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I'm a geek working as a distance learning specialist for a large corporation.

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The myth of the solitary gamer

Over on The COA we’ve been talking about gaming experiences. To us geeks, that typically means video games, in case there’s any confusion. Though this wasn’t planned, throughout the articles and comments there has been a thread about the social aspect of gaming, and a sense that the rest of the world sees gaming geeks as hunkered down in their parent’s basements eating Cheetos with only their computer for company.

Sure, there are times when we’re playing games alone – and that’s fun – but, as our articles and comments show, the reality is that gaming frequently occurs with friends, with a lot of socialization. Geeks are humans too. Relationships matter.

SG-3′s article is about a shared experience with his brother. The comments are full of relational gaming memories.

My article is about a weekend with 3 other friends. One of the comment threads is about how gaming is better with others.

Lee’s article is about hanging out with his friends. He brings the topic directly into his post:

I don’t get the ‘loner’ description that gamers get labeled with and maybe it’s changed since I was a kid but we would gather together and plan out our quests and debate tactics and generally enjoy each other’s company.  It’s something I honestly treasure as a memory and miss.

I blame a couple of things. The first is marriage.

Whoa! Get those hackles down! Hear me out…

Let’s face it: marriage changes things. It takes a lot of time, done correctly. And rightly so. It’s important.

My point here, though, is that it takes time away from gaming, especially socially. Even if you aren’t married yourself, once you reach your mid to late 20s your friends increasingly are married and have less time to spend with you and games. Gaming takes time. Gaming with friends takes even more time. Marriage takes time. Something’s gotta give. Marriage should, and usually does, win the lion’s share of the time. That means the times you do get to play games are usually shorter, and thus cannot include your friends. Therefore, our spouses see us only playing games alone, and the myth of the solitary gamer is strengthened.

Another change caused by marriage is that your circle of friends frequently expands. You either have to leave old friends behind to some degree or spread out your time between more people. We’re back to the time conundrum again. See above. (Plus sometimes those new friends aren’t even interested in gaming. Wackos.)

Totally separate from marriage is a change in technology. No one can deny that over the past decades technology has massively changed the way we interact with others. One of the ways technology has changed is an increased ease of communication. We text, instant message, tweet, and chat all the time. During games we do all that and frequently have voice contact through the games themselves with Voice-over IP technology. Sometimes we add webcam video to the mix. This is all great, and makes it easier to collaborate on a game and build relationships – but only to a certain degree. It’s not the same as someone coming over to your house to play. It’s an acceptable substitute for the gaming itself, but it’s not the same. You don’t put the game on ‘pause’ and get up to get a sandwich together. You don’t fight over the chips, spilling them, and spend time together cleaning it up. You don’t stop to help your friend’s mom/spouse bring in the groceries. Despite the good things about the technology and the way it can help build relationships, it can never reach that level. It’s not the same.

And what does someone walking by see? You, sitting alone in front of your computer with a headset on. You could be sharing an experience with 15 friends at once, having conversations and building all sorts of relationships, but all they see is you, a computer, and a headset. Again, the myth is strengthened.

As I said at the start, there are times that solo is the way to go, and that’s loads of fun, but humans, even geeks, are social creatures. As Dan said in the comments to my article:

…it’s interesting that so many of our best experiences with [gaming] have involved other people.

Anyone would think that humans crave company or something.

In my COA article I shared one of my gaming memories. I have a lot more. Almost all of them are about my friends, really. The games were just something we did when we got together. Now, I have games sitting on my shelf for years unplayed, and in some cases unopened. I still love gaming. They sit there not because I wouldn’t enjoy it, but because I want to share the experience with someone.

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6 comments to The myth of the solitary gamer

  • Dan

    One of the things that occurred to me during my big walk was that I really don’t see my friends often enough. I think you are right in It happens to us all once marriage and kids takes hold I guess.

    We’ve recently set up a weekly board game session every Sunday night, which has been fantastic, it’s not computer gaming – but it’s having fun with mates so tickles all the same brain receptors.

    Reply to this comment

    Jeff says:

    It’s odd… I’ve been having a much stronger desire to play board games lately. Maybe it’s because they’re generally more accessible to people than video games, which the local friends I have now aren’t as interested in anyway. Not that I’ve played board games with them, but I’d like to set that up. The kids are still too young to have the adults play alone, though, I think.

    We are planning a card game night with some of my older friends, though.

    Reply to this comment

    Dan says:

    Have a look at Cheapass games, I just bought a couple online – they have a good reputation of being fun and, well, cheap.

    Reply to this comment

    Jeff says:

    The title alone makes it worth a look…

    Reply to this comment

  • I completely agree with your article, every great memory of gaming relates to hanging out with my friends. As proof I recently purchased madden11, remembering how much fun I had playing the 09 version. I have had it for a month now and played it maybe 3 times. I realized that it just isnt fun anymore since the only time I ever played the earlier version was when Metzler and I got on line together after the kids went to bed. Unfortunetly he no longer has the gaming system so my new copy of Madden just sits on the shelf.

    Reply to this comment

    Jeff says:

    It’s a weird feeling to look up on that shelf and see unopened/unused games, isn’t it? Even the games I have loaded on my PC permanently are rarely used.

    Reply to this comment

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