From my own gaming experiences, video games provide players with an escape from reality as well as endorsing social interaction. Video games have always been a major interest of mine, as I have been playing video games for most of my life. Despite my admiration for various aspects of popular culture, video games have always been my way of retreating from the real world around me.
According to popular culture expert Garry Crawford,
“The concept of third place is being applied to digitally mediated online places, suggesting
that these online places, act as a social gathering place different from home and work.” (236)
Video games have been mainstream popular culture since the 1970s, serving as an escape from the external world. Following the increased popularity of online gaming the social role has seemingly diminished. However, Crawford argues that online gaming provides a familiar approach to social interaction, which romanticises social interaction with others through playing video games.
Xbox Live has been available since November 15, 2002. Most recently, Microsoft has been promoting Game Pass Ultimate.
Crawford highlights that online gaming offers new methods of social interaction, vital for the evolution of video gaming. Regardless of being depicted as a social retreat from reality, online gaming allows players to connect with friends, as well as others around the world. With the ability for constant connection, online gaming ensures that players remain connected which also contributes to the formation of new friendships during this process.
Online gaming has been around since the 1990s. For instance, there are games like StarCraft (1998).
While playing video games online, Microsoft allows my interaction with friends through the use of a Microsoft headset and an online subscription. Crawford argues that online gaming is vital for the evolution of video games, such that online gaming provides gamers with social interaction at all times without the physical presence of others- which is an added bonus during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, less than a decade ago... video games and social interaction was drastically different from the capabilities provided though online gaming as of 2020.
Blake Harding (name has been changed to protect informant's identity) and I discuss the role of video games within a social context. Furthermore, playing video games allows individuals to form relationships with one another through a common cultural interest.
Mario Kart 8 (2014) and Mario Kart 8: Deluxe (2018) offer online gaming experiences.
"Well like from a young age, I was always playing video games… just like as one of four brothers. It’s (video games) just kind of something you can do together. Right before junior high school I would have anger problems, anxiety problems, whatever… and I had a teacher tell me, like you know… why not play a video game or something? That’s when it dawned on me, it was something like an escape to this fantasy world to help deal with real problems." (statement taken from Blake Harding, 2018)
Harding highlights the importance of video games in his life, which corresponds with Crawford’s argument. Video games hold significance in the lives of gamers, and serves an important role in the ability to distract oneself from recurring personal issues. During our interview, Harding addresses how video games have allowed him to manage anxiety. Furthermore, narratives featured in video games not only allow players to connect with others, but crossing the threshold of this fantasy world assists players in managing real-life emotions.
In the context of a social role, playing video games not only establishes but maintains relationships between individuals. Video games as a cultural artifact connects players through a common interest, thus allowing individuals to form a stronger bond with one another. As an avid gamer, it was not uncommon to play video games with friends during my childhood. For instance, I recall playing Super Smash Brothers Melee with Harding and others, more than a decade ago. Within this context, not only were Harding and I playing video games but we also formed stronger relationships with one another- through our social interaction.
Crawford’s argument holds significance to me as a gamer, such that prior to owning a gaming console, I frequently played video games with family and friends. My first console was the Nintendo Gamecube, and prior to owning this console I would often play video games in the home of family and friends. My initial exposure to video games serves as a form of social interaction due to sharing this cultural artifact increased the significance of the bond between myself and others.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2006)
"The way our generation grew up, I really do believe there is a social aspect in gaming. There are a lot of video games like cooperative or competitive… It was basically you had the same screen with three or four people sitting around a living room playing together. But I think as time goes on, we keep getting further and further away because of online gaming. You don’t really have the same physical interaction with other players, now. Whereas growing up, we’d all just sit around the TV and hangout, and it was an actual social event." (Blake Harding, 2018)
Although Harding discusses the lack of physical social interaction due to the inception of online gaming, his perspective of video games and its social context demonstrates the accuracy of Garry Crawford’s argument. As video games continue to evolve as a cultural artifact, publishers deliberately generate new methods of connecting with others through shared interests- ensuring players invest towards the product. With the concept of investment and interest, this component of video games corresponds with the preservation of traditional narratives. In previous decades, playing video games with friends required individuals to be within the same proximity. However, through online gaming players possess the ability to converse with friends while playing their favorite video games anywhere in the world. Nevertheless, online gaming has effectively brought people together. This piece was originally written back in 2018, however, the concept of online gaming has become even more important throughout 2020 and 2021.
(c) The Modernist Son, 2020-2021
Garry Crawford, Victoria K. Gosling, and Ben Light. Online Gaming in Context: The social and cultural significance of online games. (Routledge, 2012.) 236