Social interaction is important in our lives. In a 2017 Ted Talk, psychiatrist Robert Waldinger spoke about how healthy, genuine relationships contribute to happiness. His theory was based on an extensive study by Harvard University on adult development. This has sparked debate about how, through increasingly technology-driven social interaction, our lives are being affected.
How social are modern-day social activities?
Criticism has been leveled at social media, for example. Christine Aylett, a data scientist, says the likes of Facebook and Twitter are making interactions more “superficial, isolating and less genuine than face-to-face”. But this argument tends to disregard the liberating opportunities of social media in the internet age.
Video games, though, have historically possessed many positive attributes. According to Jennifer deWinter, director of WPI’s Interactive Media & Game Development programme, research has shown how gaming can promote social interaction and even help break down cultural barriers. She examples World of Warcraft, a multiplayer game that promotes international collaboration through the trading of resources, guild building and teamwork to tackle villains.
It is argued that the sociality of such games helps players to better understand their identity in both the real and fictional worlds. And in the game environment, cultural and language barriers are reduced or non-existent.
The collaborative spirit is influencing development in VR…
More affordable technology has put VR into more and more gamers’ homes. This 360-degree immersive environment is not only changing the way we play and interact with video games but is adding a new social element to it. Free social VR app, Rec Room, is an early favourite of virtual reality users. It combines spaces where players can socialize or play a range of mini-games like dodgeball and charades.
Just as popular is Star Trek: Bridge Crew, a four-player cooperative from Ubisoft that’s inspired by the sci-fi TV show. The only way to win the game is by talking to your fellow players, prompting interaction. Other games like SlotsMillion VR allow you to either head for the 3D slot machines or hang out at the bar speaking with fellow players.
… and in other areas, too
While many will still play traditional slot machines like the popular Starburst and Book of Dead, online casinos are also embracing a more interactive, “live” environment. For example, you can now play “live” blackjack, roulette, baccarat, and poker. The interactivity which you can find here – with live dealers and live chat – follows the growth of “social gaming” on social media platforms. For instance, gaming company Zynga has been offering games like Words with Friends and Farmville for some time, popular titles that most people are aware of.
Indeed, social media is playing its part in enhancing the gaming industry’s social potential. Research by Statista said gaming on social media in the United States was worth $2.15 billion in 2017. Furthermore, data has shown that 50% of social media users play games on social media sites, while 15% of a user’s time is devoted to gaming on platforms like Facebook. These games feature interactive chat and competitive engagement between players and their friends.
With VR prompting further sociality, emerging trends such as live casinos and sociable gaming like Rec Room and vTime, and the increasing number of popular, interactive multiplayer games online, the industry has further underlined its potential to enhance social interaction through gaming rather than detract from it.