The sociality of gaming

In Features, Latest News by Riordan Zentler

Inside a dorm room in Wiley Hall at Point Loma Nazarene University, a custom-built gaming PC stands tall, its formidable tower just peeking out from below the desk of the Introvert. Atop this desk lies three monitors – the left for social media, the center for gameplay, and the right for live streaming and recording. These toys sit isolated in the corner of the room, almost reverently kept free of the soft drink cans and unsorted laundry that litter the rest of the dorm. To its side, a simple 24-inch gaming monitor and Wii U console sit atop the desk of the Extrovert. A folding table and two camping chairs haphazardly occupy the center of the room. With a view of the ocean to top it off, this den is a veritable bachelor’s paradise.

While they are two very different breeds of gamers, roommates Nick Reed and Josh Morse do little to hide their respect for one another, obvious both from their camaraderie in person and the way they speak admirably of the other while apart.

The two preside over PLNU’s eSports Club, which represents a certain social side to gaming on campus. The club hosts a variety of events catered toward the casual social gamer, but also organizes teams for competitive computer games like League of Legends – teams that go on to compete in publicized tournaments. These types of growing trends have been subject to science and scrutiny, and one such study is entitled “Public Display of Play: Studying Online Games in Physical Settings,” a survey conducted across 20 public gameplay locations.

The analysis covers a variety of topics from habits to demographics, but one question remains. As written in the study, “what happens to our understandings of the forms of sociality supported by networked digital games when the research sites are not individual online gaming environments, but rather the physical settings in which many players gather, publicly, to play?”

While the study effectively illustrates the lives and habits of social gamers, it fails to represent and record those introverted, secluded gamers who are often attracted to the hobby as well. Currently, there is not much beyond anecdotal evidence regarding the lifestyles of those so-called “basement-dweller” gamers.

“I think the stereotype of gamers living in their mother’s basements was [prominent] until the 2010’s, when all those gamers reached their thirties, [began holding] successful jobs, [and became] contributing members of society.” Reed said. The time to analyze such subjects on any large scale may have already passed.

In its wake arises a spectrum of different personalities drawn to the hobby.

“My roommate [Morse] is more of a social gamer, whereas I am a hardcore gamer.” Reed said.

He describes Morse as “a situational gamer.” According to Reed, his roommate will play Super Smash Brothers with friends, maybe some Mario Kart, but “he won’t go out of his way to play games much.”

Morse admits games can captivate him, but more often he is drawn in by the people he can play with.

Conversely, Morse describes Reed as something of a withdrawn gamer.

“When I think of basement dwellers, I think of my roommate if I left him alone for a week. He puts in a lot more time than most people on campus.” Morse said. “He’s perfectly content to hole up here and play [online] with friends for a few hours a day.”

Despite their stark differences in gaming habits, the roommates display noticeable understanding for one another’s differing routines. While the extroverted Morse excels at bringing gamers together face to face, the introverted Reed immerses himself almost daily in a number of online games with old high school friends.

“It’s his way of staying connected.” Morse said. “[Reed] sees [his friends] online more than I see my friends from high school. [If anything], he’s better at staying connected than I am.”

Morse believes antisocial gaming is almost entirely a thing of the past, something he accredits to the rise of internet gaming. “It’s another kind of social activity [people are] not [entirely] familiar with yet. If [a gamer] is staying in their room for hours, they’re probably playing online.”

However, almost any avid gamer will attest to a time they temporarily withdrew from society to immerse themselves into a game.

“The textbook example is The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim,” Reed said. “You can get lost in that game for hours. You’re in that universe and you’re fine existing in it.”

Morse likens it to getting lost reading a compelling novel.

“For a lot of people, games [follow] the same concept,” he said. “It’s another opportunity to lose track of time, zone out and unwind.”

On the message board of gaming forum NeoGAF, user “Acquiescence” said: “The ideal gaming experience is sinking into a single-player campaign, absorbing the atmosphere, becoming immersed, and essentially isolating myself from the outside world. It’s all about escapism.”

“I don’t feel like I can achieve that sensation when playing online or with other people,” he said.

Pew Research Center’s study “Teens, Video Games, and Civics” reported 82% of teenagers play video games alone, but 71% of this group also plays with others. A rather small percentage of these interviewees could categorize themselves distinctly as “solo gamers” or “group gamers.”

With the rise of internet gaming, its interactions with social media, and the prominence of “Let’s Plays” on YouTube and live streams on Twitch, video games are becoming a significant vehicle for socializing and forming lasting memories. Even still, many gamers attest to a distinct pleasure derived from immersing themselves into a gaming world and escaping reality for hours on end.

PLNU roommates Morse and Reed share a mutual understanding of these differing gaming habits. “We have an interesting dynamic, but it works.” Morse said. “[Reed] is quite the guy.”
With both of them graduating this semester, Reed said “it’s been fun. We have complementary personalities, our schedules work out well [together], we’re both messy but we’re fine with that. I’ll miss that dynamic living at home.”

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