Network Gaming: The Potential and Problems

The video game industry is intricate, large, and diverse. As a previous member of the gaming community, I have witnessed firsthand the following that video games can build amongst interested members of the population. Commercial social entertainment networks like Xbox Live, which has reported a worldwide group of members numbering over 48 million, have clearly begun to assert an enticing pull for many. These growing communities provide immense networking possibilities. Anil Dash speaks highly of networks that grow fast, do not exclude those who are late to join, and allow people from different areas and who possess different talents to exchange and amplify ideas. Chris Anderson argues in “How Web Video Powers Global Innovation” that the formation of diverse crowds that can see what each other are doing and possess desire leads to accelerated innovation. With its capacity for both collaborative multiplayer gaming and internet access to amenities like Skype, Xbox Live is one of the many forums that allow for the developments discussed by Dash and Anderson to form.

The online gaming experience alone has become a complex social system. It is still possible to purchase games that allow their user to retire to his gaming cavern and spend his nights exploring fantastic worlds without companions, but many games now also include immense online matchmaking forums. The graphic to the right depicts online gaming from one such game known as Halo 4. Its multiplayer environment has many features, but it is perhaps most remarkable for the network it can create. One can play on teams identified by colors, and teammates can come from many different places and backgrounds. Those with Xbox 360 headsets can speak with their teammates. These conversations do not have to be limited to gaming but can focus on any desirable topic. The teamwork involved in the gaming process can potentially result in the building of ongoing relationships (or networking) with a diverse array of people.

The possibilities associated with gaming networks are well outlined by Jane McGonigal in “Gaming Can Make a Better World.” Games provide those involved with a reason to trust others, engage in challenges that can be overcome, and remain occupied. As McGonigal argues, this can lead to a sense of optimism, the creation of a social fabric (network), a belief in productivity, and respect for a good narrative. If these traits could be applied in the real world, a new dedicated generation of thinkers and problem solvers would emerge to combat the emerging problems of the day. They would not be as inhibited as many others by preconceived notions and limitations because of their familiarity to adapting to different worlds. The new group of thinkers might be the all-important spark of innovation described by Anderson.

I am hesitant, however, to believe in this vision of the future to the extent that McGonigal seems to believe in it. I question whether or not gamers are as willing as McGonigal seems to suggest to begin to play games that would help solve problems in the real world. A game that forces one to respond as they would if petroleum was in drastic decline would be helpful in finding new ways to combat the issue, but would the game be as attractive to users as Halo 4? Would gamers abandon games designed for sheer entertainment in exchange for those with a more notable social function, or is their goal to be entertained more than anything else? I also think gaming companies would fight against suggestions which would lead people toward playing games produced by governmental agencies or research institutions for the simple reason that profits would suffer.

The ideas of Seth Priebatsch in “The Game Layer on Top of the World” also make me question whether gaming networks could be harnessed for purposes less benign than the accumulation of ideas. He suggests that the game layer is to influence what social networks have been to forming connections. Gamers are used to following predetermined paths of action and completing itemized tasks. They are also very susceptible to pressure from other gamers and have long been following the orders established by game designers. Could games then be harnessed to push gamers toward certain thoughts, conclusions, and actions?

My personal opinion is that social entertainment networks currently provide an excellent forum for conversation and debate. I also think they are a resource that can and should be utilized to generate ideas and stimulate debate designed to solve societal problems. However, accomplishing these goals might be exceptionally difficult if gamers are not amenable to change or if there are those who try to manipulate the situation for personal gain.

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2 thoughts on “Network Gaming: The Potential and Problems

  1. meghanoneal says:

    I don’t really know if I see the video game networking as positive. I have heard the conversations between Halo players, and they aren’t very nice. I know that when I play Mario Kart that I turn into an evil version of myself whose vocabulary declines to that of an uneducated sailor. In the end, I don’t feel connection or trust for the players around me. More like a dull hatred that takes a while to dwindle, even if it’s my best friends. In this case, I don’t think that networking is necessarily as positive as McGonigal and Priebatsch make it seem.

    However, I do agree with you that Anderson had some brilliant ideas about networking. Loved it.

  2. Erin says:

    When a few friends of mine coaxed me into trying World of Warcraft back in high school, what most impressed me about the virtual world (aside from the art) was the ease of extended communication among players. It was not enough to turn me into a WoW player, but I can grasp why McGonigal thinks of gaming as a potential bonding experience. (Although, like Meghan says above this comment, I don’t think games bring out the best qualities in my personality by any means…)

    But your note about Xbox 360 headsets is intriguing to me. I’ve definitely known individuals who I thought could stand to interact with real people as much as they were interacting with simulated environments. Much as I dislike Halo, I still have to give points to MMORPG’s and their ilk for turning what’s so often an isolated (or isolating) activity into something very social.

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