How often have you heard the phrase “stop playing games and be social”, or something similar, uttered by a loved one? It was one of the favorite sayings of my mother, who was scared that I was going to grow up without any friends. Well, I have at least three friends, so obviously my mother’s fears were groundless.
But it does raise an interesting question: “Do video games encourage unsociable behavior?”.
According to the first page results of a Google search, an unsociable person is one who refuses to engage in social activities (such as talking or spending time with others).
Now, there are many different types of games. Not just genres, but games which force you to share a world with other players, games which have worlds solely for one player, and games which offer both. I therefore propose a motion that all three types have the capacity to let the player be a total loner.
Let us first examine forced multiplayer games. The obvious example of this would be an MMO, and what better example of this than that of Elder Scrolls Online?
The first thing I need to note about ESO is that the only reason I purchased it was due to a recommendation from my friend–a social activity. Clearly, gamers are not so antisocial that we don’t ever speak to each other (contrary to my mother’s beliefs). In fact, said friend initially guided me through the game, and we had many epic adventures, such as the time we got naked and stood at the entrance to a castle whilst playing the lute. Furthermore, I actually met people online who also liked to strip in public and play the flute (possible phrasing?). So there is room for social interaction in ESO. This is further encouraged by the fact that some dungeons can only be completed in groups of players. It seems as if ESO wants us all to get along and play together.
Or does it? Something I noticed in ESO’s multiplayer PvP battles is that I still die whether I play in coordinated groups, or as a rogue fighting in whichever siege I please. Sure, it may be because I suck, but one would think that I would suck slightly less in a group of compadres. This perhaps suggests that there’s no favors from the game whether you play by yourself or in a group. The game is apathetic towards your social play style. Furthermore, I’ve blasted through more of the campaign playing by myself than on characters who only play with others. This in turn encourages me to play by myself to see more of the story. The fact that the campaign can be completed solo only makes this thought stronger. So really, ESO doesn’t give a rat’s ass as to whether you play solo or not.
Games which certainly do care if you play solo are…. well, solo games (surprise surprise). Since we have only the option to play by ourselves, this obviously gives rise to antisocial tendencies whilst gaming. We don’t interact with other players during our story. Furthermore, many solo games tend to have more depth than mandatory social games. Games such as Mass Effect often have me entranced, so if you ever see me playing as Shepard, don’t bother disturbing me. I won’t reply.
And yet, some people make a conscious decision to be social whilst playing these games. Thanks to the rise of Twitch (other streaming services are available), people broadcast their playthroughs and often interact with the viewers. Thousands of people tune in everyday to people streaming games that are purely single player. For example, at 6:00 AM in the morning, GMT time, 2,500 people were watching the hit game Stardew Valley on Twitch. But I will say that whilst this does give the opportunity to socialize in single player games, it’s not encouraged by the game itself. Rather, the gaming community drives it forwards by watching the game.
There are also games where both the community and the game itself drive social activities forwards. A great example of this is the soul-sucking Minecraft, also known as video game crack.
Minecraft allows for unsociable behavior of course. The single player mode can, quite obviously, only be played by one person. And given the scope of the game, one person can play by themselves for hundreds of hours. But here is where the community encourages social interaction. A player will probably produce something noteworthy after one hundred hours, and the community wants to see it. It’s very vocal in providing feedback and criticism, 25% of which is productive. You can play by yourself, but you will always be in the community.
And obviously the servers exist if you want to play with friends. You could totally ignore everybody there, but then what’s the point of joining the server? In ESO one joins PvP to level up, while in Minecraft one goes multiplayer because they’re bored of being by themselves.
A summary is in order then. As far as games encouraging social interaction go, both MMOs and single player games fail to deliver. MMOs may lie and say they want you to have friends, but you can complete them even if you ignore other players, or pretend that you’re slaying NPCs rather than other faction members.
The only type of game which truly encourages social interaction is one which let’s you play both solo and online. This is because one only goes online to have social interactions, as the solo game should be fulfilling enough on its own. Furthermore, an active community can encourage social actions in the form of content sharing or advice-giving.
In fact, by writing this for an audience I’m being social right now. So, take that mum.