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Socially Unsocial

The "social" label is completely inaccurate. It has been since it's inception. To me, it's the game industry jumping on a buzzword and, in the process, creating an illusion as to what social gaming really is.

My inspiration for this blog came from playing (and completing) Uncharted 3 this weekend.

Uncharted 3, a "core" game. Or so it has been sold that way to the public. But Uncharted 3 has a distinguishing factor from most "core" games, it had a story worth telling that also happened to be well told and a pacing that's distinctly Hollywood. The result was that my girlfriend and my roommate and I spent much of our weekend in beating the single-player campaign.

My girlfriend isn't a gamer, but she liked the story enough to watch it through it's entirety. We had a good time hanging out in the living room in the process of beating the campaign. I would call what we did "social". I can tell you that there's not one chance I would've beat that campaign on my own had no one else been around.

The point is this: I'm a social gamer. The least social way I've ever gamed is probably via Facebook. There's very limited live interaction with people. iPhone and portables are in the middle of the social ladder. Once you've run out of emails, texts and phone calls to make on your daily commute you start playing games, not talking to the people around you. I may not cover everyone with my point here but the vast majority of people (including myself) fiddle with their phones, that's not really not a social act.

Which brings me to the most social form of gaming I've ever experienced, the home console. Friends gather round, play games together, trash talk and (in my case) fool around with a game and do stuff QA testers probably never dreamed could happen. I enjoy playing games on home console not because I enjoy social isolation. I usually do it for the exact opposite reason, I enjoy being social. I want to hang out and laugh with friends, offline preferably, though online is usually more feasible.

I'm writing this because I believe the term "social" is misguided, even an illusion. Short gameplay cycles aren't what make a game social, nor is the ability to send a message to twenty friends about your gardening success. Those create more addictive and obsessive habbits rather than focus on what makes a social game's campaign good*. A good social game's campaign (like every other medium) needs: a story, a message, a statement or some kind of thread to hold ones interest throughout a campaign. Without that you have what amounts to just a game, a competition or a test of dominance.

Of course there's a place for contrived puzzle games that're satisfying in short bursts. But a social game campaign really hasn't been attempted in a way that blends the pacing and production values of a AAA title. It'd be relatively easy too, most of the work is already done. Set a pre-recorded movement path, simplify the button inputs and let players select it on the difficulty select screen.

I believe the same "core" games we have today with a greatly increased focused on story and input simplicity would be enough to create interest in much of that demographic who we now lump into the "social" genre.





*Look to NFL Pro 2012 for iPhone to see exactly how addictive features can override the need for great gameplay.

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