Monday, July 4, 2011

The true meaning of Social Gaming

Today's a big holiday here in the USA.  Everyone's throwing large barbecues and big drunken parties, because that (along with small, colorful explosions) is how we celebrate in this country.

Okay, large colorful explosions.

I threw my own large party last weekend, though; it's why I was on the road for a few days.  I've done it every summer since I was 14, and every year it's a little more awesome because we've aged into appreciating a rare chance to see all our friends in one spot.

It's a casual summer barbecue and I do it at my parents' house, because they have a grill and a backyard and also don't live 400 miles away from most of the guests.  (I have neither grill, nor backyard, and Google Maps says it's actually more like 450-500 miles.)

There are some guests who I have known since 3rd grade, and some who I just met at PAX East 2011.  Some from college, some from high school, and some who I know I have known for a decade but neither of us can remember any longer how we first met.  Some are my parents' friends, and some are my friends' parents (who admittedly, are also my parents' friends).  We eat and drink and make merry and unexpectedly run out of chairs, and a good time is had by all.

But I, overthinker that I am, was particularly observing the way that games drove the day and brought people together.

My mom's DS was in the living room and people kept picking it up and playing around with Brain Age 2.  Later, I found my mom and three of my old friends playing Cribbage in the kitchen.  (She always wanted me to learn but I never really did.)

Meanwhile, my friend brought newest version of the tabletop card game that he'd been developing, hoping to find some players, and I pointed him to a group of tabletop gamers I met at PAX.  From the laughter and shouting, I assume that table was having fun.

And then I busted out Action Castle.  (And the sequel, as well.)  A GM I am not, but I'd seen it done before and had a chance to read over the cards so I managed pretty well.  Granted, I gave a little more useful input than a traditional text parser would, but a traditional text parser doesn't have to apologize for having forgotten the player has a lamp in inventory so there's that.  (Oops.)  Also in the interest of keeping the party lighthearted, exits might have been, north, east, SOUTH GUYS, and west.

When the sun goes down and the mosquitoes come out, we generally move inside and my husband, who was apparently born to be a game show host, gets his time to shine.  He hooked his laptop up to the TV and I heard a round of The Price is Right go down, and then it was time for $100,000 Pyramid.  That one always goes down tournament-style, because in two or three years running, Sam and I have proved to be a pretty much unbeatable team.  And with 20 people in the living room, every game show does indeed have its live studio audience.

We were there in May 2010, actually, but they didn't allow photos so this isn't ours. Being there really does feel like being in the TV.

For all that I love writing the deep, critical theory and studying narrative games as cultural artifacts and cultural mirrors -- this is where the real heart of our hobby is.  This is where it all began: you have a group of people together, in a room, and they find a way to play.

Developers like Zynga may claim that Facebook and mobile platforms are "social gaming" now and forever, but for my money, it gets social when you can break bread together.  Mainstream (non-gaming) society derides the D&D player as "antisocial," and yet he -- in all his stereotypical adolescent, pimpled, awkward glory -- sits around with friends, says, "pass the chips and soda," and has a good time in good company.  And of course, we all know how little bearing a stereotype has on reality.

I don't like to engage in competitions usually (or at least, not competitions I don't actually stand a chance of winning) so aside from some trivia games I tend to avoid the multiplayer sphere.  But sitting around with a glass of sangria in one hand (that my friend makes better than I do), and hearing my buddies laugh... now that's the kind of multiplayer I wish I could do more often.


  1. That sounds like a blast!  I think we're going to... maybe bbq and I should probably mow the lawn.

  2. Really well written article; I felt like I was at the party myself! I especially love the part where you compared Zynga to D&D on the definition of "social gaming". :]