The Social Aspect of Video Games

In a chronically connected world, criticism for the technology that does so has been brought up frequently and exhaustively. While there are valid concerns for a tech dependent society, the benefits of an interconnected society are less discussed. 

A platform that has proven to benefit many who are involved within it, are massively multiplayer online role-playing games: MMORPG.

A study by Antioch University in 2017 concluded that MMORPGs “help develop and strengthen interpersonal skills such as group interaction, involvement and flexibility that result in significant relationships and friendships.”

Gaming in a shared space on a local network is referred to as a LAN party, local area network. Photo by Alex Haney on Unsplash.

Most function somewhat similarly, with level progression, a form of combat, some type of limited open world and tasks or quests. Fantasy is a popular genre, many games involving magic or mythical creatures, like dragons in  “Elder Scrolls Online,” or casting spells in “Runescape.” 

An example of escapist fantasy is “Wizards 101,” a world where players exist as different types of magic casters, leveling up through challenges and player combat.

The game launched in 2008, which is when Parker Gill found it when he was eight years old.

“When I first started, I was playing it for hours every day, I binged it,” Gill said. “I’ve taken breaks from playing it, but to this day I still do. It’s a comfort game for me.”

Gill brought up specific aspects of the game that drew him to it, like the storytelling. There is an overarching plotline that simpler games don’t always have. Gill also brought up some issues within the game.

“It’s advertised as free to play, but you can only get so far without needing a subscription or some type of payment,” Gill said. “I’ve probably spent over $300 in the game.”

The advertising to play and gambling aspects of games, specifically for children, is a topic that has been broached by many critics.

The duality of genre types shows the range that MMORPGs can have. Brooke Munoz played her first online game in elementary school: “Pixiehallow.” She is now an avid player of “World of Warcraft,” a game vastly different from her beginnings.

Munoz brought up the importance of gaming for her, outside of social or skill benefits.

“The biggest draw for me was the access to playing in an open world as any gender that I wanted,” Munoz said. “As a young kid who didn’t know much about my gender, but knew I didn’t feel very aligned with my gender assigned at birth, it was a unique opportunity for me to be able to represent myself as a fairy as either gender.”

Video games can be much more than their surface level benefits, even helping kids explore their own identities and interests. 

Munoz hopes to see more developers embrace a type of gender fluidity in their character creators. 

Angel Ray has played video games since he was a young kid. Playing inconsistently over multiple gaming systems and platforms, he wouldn’t consider himself a gamer.

“That lifestyle seems to be an identifying factor for so many people, but I think of it as saying I like to read or watch movies,” Ray said.

He emphasizes he’s grown with the technology, playing a variety of games ranging from first person shooter to farming simulators, never latching one to one particular genre. However, there is one particular game that withstood the change and growth.

“I started playing ‘Toontown’ when I was really young, with it obviously being marketed to a younger audience,” Ray said. “Like many of us do when we get older, I revisited the game out of nostalgia and some curiosity. I was seriously surprised to see it not only more populated than ever, but with a wide age range of players.”

Ray mentioned sometimes feeling juvenile for his love of the game, but has found enough people to play with who are also in their twenties that he doesn’t mind admitting to it.

The version Ray currently plays, “Toontown Rewritten,” is actually a remake of the original game, “Toontown Online.” Launched in 2003, “Toontown Online” was eventually shut down by Disney, stating they wanted “focus on other online and mobile play experiences, such as ‘Club Penguin’ and a growing selection of mobile apps,” according to a Bloomberg article in 2013.

Referring to itself as a “free-to-play revival,” “Toontown Rewritten” was made by fans of the original game in 2014, and has no affiliation with Disney.

“It functions the same as the original, involving combat, leveling up through an endless list of tasks, minigames, fishing and just exploring the fairly large open world,” Ray said. “The best part is being able to play alongside my friends, it really wouldn’t be the same without that online feature. I’ve also met people through the game when I was younger that I still know now.”

Melissa Jacobson began playing video games when her older brother introduced her to “Star Wars: The Old Republic.”

Launched in 2008, Star Wars still had a pop culture hold that could bring in thousands of players to a new Star Wars experience.

“I really loved it because it was a vehicle to bond with my brother,” Jacobson said. “It was something we were able to share.”

Now an avid gamer, she believes the potential she saw in the open world aspect and the social benefits she gained drove her to explore more games.

PC gaming. Photo by Fredrick Tendong on Unsplash.

Video games of all play styles, demographics, genres and level progressions can have a common feature to entice any type of player – a form of social interaction that isn’t quite comparable to any other form of interaction.

While solo player games are favored by many for their accessibility, the rise of multiplayer games has only grown as more games and gaming systems develop. For many, MMORPGs have become a platform to develop and continue relationships. 

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