Game Development Reference
The answer lies outside the game itself. Think of the classic Leave It
to Beaver moment where Dad takes his son out to toss a baseball back and
forth. These two people are not playing catch because they love tossing
a ball. They're playing catch to create a pretext that allows them to get
together and talk one on one for a long time. They need the game because
long one-on-one talks between a father and young son can be awkward. By
providing a reason to get together and a mindless activity to perform, the
game removes this barrier. The fact that the game of catch is simple and
thoughtless is not a bug; it's a feature. More complexity would just get in
the way of the conversation.
Catch is the most basic form of socially driven game, since it has almost
no emotional content in itself. But most social interaction games use spe-
cific game events to drive social interactions. One player defeats another,
or two players create something together, or learn something together, and
social interactions are generated around these events. Winning a game of
chess against a computer doesn't feel the same as winning a game against
a person, even if the game plays out the same way, because defeating a
person adds another layer of emotionally relevant social meaning.
Consider the experience of showing off. Some people's emotions
reward them for showing off, even if the other people involved are strang-
ers on the Internet. Imagine a game of Counter-Strike in which you are
the last man alive on your team this round. All of your teammates are
observing you, hoping you'll complete the objective and win the round for
them. Any skillful action you take gains another layer of meaning because
it reinforces the trust and reputation you've built among your teammates.
Any mistake you make has the opposite implication. This situation creates
knife-edge tension because your social status hangs in the balance.
Games can support a breathtaking variety of social interactions
beyond showing off. Building trust and breaking it, joking around, defeat-
ing strangers, saving friends, and completing a challenge together are all
common social experiences that have been designed into games. There are
a thousand variations on game mechanics that generate social moments.
In every case, the social interaction works when it shifts some social
human value—stranger to friend, low status to high status, and so on.
StarCraft and Halo: Reach have replay recording systems that allow
players to save, rewatch, and share their greatest victories. Skate has a
system for sharing gameplay videos so that a community of players can
rate them. Social network games like Farmville allow players to send one
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