Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Social Gaming

I often find myself in a place that acts as a sort of limbo.  If I were to talk about video games to people who are a generation ahead of me there is often a disconnect and misunderstanding of why I like video games at all and the value I find in them.  On the other side of that coin, if I talk to someone in a generation after mine there is a lack of value on things that I find important to have in a game, though they do understand, at the very least, the why games are so awesome to experience.

One facet of this is the construct of social gaming.  As a guy who was born in the late 80s, I have had the joy of being part of the first generation that really grew up with video games as being a viable and very real aspect to people's lives.  The idea of an in home console before the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) was largely unheard of or unsuccessful until it comes trumpeting onto the scene and proves that it can be done and done well.  People everywhere will recognize the original 8-bit Mario that we have come to know as a classic.  However, it did not end there.  In the past 10 years alone, video game and console (I'm going to include PC Games in this) technology has grown and improved exponentially, and as such has improved the venue for the art forms that can be found in any video game; and it is still growing!  I remember when the Nintendo 64 was released.  Everyone spoke of how the 3D graphics were the best and how realistic everything looked.  Today, the 64 looks just as clunky as the 8-bit did at the time.  With the release of systems like the PS3, Xbox 360, and even the Wii U, graphics have taken a turn for the better and have changed the gaming community as we know it.

Along with this increase of console games, the internet and its many uses continued to grow.  It was during these years of growth that someone came up with the brilliant idea to create a game that had the joys of immersing yourself in a world other than your own and do so with other people.  Thus, the Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) was born.  I won't pretend to say that I know when the first one was released, but I do know that, for me personally, the first well known MMO was Final Fantasy XI.

Up until my experiences with FFXI, my video game world consisted of playing games solo or with a few friends when they visited.  I can still remember how I felt as I finally sat down to play FFXI for the first time.  The idea that any one person I was talking with in the game could be next door or across the world excited me and proved to be a very interesting experience.  My paradigm of community and where games fit was shifted permanently.  Of course, the reader may not recognize or remember FFXI very well so lets move on to the next MMO that I became involved with for a while that you will recognize.

World of Warcraft (WoW) is by far the most well and widely known MMO even know after many years of existence.  It's been around long enough to have four expansions released as of late last year and rumors of at least two more being released in the future.  If you are having trouble understanding how much time that is, each of the four expansions were released within the past seven or eight years.  WoW is easily the most popular and longest living MMO.  (Yes, I do understand that there are other MMOs out there that have been around for a while, but many don't even have servers up any more.  If they do, there have not been any updates to the coding or story in a very long time.)

From WoW, a slew of MMOs were birthed ranging from everything medieval to futuristic and everything in between.  While many of them do have their own flare, I have yet to find one that does not have inspiration drawn from WoW (but why spin the wheel for something new when what we have works so well?).  Some are free, some are subscription based, and many are some concoction of both.

Here is the point, with the growth of games like WoW, our ability to socialize has increased a hundredfold.  Right now, I have been playing a couple of MMOs and have been introduced and regularly interact with people I would never have met otherwise.  The intrinsic value of this should be obvious.  However, for the sake of being thorough, I would like to point to social networking via Facebook.  Even business do everything they can to get involved with websites that are popular among the masses because they realize that the more they get involved in the social networks they will grow their business.  On the more personal level, it is a chance to stay up to date on friends who may not live as close as they once did and maintain a relationship over distance that in the past would have been difficult (I'm not saying long distance relationships are not difficult, they are just significantly easier to maintain in comparison to the past).  MMOs provide another form of social networking.  Not only do you get a chance to enjoy the artistic expression of the people who created the world you are exploring (From the NPCs, to the monsters you are fighting, to the very landscape you travel across), but you also benefit from meeting other people.  In many ways, it is as if you are making a virtual "you" to interact in a world that may be even larger than our own at times.  How cool is that?

Truly, to think that games are a waste of time is to think that people are a waste of time and I cannot support that type of thinking.  The people who grow up with my kids are going to be even more heavily involved with games like this than even now.  Just think of how many games there are that you can play with someone online (even with PS3 and Xbox 360 games).  I can think of very few in the past five years that do not have some type of online multiplayer aspect to it.  How much more so will this develop as the years progress?  I must say that, honestly, I looked forward to these advancements with excitement and some hesitation.

I don't really think exploring the hesitations would be worthwhile at this point in this post, but I do think that with any growth of social games and networking we need to find a way to balance it so that there is plenty of physical, face to face, interaction as well.

Regardless, Social gaming (in any form, not just MMOs) are really quite a bit of fun and I love the social aspect of them.

If you have not tried an MMO, or would like to know of other ones out there, here are a few that I have tried and enjoyed, or have heard good reviews of and are all free to play.

Lord of the Rings Online
Star Wars: The Old Republic 
Star Trek Online
Champions Online
Fiesta Online
PWI: Sirens of War

There are still several more I could post, but I think this is sufficient.

Apologies for the long wait for this post (it's only been 5 months!), and thanks for your visit to the page!

Grace and Peace

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