Social Games Gamers Play

HALO Reach LAN party


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.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the last LAN party I went to was filled with 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 ten years ago.

Back then, we are all so uncomfortable moving our stuff around, and we pretended it was because of the hassle involved with 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, and gaming alone.

We might try and connect with others like us online (which at the time was somewhat of an exercise in futility, due to the unreliability of the connection and ridiculously slow net 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, however, 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, certainly, 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 all the time. We didn’t understand people, but we did understand the games, so that was how we were most comfortable interacting with others. It was our common language.

Today, the game is an excuse to get together, but not as much of a 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 can only really live their lives through the common stories found in games, but today there are so many different ways to connect – to express ourselves and make our ideas more tangible – that we’re seeing a whole generation influenced by geeks.

By gamers.

Fashion, technology, stocks and politics; everything is being influenced by this change-up, and the movement is largely 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 rather interpretable by everyone. They have found their voice, and they’re using 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.