Sunday, February 5, 2006

Pick your game community: Virtual or Real?

I was just over at 4 color rebellion and a comment about Nintendo’s Wi Fi network as ‘discouraging community’ struck me as intriguing. The question must be asked “Which community?”

The basics
We play online to be with other people. They are more challenging, interesting and fun to be around than any AI currently available. Online play is ultimately about forging relationships.

Two philosophies
Are you forging new relationships or strengthening old ones? Xbox Live lets you meet new people and build a new community. Nintendo’s Wi Fi network works primarily off friend codes and assumes that you are playing with people that you already know. I’m simplifying things because there is certainly overlap here, but philosophically these are two different ways of building an online community.

Nintendo is saying “Hey, you already have friends. Play with them.” Implicit in this assumption is that there exists a world outside the virtualized game community. In order to have friends outside gaming, you must have a life outside of gaming.

In the ideal world you would have both options available. Unfortunately, we live in a fear drenched McCarthyistic Americana. Too many cling dearly to a sickening fascination with Fox’s latest “Baby killed by Psychotic Immigrant’ propaganda. Communicating with strangers is obviously one step away from ruined lives.

So pick one. Do you want live on society’s edge and build your own community? Or do you want to game mostly with your existing friends?

Do you have a social network?
I must admit that I fall into the later category when it comes to gaming. I like talking to people in person or on a special interest forum such as this site. I have a network of friends and am not at the point in my life where I’m starting from scratch or starting over. For me, gaming is a wonderful activity that is part of a much broader and highly fulfilling life. I welcome Nintendo’s tact because it lets me build tighter bonds with the people who are most important to me.

Would I personally miss not being able to talk to strangers? Not really. It is a nice-to-have option, but not a deal breaker.

On the other hand, if I didn’t have those social connections outside of gaming, would I miss being able to talk to strangers? Absolutely. I’m not sure if having a stranger yell at me in Halo will result in any long lasting friendships, but it is certainly better than being alone.

I suspect that the ultimate success of the systems will depend on which of these two groups is more prevalent. We can ask which the stronger draw is:
  • Strong, safe relationships with existing friends
  • Weak, ‘risky’ relationships with new people
But in order to answer this question in any meaningful fashion, you first need to answer a more personal question.

“Are you lonely?”

Take care