The stereotype of the video gamer as a hapless loner cloistered in his parents’ basement is increasingly as antiquated as the floppy disk. Today’s gamers are social animals – whether they’re trash-talking friends over XBox Live, wasting time at work playing Mafia Wars on Facebook, or even passing the Wiimote around their retirement homes, no one games alone anymore.
Of course, this development is hardly accidental – every major gaming platform introduced since 2003, handhelds and consoles alike, includes a significant online component to permit gamers around the world to meet and play. Every day new games are released which take advantage of these fresh horizons in innovative new ways – LittleBigPlanet’s level creation tools, for instance, or Rock Band Network’s content distribution system. And as gaming hardware becomes as inseparable from the modern lifestyle as the cell phone or the microwave, social sites such as Facebook and YouTube have raced to support interaction and playback on devices such as the DSi and the Playstation 3.
Gamers, for their part, have responded to this industry push with great enthusiasm. Research indicates that gamers are more than 10% as likely to make use of social-networking sites during any given week – and the activity on pages such as Call of Duty 4’s XBox 360 Facebook Fan page (over 300,000 fans) or GameStop’s corporate Twitter account (nearly 17,000 followers) certainly bears this trend out.
But not all socialization takes place online. As anyone who’s ever played Wii Tennis in a room full of people can confirm, motion controls are every bit as significant a social component as XBox Live; people see other people playing and instantly want to join in. It’s also apparent from sales data that social gaming such as this can be just as much of a purchase-driver as social-media outreach, as best evidenced by the success of titles such as Mario Kart Wii or Wii Play. Small wonder that both Microsoft and Sony have announced that they’ve been working on making motion controls a central feature of the XBox 360 and the PS3 – both Project Natal and Playstation 3 Motion Controller are both scheduled to be released next year.
It’s becoming rapidly obvious that “gaming” (core and casual) as an activity is migrating from consoles to handhelds. This speaks to the increased socialization of gaming – not only are these devices multifunctional and web-integrated, but people are playing games around other people rather than ensconcing themselves in high-def nerd-caves. Furthermore, it’s proof that gaming has something for everyone and will continue to expand, as our appetite for social interaction through technology grows.