Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The 'social' side of gaming

Something that I've noticed a lot of people talking about over the last couple of days, including Josh Lovison of Gaming Insider, and Jane Pinckard on Game Girl Advance, is the concept of social gaming.

Lovison takes the stance that games that are designed to be played alone are on the decline and that multi-player games are not only greatly expanding the gaming audience, but also serving as community builders. And this is true; casual gaming has made it so that everyone can play. Nintendo has put a great deal of effort into making gaming a social activity, rather than a solitary one, bringing people together. MMORPG's such as World of Warcraft have thousands of players at any one time, which has led to many of them forming guilds of 40 or more people who always play together.

Pinckard, however, explains how all this 'social' gaming may actually be making people less, well, social. Though the argument has probably been made a million times before, there may be some merit to the idea that the more wired we become, the less we actually interact with people. Pinckard sites a study done by Rob Nyland, which shows that heavy users of social networking sites “feel less socially involved with the community around them.” The relationships cultivated in these online games, or in the social (usually party) atmospheres in which Wii type games are played, are usually non-demanding and low commitment, which could possibly keep people from connecting. I'm not sure I agree, being that people have a tendency to make this argument about every new form of media that becomes popular, but the argument is there, and who knows - maybe it's valid.

And what does all of this mean for advertisers? Sure, there's a much larger gaming audience to target, but doesn't that just mean that they are no longer a unified group that can be targeted? And if people are playing with their friends, will that make them more or less likely to notice in-game ads? In addition, if we are creating a culture of lonely people who do nothing but sit in front of their computers or television sets and never talk to anyone, what does that mean for advertising in other mediums? Just something to think about.

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