(In our world, most adults view videogames as serving one purpose, a nerd's substitute for a real life. The 40 year old virgin's center piece in his home. The hobby of repressed psychopaths like the Columbine Killers. But if this were true, why would the gaming industry be the largest growing entertainment movement today? That's right kids, video games aren't just for nerds and psychos. They are many things to many people. This series of essays will explore just exactly what that statement means.)
So, I started out this series think I may have a chance at winning the Destructoid contest to be a guest reporter for the PAX weekend. Inside sources have since reported to me that BuckF1tches has in fact already won the contest.
Yet, I struggle on!
But with a little less enthusiasm.
Anyway, on to the topic.
In my experience with life thus far, video games are one of the most universally effective social lubricant I'v found, right behind Alchohol and just in front of live sporting events.
The psychology of social lubrication work from two seperate but equally important directions. The first is the deactivation of any self consiousness, or as they call it in "Psychology Today", the Observing Ego. It's a higher psycho-dynamic function of the brain's frontal lobe that gives the human being the ability to notice it's own behaviors. If you are brain damaged, demented, schizophrenic, manic, or drunk, your brain loses the ability to utilize it's Observing Ego. This is bad if you are trying to function at school or at work, but it's suprisingly great at parties.
But unlike booze or brain damage, Video Games don't paralyze the Observing Ego through direct alteration in brain funtion (or kill you). They actually do one better. If properly engaged in a game requiring constant awareness of the events on screen, the Observing Ego will be too overwhelmed with tracking the game character's actions to keep track of the actual human being's actions (and words). In short, when playing a good video game the game player's brain cares more about not screwing up the game than saying something stupid or embarrassing in real life. The resulting drop in inhabitions is astounding.
I've once got a friend to admit that he was gay by challanging him to Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo. I waited until the last, pressure filled moment to ask him why they had such Timberlake-esque dance moves yet never a girlfriend. He casually said "Well, I'm sort of gay" and then dropped the joystick. I told him that I didn't care, and then beat him in the game before he could pick the joystick back up. It was a defining moment in out friendship and one that couldn't have happend with out SPF2T.
On a less honorable note, I've gotten stand off-ish, shy but hot girls to drop their guards and admit that they would make out with me, but only after getting them thoroughly intrenched in the wonderful world of Animal Crossing. I later got one of those same girls to admit that she cheated on me but wasn't planning on telling me. Again, this admission of was in no small part thanks to the fact that I had her playing Animal Crossing before I asked her. Come to think of it, I got my best friend to admit that he was trying to steal that same girl away from me via getting him addicted to Resident Evil 4: Mercenaries mode.
So if I come to your house with my Gamecube, you can guess I'm either trying to get you to admit that you're gay, that you want to make out with me, or that you're trying to steal my girlfriend.
Psycho-Analysts/Therapists (or as Tobias Funke calls them, Anal-Rapists)have used a shabby variation of this techique since the days of Freud. Want a client to be honest with you? Face them away from you lying on a couch and give them a toy to play with. The client's Observing Ego's attention will then wander from themselves to the toy. Well, we all know that video games are just super kick ass toys, so it's not suprising that video games do toys one better in this arena as well.
Had to throw at least on pic in this monsterously huge post
The next aspect of social lubrication is the "group think". This is when people who have absoluetly nothing in common share an experience, geographical grouping, or other "social marking"(race, religion, gender, etc) and as a result feel more comfortable around each other than they should. This "the one becomes the whole" experience is what keeps bars and sporting events in buisness, as they offer very little else of worth to the consumer. Video Games also offer this experience, and in my opinion, do so with more content and character than bars and sporting events. In fact, there was a time when the arcade was starting to dwarf even the bar and the sports arena in dominance as social gathering palce.
The death of the arcades has greatly diminished gamers prenence as social beings. In the 80's and 90's, I made "arcade friends" with tons of different kinds of people. Everyone from kids that didn't speak English, rich kids who wouldn't talk to me otherwise, cute girls obseased with dating video game characters, weird old guys that turned out not to be child molesters, and even some regular kids. All thanks to Bubble Bobble, Double Dragon, TMNT:the Arcade Game and Street Fighter 2. The people I met through these games would never talk to me in real life, and vice versa. What would we talk about? We had no common reference point to even start conversation. But to play against them, play with them, or watch them play a video game, and you are immeditely on common ground, with no barriers between.
None of my arcade friendships have survived today, but I think they may have if the arcade scene hadn't died out.
I know there are a lot of hard core Street Fighter players over at www.shoryuken.com that would die for their shoryuken "brothers". And a lot of kids get together in packs to battle Pokemon with their DS's. In fact, I participated in one of those Pokemon tournaments at Gamestop this past weekend. The kids I played against were all at least 10 years younger than me, and if my fiance' weren't their with me, I'm sure they all would have assumed that I was a pervert or a complete loser. And yet, after the tournament was over, they all wanted to talk and swap email addresses and what not.
These days, the video game is too often thought of as a solitary activity. This is all due to the advent of the +50 hour single player experience that bagan to dominate gaming with the advent of the CD ROM based console. But it doesn't have to be this way, as many accounts of Wiiparties (and their accessories) popping up around the country prove.
The video game has what it takes to over take alchohol as the #1 social lubricant. What it needs is to lose it's stigma as being for nerds only. We need to see games other than Golden Tee in bars and resturants, or maybe even see online connected 360's or PS3's taking their place. Some lucky bastard needs to re-start arcades, but arm them with 10-20 Wii's all set up "PlayChoice 10" style with all the mini games you can get for the console (which is a lot). Games need to be normalised, to be seen as something accessable and allowable for anyone.
The fact that bars and sporting evenrs are so popular is a sign that people today are deperate to find away to stop feeling so damn uncomfortable around each other. The day they can wake up and realise that playing video games can be a non-nerdy, even totally awesome way to achieve this will be a day that I celebrate.