what just happened in our story and games connect literally millions of people together every day. Are we forever alone? That may have been the perception once upon a time, but it is changing. People are beginning to get what we are all about. They may never understand why we choose to spend over 200 hours playing just one game, but I dont believe gaming culture as a whole is seen as the dorky kid it once was.