The media has long suggested that video gamers are solitary creatures, inhabiting basements and only emerging for essentials. But the truth is that gaming has always been a social endeavour, albeit within the confines of the technology available at the time.
When one of the earliest video games, Spacewar!, was developed, one of the first things that the developers did was organise a tournament to allow them to share their new achievement with their friends. Although it would be nearly forty years before eSports would become a global phenomenon, the idea that gamers could play together was there from the very beginning of the video games industry.
Those early gamers were keen to share their enthusiasm for their favourite games and when arcades became popular, watching others play and competing in two-player games became much more prevalent. Players would convene in places where they could share their skills, show off their expertise, and engage in competitions with other enthusiasts, and the idea of gaming being a shared activity, even a spectator sport, took another step towards the mainstream.
With the early games, such as Pong, proving so popular, it wasn’t long before the potential of video games was identified by those with the wherewithal to turn them from a niche activity to a massive global phenomenon. As the technology improved, graphics and sound were given a whole new lease of life as gaming went from pixelated blocks with tinny monotone music, to ultra realistic immersive games with studio-quality soundtracks within a matter of years.
The social side of gaming
Although players have always found ways to share their passion for gaming, the arcade culture of the 1980s and 90s served only to reinforce the idea that the best way to play was with others. Gamers sought each other out to share news of the latest games, swap tips, and compete for the highest scores.
The advent of the internet made it easier than ever for players to join forces, playing together from the comfort of their own homes without needing to be in the same physical location. The technology that had advanced games beyond all recognition had now created a virtual playground that allowed them to ‘meet’ online and play together from wherever they happened to be.
Early games developers saw the potential of the internet, with ambitious trailblazers coming up with the idea of live streamed interactive options such as poker gaming before the technology was up to the job. Of course, today’s players can enjoy the social side of gaming and play with friends all over the world, using the latest technology to keep them fully connected.
The social benefits of gaming
When social media started making waves in the world of technology, gamers were among the first to leverage the ability to connect with like-minded aficionados all over the world. This really ramped up the capacity for gaming to be a social activity, offering players the chance to join real-life friends with online ones to create massive gaming networks.
As well as offering the chance to play and compete, these provided some much-needed social interaction for fans of specific games and gamers in general. While much of the chat surrounded the gameplay, the message boards, chat threads, and other online resources provided a place for any kind of discussion.
While the early gamers may have been somewhat ostracised, condemned for being too ‘geeky’ to fit in with analogue society, the internet age changed the image of the solitary gamer to fit more closely to the reality. The enthusiasm that gamers showed for meeting and mixing online was cultivated by the games studios who began to encourage and then provide online forums for their fans to connect on.
Before long, the social side of gaming was proving one of its strengths as players worked together to help one another solve puzzles and complete interactive tasks. Games started to include social links to allow and encourage fans to share their favourite games with one another.
The future of gaming
The integration of gaming into the more social model of technology as a tool to create and nurture personal relationships has provided many people with a lifeline. Although there is the potential for gaming to be a solitary activity, the popularity of collaborative games has widened many players’ social circles as they play together.
With more games than ever available, any gamer can find the niche for them, whether they want to shoot their competitors with high-grade weapons, or tend to a smallholding, doing business with their neighbours.
While physical proximity has long been an essential element of friendship and social support, online gamers can call on friends that they may only have met ‘digitally’ as well as real-life friends that share their interests. While this would, once, have been utterly impossible, the ineffable power of the internet includes creating lasting friendships and solid support networks.