I Play Video Games Socially

“Hi There, this is James from V2S Web Design. Do you want to play video games sometime?”

Now, what would you think if you picked up the phone and heard that sentence? What images and scenarios are taking place in your mind? Are you thinking of a business owner who’s trying to network? Or like me, are you picturing somebody in a cheeto-stained silkscreen t-shirt, living in an apartment (and with a catbox) that hasn’t been cleaned in 8 months?

I don’t know what happened, but I can remember a time in my life when video games were a social lubricant. See, we didn’t play King of Fighters ’95 just to watch Mai Shiranui’s 32-bit bosom tremble with victory. It was a time for me and my friends to talk about anything from girls, to school, to Hong Kong action flicks. Some of my best gaming experiences were with my old friends from high school. One time, we stayed up until 5:00am playing Metal Gear Solid. We only made it past the first battle against Sniper Wolf, but as far as I was concerned, that journey had made us all Bros.

10 years later, I own my own business through a series of career mishaps. Between all the bookkeeping, the marketing, and the care and feeding of clients, my opportunities to play video games with my friends are vanishingly small. Still, my social life is even more important now than it was when I was younger. If I don’t set up bonds of trust with people in my community, I might not see a paycheck at the end of the month. To make matters worse, all of us adults are so gosh-darned important that we can find any excuse we need to bail on a coffee or lunch meeting. No one I know in my industry partakes in the traditional business activities, like golf or racquetball. Phone-calls can be just awkward. “Hi there, I’m not calling you because I want money, I just wanted to hear your manly voice over the phone.” As for meeting up with non-local clients, forget it!

But Lo and Behold, there’s a technology out there that allows me to spend time with other people without necessarily having them be present. You don’t have to travel anywhere, you don’t have to buy any bulky equipment, you can even talk to the other person while performing said activities using voice-chat. What is this strange new device? Sign me up!

That technology, my friends, is video games.

According to Jane McGonigal’s essential book, Reality is Broken, over 60 per cent of top executives are playing casual video games to unwind and get a sense of productiveness in their day. How productive could those games be if they actually played them with colleagues and potential partners? Games form essential social bonds with people. You can find out how they think under some types of pressure and how they express emotion. Even teasing and trash-talk are important social milestones. They allow people to say to each other “I could hurt you, but I don’t want to”. It sets the stage for a whole host of complex social interactions.

So why, for the love of God, aren’t we doing this more often? Why do we subject ourselves to multi-player experiences that are as sociable as a morning commute with 12-year-old drivers? Why can’t we adults set aside time to get to know each other this way? You don’t even have to compete against each other! There’s such a thing as on-line co-op, where you can be on the same side against the Zombies, the Alliance, the Falling Jewels, or whatever else catches your fancy.

Our social ties are just going to get more and more important, especially in this economy. If you believe that the world isn’t run from the local golf course, then I’m afraid you’re in for some grim reality upside the head. Competence does not matter as much as your ability to work with people and enjoy their company. If the conspiracies of the Koch Brothers, Rupert Murdoch, or Stephen Harper on the golf courses of the world have got you down, it’s time we took to Azeroth and started making conspiracies of our own.

I really want to know your thoughts on this. Is there a stigma against playing video games together after age 25? If not, why don’t we do it more often? I’ve got three copies of Borderlands:GOTY edition from the Steam summer sale. You might get one if you can help me find the answer in the comments.