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Social Games Gamers Play

A few nights ago, I attended a LAN party.

I just can’t get over the technology kids today have at their fingertips. Everyone brought their massive flat-panel TVs and super computer-grade gaming consoles, complete with wireless double-joysticked controllers and overclocked graphics cards.

And it’s not just the tech that’s changed, it’s the people, too.

The last LAN party I went to, years ago, was populated exclusively by other male teenagers like myself, each of us hauling our 17″ CRT monitors, keyboards, mice, and towering desktop computers. And mouse pads. Remember mouse pads? We had those, and we brought them, we stereotypical gamers of a decade ago.

Back then, we were uncomfortable moving our stuff around, and we pretended it was because of the hassle involved in getting everything hooked up (and the computer science degree required to get all the computers talking to each other through the network), but really it was because we were all just so much more comfortable sitting in our dark rooms, ruining our eyes, gaming in isolation.

We might try to connect with others like us online (which at the time was an exercise in futility, due to the ridiculously slow internet speeds available), but that was really for the challenge, not so much for the camaraderie. We didn’t need more people in our lives: the AI we had at our disposal were the perfect playmates.

Today, though, it’s different. People of all ages are heeding the call of the digital world, and both guys and girls are finding solace in a quick game before dinner or a grudge-match rumble during their lunch break. The games of today are themselves different, but it’s the social aspect of how they’re built and played that’s so fascinating to me.

When I was a gamer, we connected to compete, to exert our individual influence upon others, rather than just upon the computer as per the usual. We didn’t understand people, but we did understand games, so it was through them that we were most comfortable interacting with others. It was our shared language.

Today, the game is an excuse to get together, but not the language used to communicate.

Sure, there are still hardcore gamers, and sure, a lot of them are just as anti-social as we were and live their lives through the games. But today there are so many different ways to connect, to express ourselves and make our ideas more tangible, that we’re seeing the emergence of a whole generation, a whole culture influenced by geeks. By gamers.

Fashion, technology, stocks, politics: everything is being influenced by this change-up, and the movement is being shaped by people who would otherwise lack the means to communicate with others outside of that select circle of joystick-fiddlers and cheat-code users. Their folklore and symbols are no longer the stomping ground of a fractured few, but achievable by everyone. They have found their voice, and they’re using it. Sharing it.

The social game, you might say, is being won by those who have been playing games all their lives.

And they didn’t even use cheat codes.

Update: February 13, 2017

This piece was written nearly six years ago, and the gaming world, in the meantime, has shifted even further.

It’s become such a dominant component of modern society, in fact, that I decided to take the time to get caught up. To try to understand what’s happening and how. I bought a game console, the first I’ve owned since I was in high school, and have been playing through games that I’d only heard about until now.

And wow. There’s a reason video games have become so dominant in pop culture. The storytelling potential, the calibre of fiction available on these consoles, is remarkable. There’s still a lot of garbage, as with any medium, books and movies and theater included. But there’s a lot of really impressive work being done. I feel richer for having tapped back into this scene, even though I’ll likely never be the enthusiast I was back in my teenage years.