I ran across this great post on Gaming Nostalgia on What’s Your Tag. It’s largely about how the writer misses a lot the great social effects with friends and family gaming had on his life. It was wild for me, because during my hard-core gaming years, gaming generally alienated me from my family, caused me to be more isolated, and rarely lead to new friendships I hadn’t had before. I’m copying my reply below, because it’s very relevant to this site and my gaming design work:
It’s interesting to hear about your experiences of family bonding over video games. I was most into games from the mid 80s to the mid 90s, and I can honestly say that my social gaming experience was a near total opposite to yours. Especially early on, gaming was a very solitary experience for me. I played most of my games on a PC (the only two consoles I’ve ever owned were an Atari 2600 and an original NES) by myself. I have no siblings, and my mother and father never really understood what was so engaging about the games I played. There were virtually no moments of bonding, experience, or mutual understanding. In fact, the time I spent playing games was often looked down upon as a huge time sink that took me away from more social activities. I remember one instance where I was playing Starflight, probably the first really good Star Trek-style space exploration game, and we were late for some kind of show. I couldn’t stop, because you could only save your game at the starbase, with sometimes hours of time in between. I was playing it off two floppies (this was pre hard-drive), and, after asking me to stop playing and get ready several times, my father finally turned the computer off while I was still playing. And I didn’t just lose my time since the last save when he did that. Turning the computer off with the disks in the drives would often damage the data, and the only way to make a backup copy of your single save game was to tediously copy both floppies onto another set. I lost at least several weeks, if not months, of playing when that switch was thrown.
Later my friends and I would take turns playing games on the PC, so there was some socialization involved, but it was always an adjunct to an existing friendship, and there was almost no ability to play together. That was reserved for the arcade, where quarter-sucking games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Street Fighter 2 allowed cooperative or competitive play. Even so, the person I was playing against was already a friend, or a stranger I’d probably never see again. A few friends I had were “arcade friends”, where our relationship was mainly about the gameplay, but didn’t extend much outside that. There were a few exceptions, but not many.
Once I got into college, I started playing a lot of FPSs like Quake and Unreal Tournament. In terms of emotional involvement, the adrenaline rush of blowing other virtual people limb from limb and dancing in their falling giblets was one of the most emotional feelings I’d ever had. I really liked Capture the Flag, too, which my first real co-op experience. I also played the original Starcraft series with and against other people. But here again, most of them were strangers, with no lasting connection formed between me and them, or friends I’d already had for years. A few years after college, I realized how the addictive quality of games was affecting my life, and limited playing them to the occasional “gaming vacation” where I picked up something good and let it take over my life for a few weeks or months.
So, basically, I’ve almost never had gaming result in long-term friendship or an increase in intimacy with my family. I was never a member of a guild, or even a regular play group. I played games with friends, but our relationship rarely revolved around gaming. I’ve never really played an MMO. All that makes reading your post really interesting, because I’m a pro game designer now, and, like bad habits picked up from parents, I’m still designing for my childhood self instead of what people are actually doing with games now. The main tool I’ve been using, GameSalad, has basically no network or social support, so designing games where people play together is almost impossible. I’ve been branching out into Corona for that reason, because I *want* to make more social games, but it’s clear that I don’t really understand them the same way hard-core gamers today do. I did read Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal, which clues me into the great power of gaming motivations to change the world in positive ways, and that’s the kind of social integration I want in my games.