Games as a shared experience
One of my first real online gaming experiences was playing Discworld MUD, a text-based online adventure game based on Terry Pratchett’s beloved fantasy world (MUD stands for Multi-user Dungeon). Sure, in my early teens there were more exciting games around like Unreal Tournament or Halo, but I loved this completely graphics-free text-based interface in which I could magically interact with others online and role-play in a world that responded to almost every little thing you wanted to try and do. I had played against other players before in online shooters, but other than perhaps being slightly smarter than your average AI there was nothing much to differentiate these real players from random bots. Discworld MUD was the opposite. A rich, colourful world filled with people who would jump at the opportunity to talk to you when you asked them for directions to the Unseen University, or would gladly take you under your wing when you were just starting out by giving you a pet cabbage and taking you shopping at the Plaza of Broken Moons.
Although I often wandered through Ankh-Morpork on my own, my fondest memories of my time playing Discworld MUD are those moments which I shared with my older brother and his friends. Now, almost 15 years later we still talk about particular incidents that occurred during the game, like the time I walked up to a bakery and my brother and his best friend came tumbling out the front door followed by a torrent of water because they had accidentally flooded the kitchens. Or the time they had to ask me for help because they had both locked themselves inside a cold storage room and were slowly freezing to death so I had to bust them out (to be fair, these memories might be somewhat biased as I think the incidents that most stuck in my mind were ones in which I was shamelessly able to gloat over their foolish mistakes while rescuing them). All in all, while the gameplay was magnificent, the things that I still remember the most from my Discworld MUD days are my interactions with other people, whether friends or strangers, and the joy of sharing such experiences with others and being able to talk about it at length afterwards.
Typical Discworld MUD gameplay. Just some text and your imagination.
A way to stay in touch
Now, years later, my brother and me live in different cities, we both have full time jobs and we barely see each other. Yet, on average not a week goes by where I don’t talk to him, or sometimes even a few times per week. That’s because we game together, quite a lot. I would wager I talk to my brother more frequently and for longer periods of time due to us gaming together, than if I were to just pick up the phone and occasionally call him instead.
Sure, the topics being discussed might vary when compared to a phone call, but I would argue the very nature of our conversations while playing games is actually a lot more natural. There is no pressure to keep talking when there is a lull in the conversation since we are both sharing a common activity at the same time. Secondly, there’s a natural ebb and flow of topics. During intense gameplay we might only be discussing the game, commenting on each other’s moves or mistakes, gently teasing each other for messing up or encouraging each other to pull off some amazing menouvre. But during calmer gameplay we discuss all manner of everyday topics that keep us up to date with each other’s lives. All in all, I can confidently state that I wouldn’t be as close to my brother if it wasn’t for us sharing the experience of gaming.
Of course my brother is not the only person I play video games with. I’m also fortunate to have a lot of gamers among my close friends. Although I absolutely love spending actual time with my friends and I think nothing really beats just meeting face-to-face and hanging out with each other, there’s a great benefit to online gaming with regards to staying in touch with those that live far away.
A few years ago, when I left university and got offered my first job, I moved halfway across the country to a new city. During this time, it wasn’t easy to frequently spend time with my friends. Of course, during the working week this just wasn’t feasible due to how far away they lived. During the weekends I usually didn’t have time to visit everyone I wanted to see, or people might already have plans. Additionally, there’s only so much traveling you can do before you need the occasional break. However, we soon discovered that gaming was a way through which we could still hang out during the week. I barely had time to start feeling lonely in this completely strange, new city, as I spent many evenings just chatting with friends, joking and laughing.
On the other side of the coin, I also noticed that I fell a lot more out of touch with the friends I couldn’t share this activity with due to this lack of weekly interaction. I would still see them just as often as my other friends, but when hanging out together is limited to perhaps only every 2 months it’s hard to stay completely up to date with their lives. And unfortunately, tools such as WhatsApp can only go so far in bridging that social gap. Yet gaming provided me with a solution I didn’t even know I was looking for. In fact, using gaming to stay in touch with friends has worked so well for me that when recently one of my best friends confessed she was starting to feel lonely because all her long-time friends were moving away to other cities, I actively encouraged her to pick up gaming as a hobby so she could come and share our weekly gaming nights and join in on the fun.
That is not to say she shouldn’t go out and make new friends and meet new people, but gaming is a great way to stay in touch with the old ones. Gaming can’t replace social interaction, and there’s nothing I love more than spending time with my friends in the same place where I can hear, see and touch them; give hugs, talk over each other, or hit them over the head when they make a particularly bad joke. But I do think gaming has benefited my already existing social life. It is basically an add-on tool. A tool that is available from the comfort of your own home with the click of a button.
These past few months on this site we’ve talked about topics such as social support, loneliness and now relationships. If you are the kind of person that just moved to a new city, away from your parents for the first time and away from your highschool friends and therefore feel a little unsure or alone, I think you could do a lot worse than gaming as a hobby to stay in touch with old friends. Of course, also go out in the world and meet new people, make new friends and discover who you are outside of that safe, small world you’ve been growing up in all your life! Personally, I met all of my current friends while I was a student just by going out and having fun, and I’m really glad I have found them. But, now I’ve also found a way to easily stay in touch with them during my work life.
So, if you’ve moved away from the people you know, and need a little social boost from the safe and familiar and are missing your friends, check out some nice multiplayer games you could share with them. In an earlier blog post Geert already shared a list of games that can be played together with friends; games of different genres and difficulties. I’m sure you will find something suitable among the myriad of potential candidates. That blog can be found here.