Many Platforms, Many Choices: Gaming and Socialization

I've been talking a lot about the role of socialization in media in the last few weeks.  I came to the conclusion that the social connection we get is usually more important than traits like originality (or at times, familiarity).  I based my theories off my various readings (such as Starstruck's theories on socializing), watching the phenomena, and pure intuition, and I believe in an abstract way, I really did hit on something.

My experience became less abstract recently, in a way that I think further confirms my basic theory: the ability to experience social ties with a media is a major part of what we choose.

What happened to me to take me out of the airy world of psychological speculation about media madness?  Well, I was getting the urge to play a video game, that deep desire to start moving pixels and stats around, and I wanted to find what to play next.  The problem with finding the next thing to sate my urge for gaming goodness was that I couldn't decide or get worked up about any game.

I looked at games on the DS, and on the Mac, and on The X-box, and even on my Android Phone.  I looked at the upcoming releases for the next few months.  Nothing struck me, nothing came to me, nothing spoke to me despite a variety of choices.  Nothing truly interested me in my bones, or whatever part of my anatomy my gaming interests lie.

Then like a bolt from the blue (or like a killer finishing combo), I realized why I wasn't enthused about games.

I wanted a game I could share with others.  Even if it was casual chatting or playing at a convention, even if it was just being part of a big release, I wanted something with that connection.  I wanted, in short, the very thing I've been blathering on about for weeks.

Gaming was so divided and fragmented, there were so many options, I literally didn't know where to start looking for that gaming fix and that social fix as well.  There were too many choices as opposed to not enough – so which game was going to give me the social connectivity that I (like most people) craved?

At this point, among all these choices, I realized gaming had an embarrassment of riches with so many games, so many platforms.  Yet, even then, that social urge was strong in me – and it would (and did) direct my choices.

In gaming's giant onslaught of content, I realized two kinds of games would stand out – and prosper – because they'd tie people together.

First there would be the Unique Thing, the lightning bolt, the sudden strike that draws people together and gets their attention – such as Angry Birds.  The games like this may not be innovative or new but they are something everyone plays and everyone can share (and thus experience it).  My household has about three copies of Angry birds.

Secondly, there would be Known Names that people would rally around.  Names like World of Warcraft and Call of Duty.  These would be things that were Known To All, and thus would attract people because of the known factor and the "social fix" from being part of them.

Of course there is a case where the first type of game can turn into the second.  I strongly suspect Angry Birds, possibly Pocket Legends, and several other games spawned in the mobile age will be huge franchises.

What this tells me is that in the gaming world, the social factors are more important than ever because there's just so much OUT there.  Great, wonderful, amazing games may get missed because people will naturally gravitate towards shared phenomena.  If a game can't produce enough of that, it will not succeed.

What game did I pick?

Well, Games.  I plan to get Bulletstorm (which I can play with friends and which looks hilarious) and of course Pokemon Black and White when it comes out.  Both are things I can share with others, both are phenomena, both have launch events.  Once I realized my social urges were driving me on it became clear.

But I am tempted to MMOs, and that's for another time . . .

(And yes, I'm in Silicon Valley where parents play Pokemon with their kids.  And loose.)

Steven Savage