Out of the Basement: The Social Side of Gaming
Neiburger, Eli, Gullett, Matt, Young Adult Library Services
Picture a garner for a moment. A teenage boy, probably, sitting in a dark basement on a smelly couch, bathed in that flickering glow, slack-jawed and drooling. All alone, completely anti-social, shutting out the world. Right?
Well not exactly. It's not that that scenario doesn't exist within the gaming culture, but video games are rarely a solitary activity. The positive social aspects of gaming are wide-ranging and an important part of the social habits of the gaming generation. Since Pong (which was popular thirty years ago already), the focus of video games has been to play against your friends, get the whole family involved, and be the best in the neighborhood. While the equipment is a little more complex, video games are still games, and just like canasta, Monopoly, or euchre, they're just not as much fun to play solo.
Video Games Are Positive Social Activities
There are reasons why games have been a central component of leisure culture for millennia: they provide mental stimulation, solid entertainment, attainable mastery, and, most importantly, the possibility of proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that you are better than your friends. Video games offer players all these opportunities embedded within a framework of artificial, gameplay-optimized worlds that often add story, character, excitement, and eye candy into the mix, producing a compelling and rewarding environment in which social interaction can take place. The only fundamental difference between a video game and a chessboard in the park, a bingo night, or an evening of bridge, is the format, and libraries should have learned by now that when we don't deliver formats that our customers demand, entire industries spring up to fill that void.
When people play games together, the competition has value in and of itself, but the sharing of knowledge that occurs also increases the social value of the encounter. While both the loser and the winner learn something from every chess match, video games are usually so full of arcane secrets and exploitable glitches that exclamations of "How did you do that?" are central components of any gaming event. Players who can reliably execute difficult maneuvers, but also explain how they were done, have cachet and credibility among their peers that simply can't be obtained in the classroom. These are useful life skills here, unlike trigonometry.
Of course, the social benefits of competition itself are central to the appeal of video games. In addition to the opportunities for sweet victory, the simple opportunity for mutual enjoyment and excitement that video games provide to a group of players help knit that group doser together and form bonds that last after the plug is pulled. You feel doser to someone who you've almost beaten again and again, and you feel kinship with those around you as you witness the final moments of a close match.
It's also worth stating that despite some high-profile and undeniably prurient titles, video games are not an inherently degenerate or violent pursuit. Only 15 percent of the games sold in 2005 were rated "M" for "Mature" (for ages seventeen and older), despite receiving extensive coverage from major media outlets. (1) Non-gamers may decree the popularity of video games among young people as a sign of the downfall of humanity and ruination of fine young minds, but that actually places video games in good company alongside other forms of entertainment that have borne the same accusations over the years, such as comic books, movies, the telephone, the waltz, and the novel. (Most of these are now well-ensconced within libraries, making it fair to say that public libraries specialize in materials that were once thought to lead to the ruination of fine young minds.)
Social Aspects of Gaming and Tournaments
Never underestimate the power of common cause. Simply bringing together a group of players who all seek mastery of, say, Super Smash Bros. …