is gaming antisocial

Is Gaming Antisocial?

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Is gaming antisocial or pro-social? This is the question I want to answer, and by it reveal the true nature of gaming today. If gaming is proven to be pro-social, which is to simply say that it offers a medium by which people can enjoy themselves in company, and should be seen as just as valid a use of time as sporting clubs, as one example. If it’s to be believed that gaming today is anti-social then the conclusion is thus: gaming is a vortex against free time, alienating young people from having real interactions with each other, and stealing from them what ought to be their best years. I’ll state at the outset that my personal feelings are closer to the latter, and yet they aren’t without sympathy, nor have I always felt this way towards gaming, for I am myself a ‘gamer,’ perhaps recovered like some alcoholic that has had a few relapses, yet finally has learned to pace oneself. As a boy I loved first person shooters- Halo, Call of Duty, Gears of War, Battlefield, and not the umpteenth sequels either. I experienced these games in their prime, with many friends (real physical friends) on split screen mode or Friday night pizza LAN parties. Some of the kids didn’t even have a console at home, but it never seemed to really matter. A rogue hand would occasion to wrestle with the controller of whomever happened to be in the lead. The move was seen as a semi-legal enforcement of a handicap. There was competition, and camaraderie- a golden time, though I’ll admit, it’s a time touched by nostalgia. I would consider interactions like this to be pro-social, and typically took place on a rainy day or in the evenings. I would presume the same of the arcade days of gaming, where one was forced to be in a public space if they wished to play, so again- pro-social, and yet what about games today? 

Video games now are big money, more than movies, and yet we’re told that split screen mode is too much to ask. It may sound like a small loss, but it has great significance. Essentially, to kill split screen is to kill the only genuinely social interaction one could have while gaming. Humble companies like EA or Activision are just trying to turn enough profit to feed their hungry families, they can’t afford that. There’s the RAM, and frame rates to consider, or so excuses someone on reddit . The redditor also argues that companies aren’t going to have a feature (split screen multiplayer) that isn’t going to boost sales, well of course, but that begs the question- why has everyone become complacent with being utterly alone when they play games? Discord is no substitute for physical presence, and particularly when it’s used to speak not with people one knows in the real world, but ‘online friends,’ a term I believe categorises the lowest rung of friendship, because when the game is over there disappears all conversation and commonality. 

When a concerned parent peeks through the closed door to their child’s room, here’s what they might see: Invariably, the curtains are drawn and the main light is off. Your kid’s face is lit up by the glow of the monitor and a neon pink trim along the edge of their desk. They’re leaned back, comfortable in the $800 gamer chair you got them last Christmas. Fortnite is on, and your son’s avatar is decked out in all their zoomer drip. A virtual holocaust memorial stands tall, your child taps the key that enables flossing but the devs disabled it for such holy places.  They’re talking into a headset with people you don’t know, and probably neither do they. The strangers that increasingly spend more time with your kid than you do are of an unknown age, and an unknown nationality. You liked it better when it was only Billy down the road, who had parents you knew, and would stay for dinner. You gently close the door with a sigh of powerlessness. How things have changed… 

My second criticism is the spectator culture that’s taken off on youtube, going onto twitch and other such sites. I often wondered how and why so many eyes could be riveted to someone else playing a game. Going back to my childhood, possession of the controller was hotly contested, a cause of bickering and tussles on the carpet. It would appear that for many watching another play a game is more desirable than playing it for themselves, which is when I realised that it isn’t about the game at all. It’s a fantasy where the streamer is the friend of the viewer, and they’re hanging out, but like all positive feelings propped up by delusion festering below is disappointment, and in this case a profound loneliness. Society is increasingly atomised, and digitised, with fewer reasons and opportunities to socially integrate with every new innovation. Uber eats, self check outs at the grocery store, and a culture of working from home are all on the rise, while simultaneously church attendance is down (fatally so in my nation), and many social clubs are a thing of the past. It’s gotten to the point where even a recluse like me has a problem with it. While I’m here putting video games on blast, some may expect the cross hairs to move to female twitch streamers. You all know the kind: intelligent, insightful, modestly dressed, providing entertainment through humorous anecdotes and commentary, and dare I say even a second camera pointed at their bare arse cheeks too. Well I won’t go there any more than I already have. The reason is the twitch prostitutes don’t even have the veneer of gaming the feel-good surrogate friend streamer provides, that’s just soft-core pornography, and that’s a whole separate issue. 

