Gaming wouldn’t exist today without the internet. It has changed the way we share information, the way we communicate, and the way we live our lives, totally and completely. Gaming in particular is affected thanks to ability to play online, and to share information about games in such diverse mediums as IRC channels or blogs. Working at an ISP, I see first hand the impact of “the tubes”, and know that it would be a much, much different world if none of this existed.
The internet still continues to grow and change however, and affect our lives in more diverse and interesting ways. Social networking is an excellent example. I’ve connected with friends I haven’t seen in years thanks to Facebook, and have made deep and meaningful contacts with people over e-mail and forums. Yet at the places where social networking sites and channels come into contact with gaming, I don’t see much of a change in the way that it affects gamers’ social behaviors, particularly those they have in the real world. By that I mean that gamers are usually socially awkward, not really brave enough to talk to or meet new people, for fear that their interests that they so love will be rejected. I do not think social networking changes this basic IRL social behavior, even given that social networking is specifically adapted to let like minded people group together.
Twitter hasn’t been around long enough to have a real component or factor in gaming, or on gamers, I think. I’ll choose to ignore it for now, unless someone can point me in a different direction. The most interaction I get out of Twitter when it comes to gaming is following funny things that @cwgabriel and @wilw say. Twitter to me feels like it’s still figuring out what it’s trying to do, and I don’t think social interaction is something it’s actually good at. Two people have to be interacting to be having an interaction. Then again, there are some excellent examples to prove me wrong.
Facebook might be one of the newest form social networking takes, and it relates to gamers in interesting ways. Besides becoming fans of games such as WoW, D&D, and Modern Warfare 2, popular games have actually spawned on Facebook. Foremost among them is the omnipresent Farmville, and its spin-off/rival Island Paradise. Mafia Wars is another excellent example of a game that spawned entirely in Facebook.
Yet for all Facebooks’ ability to make people interact, I don’t think of these games as multiplayer, or indeed, particularly interactive. Maybe it’s because I haven’t played them (and likely won’t) but all that I see are applications on Facebook that try to be RPGs, rather than actual games. Really, for these applications it breaks down to “do this task over and over again”. Examples of actual games that run this scheme better? I can think of a few.
But really, social networking is more than just Facebook and Twitter, and has been deeply involved in the gaming community for a long time. Blogs, IRC channels, Forums, and E-mail lists have been influential in steering modern gaming culture, and none of these relate to real world interactions much, with the possible exception of E-mail. If you’re not familiar with it, John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Dickwad Theory(vaguely NSFW) is an excellent example of why interactions over the net break down, and why the basic social behavior of gamers isn’t significantly changed online. People who hide behind façades of internet identities have nothing to lose by being rude and abrasive, arguing about nerfs to their favorite class abilities and insulting each other endlessly. Arguments over the internet can’t be won, and indeed, are often lost by even claiming to win (see Danth’s Law). When we feel empathy for people, we tend to behave better towards them, and that empathy is lost when connections are channeled through the lens of a computer screen. Gamers are too shy to get to know people in real life, and too proud to accept people in cyberspace.
Overall, social networking hasn’t done a great favor for gamers. It hasn’t really hurt them per se, but it’s not like friending someone on Facebook or following them on Twitter is actually going to give you a social connection with them. It may give them a starting point, and connections have to start somewhere of course, but these communication methods only facilitate interactions; they don’t make them any easier or any harder, and they’re certainly not going to teach gamers Wheaton’s Law.