By Larry Shnyder
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about just how much my life has changed with regard to personal entertainment. I’ve never been too much of a “gamer,” per se, but when I did play video games I usually did so alone. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. I always saw it as a pleasant way to relax and escape from the real world for an hour or so at a time. But in the past few years, even as my life has gotten busier, I’ve actually become more interested in gaming — and I’ve come to realize it’s because I don’t really do it alone anymore.
What I’m suggesting is something Sahar has actually already written about at some length. Specifically, I’m drawn to her description of participating in NaNoWriMo. Sahar discussed “how a great community can take all its members to places they never dreamed possible,” and how wonderful it was to have the interaction with and support of other writers in online forums. Indeed, this speaks to the nature of the internet as it has evolved. There are communities of strangers everywhere, and when they’re focused on a single purpose or like-minded pursuit, incredible things can happen.
I wouldn’t presume to suggest that completing video game missions is quite on the same level as finishing a 50,000 word novel in a month’s time — but it’s still an enjoyable pursuit! And while it’s strictly a hobby for me, I can’t help but draw a parallel between the way I now enjoy internet-connected video games and how writers experience NaNoWriMo. That is to say, there’s always a sense of community and support, and what was once a solo venture is now, in one respect or another, a team pursuit. There are a few different games I play, on completely different platforms, that illustrate this point.
The game in which I’ve enjoyed the greatest sense of community and collaboration is probably Marvel: Contest Of Champions, one of several mobile strategy gaming options from Kabam. In this game, the goal is to collect superheroes and villains from the Marvel comics (and films), and then fight with them in one-on-one battles. You can do so in special events, a “story mode,” versus battles against other users’ characters, or, most interestingly, through alliance quests and wars. Without any social interaction, it would actually be a fairly enjoyable fighting game — think Street Fighter, but with Wolverine instead of Ryu. With its social aspects, however, Marvel: Contest Of Champions becomes not only a communal experience but a place to make friends.
That’s not to say I’m ever going to meet up and grab coffee with the people in my Marvel alliance — but in a way, that’s the beauty of it! I’m in an alliance with 29 other people from all over the world. We strategize with each other, offer advice, share congratulations when things go well, and sometimes simply chat about whatever’s going on in life. One alliance member has had to walk away to handle his newborn baby so frequently that he’s now regularly asked how the little one is doing! Another found support in our alliance following a rough break-up. Ultimately, we’re just trying to take down computerized villains together, but in doing so we can enjoy a real bond. It’s truly unlike gaming experiences from five or 10 years ago.
Another platform on which I’ve found a lot of fun through community is, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, online casino gaming. I’m not one for things like computer slot machines or roulette, necessarily, but not too long ago a friend directed me to Gala’s selection of chat bingo games, which frankly were unlike anything I was aware of online. It’s hard to describe them all under the same umbrella, but basically the idea is that a “chat host” runs a game that’s at least loosely related to bingo, while participants try to win by providing various responses in a sort of communal forum. The real-time interaction with other players mirrors the social experience of going out to a real bingo hall and goes a long way providing a larger sense of community for the gamers.
This is not a place where you’ll necessarily find the same partners and opponents every time you play, as is the case with Contest Of Champions, but I’ve found it enjoyable just because it so thoroughly enhances games that would be boring without input from other people. A particular favorite is “I Spy,” a title based on the childhood verbal game in which the host “spies with his little eye” a given object, and you and other players have to guess at what it is. It’s a little bit frenzied (in a good way), and it’s a lot of fun to guess along with others — particularly given that you’re playing for real prizes.
So, I’ve basically covered two completely different, but equally satisfying, types of collaborative gaming. Those being finding a full group of new friends through a game, and consistently interacting with new individuals to improve an otherwise unremarkable (at least to me) activity. But a conversation about modern video games and communities would probably be incomplete if I didn’t also mention console multiplayer options. And while I’ve dabbled in the likes of Call Of Duty, Fallout, Star Wars: Battlefront and the like, the ones that really stand out to me are the sports games.
Now, maybe that’s because I happen to be friends with a few rabid sports fans. Nonetheless, the likes of NBA 2k16 and FIFA 16 are wonderful in that they allow you to set up leagues, tournaments and the likes with other users – which can easily include your real world friends! You’re not interacting with anyone new in this case, but it’s still taking a solo activity and turning it into a way to hang out with your friends – which may just be the coolest thing about modern gaming, in the end. Personally, I can’t wait for NBA 2k17, with early reports suggesting that it might be the most impressive game yet in the series! I’ll be starting a league with friends soon after release.
Again, none of this is to suggest that playing games in a group is quite equal to writing an original novel. But in a way, the two subjects speak to the same concept: that the internet has done a remarkable job of fostering community-building across all different pursuits and aspects of entertainment. In my case, it’s turned gaming into a completely new activity, and one through which I constantly interact with other friendly people.
Larry Schnyder is a passionate blogger from New York. He is currently fulfilling his dream of being a freelance writer, writing on topics that interest him including technology and society. His hobbies include reading crime novels and playing video games with friends in his spare time. He also enjoys searching the City for “hole- in-the-wall” restaurants.