Time is the most valuable commodity in the world. You can’t ever gain more of it, you don’t ever really know how much you have to begin with, and with each day that passes it seems to move a little faster. With all the grandeur of God’s great world why should anyone waste a moment? Alright, sure, we can’t all be climbing Mount Everest, sculpting marble master-pieces, or writing acclaimed poetry in our limited free time. The reality of life is that we put one leg of our pants on at a time, and after a busy day at work there needs to be time to decompress. Whether that’s fishing, or the driving range, or kicking up your feet, cracking open a refreshing beverage, and playing a little xbox. This shouldn’t be a problem, and it wouldn’t be… if not for the vortex. The vortex, as I’ll call it, is a phenomenon unique to gaming, when one becomes so immersed in the game and the grind that time, troubles, and reality itself cease to exist. Coming out of the vortex one may suddenly realise that they really have to pee, sleepiness hits like a brick, and four hours have pass when it only felt like one at the most. Addiction to World of Warcraft, Everquest, or Runescape was for some more debilitating that an addiction to crack. People lost jobs because of these MMO grind-fests, which I never liked or understood. There’s even a woman who offered sex on craigslist in exchange for five-thousand gold pieces in World of Warcraft currency, and her call was answered by legions of fat sweaty WoW players, one of whom actually made good on that deal! The MMO mania has died off, but It was endemic for a time. I believe the use of one’s time should be graded on a scale of meaningfulness. At the lowest end of such a scale, dubbed the ‘don’t waste your life’ scale, are tasks that constitute a total waste of time or are even uses of your time that are harmful. These would include self-flagellation, getting high off hard drugs, reading queer gender theory, and black-smithing five-hundred iron daggers in Skyrim to get black-smithing 100. At the highest end on the scale there would be those lofty things that contain the essence of what it is be alive. The greatest one is also the easiest, giving one’s natural affections over to one’s close family, and simply spending time with them. Like Vito Corleone the Godfather says, ‘a man that doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.’ Other worthy uses of one’s time should be spent in contemplation on that which matters most- God, the afterlife, correctly defining virtue and being virtuous ourselves, self-improvement as well. Great deeds that push the limits of the possible, which pit ourselves in competition with nature, and ourselves. 

There’s the dichotomy of consuming and creating, the former being the path of least resistance while the latter has no path, it must be made. Man is distinct from the animals because Man is made in God’s image, and in imitation of the creator we seek to be creators ourselves, whether that ambition is to build a dynasty, or as simple as crafting a wooden box. Man will put love in his labour. The material will be selected with discretion, perhaps a sweet smelling wood, or make a splash on some black walnut. A sander will make even the touch of the wooden box pleasant, even though it’s not strictly necessary. Logically speaking, there are plastic tubs at the hardware store for a fraction of the material costs for a wooden box, not to mention the time spent in building the thing. Of course, money isn’t the point, it’s Man’s deep yearning to be Godly. Not God, but God-like. Therefore I think a high value ought be placed on the time people spend on writing, fiction or non-fiction, for Radical Dose or anywhere else, poetry, painting, a modded mobility scooter that exceeds  the legal speed limit by some magnitude, it doesn’t matter! The point is that creating is an expression of our thought, ability or emotion, while heedless consumption of pre-packaged media takes no effort, and if it comes from Hollywood, it’s likely full of harmful subliminal messaging. All of this is a roundabout way of saying that video games are in the category of consuming, not creating. It’s for each of us to prioritise how they’ll spend their time and what matters most to them, but the ‘don’t waste your life’ scale is a good rule of thumb. 

My purpose with this essay isn’t to shame the reader into shunning video games or gaming streams. I think it’s fine to play video games just like I think it’s fine to drink alcohol, in moderation. Just like with alcohol, gaming can be extremely addictive and even destructive for certain personalities. It’s the same with watching a gaming stream, its harmless for many while for some it’s a crutch bearing the whole weight of their loneliness. It’s to those few that I write. Such a person must come to terms with the fact that they’ve put a band-aid over a gaping wound; I’ve seen it too many times first hand. 

To end on a positive message, there are still games being made that are original and fun, but its usually independent companies making them. I’ll mourn bitterly at the grave of split-screen mode for eternity, but the fact remains that multiplayer isn’t dead. If its over video games and discord one keeps up with friends, particularly those ones that had moved away, then all the power to you. To conclude I’ll finally answer the question- is gaming pro-social or anti-social? Really it’s both. To play a game socially one simply needs real world friends to play with them, but if one is a loner to begin with, then gaming offers an effective balm against the pain of loneliness. It may numb the pain but never free one of it. The capacity for gaming as an anti-social activity is enormous, whether it’s surrogate friendships or friendships built on foundations of sand, and the addictive nature of many games too can whittle away the hours of one’s life with ease. Without real friends in a virtual world, it can be easy to lose track of reality and time. 

Thank-you for reading, and I hope I haven’t come across as too sanctimonious. It’s only some advice from your friend, Uncle Ray, signing out!

This article was submitted to Radical Dose by a reader. If you’d like to contribute to the site, please use our contact form to send us your content.

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