It may come as a surprise to some outside of the gaming fold, but video games generally promote – rather than discourage – conversation in much the same way movies do. Some games you talk through, some you dissect afterwards and some you reminisce about decades later. In the last week alone I’ve found myself absorbed in a number of these conversations; none involving the stereotypical faceless, trance-like online play many people may imagine when discussing ‘gaming’, and all providing undoubtedly positive social interactions.
By facilitating conversations and experiences that encourage the development of positive relationships, gaming injects positivity into the lives of players and by extension society as a whole.
Of course the term ‘gaming’ in the above statement could be substituted for many other activities, some of which will have a much greater reach and long term impact on society (charitable giving and volunteer work for example), but here I’m specifically considering the general public’s conception of gaming and its worth in peoples’ lives.
Are the hours spent in front of a screen hours wasted?
Are the skills developed in that time legitimate or just an excuse gamers use when looking to validate their obsession?
Does non-face-to-face online play dehumanise the participants?
Does the higher maximum graphical resolution of the PS4 definitively confirm its superiority to the Xbox One?
None of these serious questions were discussed when I recently caught up with a mate I hadn’t seen in years. Instead we found ourselves remembering the all-nighters we pulled as 13 year olds playing SimCity and Rock ‘n’ Roll Racing on the SNES, how we would minimise the toolbar so the school librarians wouldn’t know we were playing Utopia during lunch (such rebels), tolerating Nintendo’s console port of Starcraft after having learnt to play on the awesome PC original, and critiquing the evolution the Civilisation series has undergone from the classic Civ II of our teenage years to the current versions. These gaming recollections formed a vibrant depiction of a cherished aspect of our lives back in the day, though for those that are now concerned they were of course balanced out with non-digital pursuits that took place under the natural light of that bright thing in the sky… the sun, that’s it.
The following day I had people at my place for dinner. A couple of us regular gamers cranked up Smash Bros. Brawl as a catalyst for conversation that didn’t involve babies and as Nintendo no doubt intended, everyone present was soon involved. Conversation continued easily over the gameplay, punctuated by helpful advice or the occasional outburst from whoever just got smashed in-game and good times were had by gamers and button mashers alike.
Rounding the week of social gaming chat out was an illuminating morning of LAN Minecraft with my sister and young cousins. This was an educational experience, and not for the kids. As it happens, they are experts at terraforming, civil construction and Minecraft mechanics and over the course of three hours I was schooled on everything from underwater cave building to the growing of crops and plantations. Underground. And this at the hands of two small humans with a combined age of ‘pre-teen’. I had previously been satisfied with my waterfront log cabin and ability not to die immediately on hardcore mode. Now, however, I see the need to study up and get some real skills before showing my face in their digital world again.
The point of this last anecdote is not actually my surprise at how amazing and impressive their Minecraft achievements were. It is that the video game provided a valuable shared experience filled with conversation and positive social interaction. There were emotional highs as people finally emerged from vast underground labyrinths (me), helpful explanations on how to craft things like iron railings (the youngsters to me) and shared sympathy when one of us was killed off by baddies for at least the tenth time (thankfully not me). Conversation abounded in the presence of four computers, four players and lots of blocks*.
To finish on a bit of a tangent, I’ve always been a fan of the Nintendo brand in particular for their emphasis on games to spur conversation and be enjoyed by anyone. Their history of hits includes:
- Four player Bomberman and NBA Jam on the SNES,
- Game Boys with link cables and wireless adaptors for friendly and not-so-friendly Pokemon battles,
- The N64 console with four controller ports as standard and classic party games like Mario Kart and Goldeneye, and
- Creating the ultimate practical, cost effective multiplaying platform for casual gamers and enthusiasts alike in the form of the Wii.
Other console brands may have delved into online multiplayer earlier and perhaps more successfully, but Nintendo’s consistent efforts to bring people together through their game systems is something that I think continues to set them apart.
If you have anything to add to make this a conversation about conversations about video games, please post below!