Gaming As A Social Experience

Solitaire is part of a shrinking group of games: those that are designed to be played alone.  Casual gaming has lowered the barrier of entry for games, expanding the participants in the pastime significantly.  In addition, networking capabilities are bringing to gaming many of the benefits Web 2.0 brought to the Internet.

The "Wii" hovers at, or near, the top of Amazon's wedding gift registry (No. 1 one week, No. 2 when this column was posted).  This signifies a significant shift in gaming -- Nintendo is no longer seen as an obstacle to a healthy marriage, but as a contributing factor.  In addition to reflecting an increased balance in gender participation in gaming, this also indicates a focus on social gaming as opposed to solitary gaming -- a shift Nintendo has put a great deal of effort into developing.

Gaming also acts as a community building force.  In MMORPGs such as "World of Warcraft," there are guilds of 40 or more people who regularly play together.  On a smaller scale, this occurs with friends in many team based-games such as "Halo. " Niche communities spring up in all sorts of ways.  One of my favorite recent finds was a guest piece written on Penny Arcade about a hyper-realistic modification to a flight simulation program, allowing players to act as traffic controllers for an entire network of plane takeoffs and landings, facilitated by other players.

While this is largely a good thing, the sword cuts both ways.  I have some semi-serious concern over the newly announced co-op mode in Kane & Lynch.  Part co-op and part every man for himself?  Some people get worked up over these "video games."  Kane & Lynch, congratulations - you are officially the best bet the medium has for ending a friendship.  (OK - the concern is a shade less than even semi-serious.  It's fun to think about, though.)

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