Much has been made in the last few years about the increasingly social nature of the video game industry, and we see it in varying ways: players interact online in massive multiplayer environments; mobile users compete with one another over WiFi; and console gamers even communicate through headsets with multiplayer partners and opponents from all over the world. And interestingly enough, this isn’t just a development that’s taking place in how games are designed. It’s a phenomenon that’s impacted how gaming is viewed from a demographic and psychological standpoint.
Numerous studies over the last couple of years have indicated that gamers aren’t who we once thought they were (or perhaps who they once actually were). The stereotypical image of a lonely teenage boy holding a gaming pad in his basement is no longer the best approximation of what the modern gamer looks like. Now, average gamers are in their 30s, and women are as likely as men to play. But perhaps even more surprising is the relatively recent revaluation posted on USA Today that gamers lead more social lives than non-gamers. They’re also said to be more successful, more socially conscious, and even closer to their families!
Given these findings it’s fair to say that gaming—largely as a result of becoming more social—has a more favourable reputation these days. It’s something that’s more of a genuine hobby than a waste of time or a juvenile activity. And now the question becomes: can the video game industry do anything to become even more social?
At first thought, the clear answer is probably no. We’ve already reached a point at which we can fully communicate with entire communities of fellow players through video games, whether on mobile devices, online, or through consoles, and it’s hard to imagine things going much further. But there’s always innovation in this industry. Even in the past year or so, we’ve seen a few new attempts to make social gaming environments more realistic. Perhaps most notably, the online casino industry—already a pioneer in creating interactive communities for players—has made a fascinating advance toward simulating real, physical card table environments. In addition to a massive collection of slot machines and arcade games that can be played by individuals,Betfair’s online games section has grown to include card games with live dealers. That means there’s a real video feed to a dealer, almost as if they’ve combined video chatting with gaming.
This might not be a feature that can easily be replicated in other forms of gaming, as it’s fairly specifically tailored to casino play. However, it does speak to the idea of more visual representations, as opposed to simply chat capabilities in gaming. And this is something that could be explored in the next major chapter of gaming: the virtual reality revolution.
Just last month an article in Computerworld discussed the idea that virtual reality could bring about the latest form of social network. Specifically the article was talking about the “Oculus Social Alpha,” which is a bizarre movie-watching app in which you visualise yourself as an avatar watching something alongside others’ avatars. It has nothing to do with gaming directly, but naturally it raises the question of how players may end up interacting once virtual reality gaming becomes a mainstream activity. Essentially, virtual reality holds the potential to add a very visual component to a social atmosphere that remains, in conventional gaming, largely verbal. Here’s hoping we get to see it come to fruition in the next year or so.