I remember when video gaming on consoles was all about me and present company.
It started with me and my friends passing a single controller back and forth turn-based style a la Duck Hunt (Yes, I joined the world post-Atari and I know you’re secretly holding this against me right now). At best, two of us could play certain games simultaneously – like Contra (Alright, seriously: Let the haughty disdain of my youth go, Pong players). Additional numbers of controller ports aside, console games remained this way until my teenage years.
While attempts were made to allow for online console gaming prior to Microsoft’s Xbox Live, it inarguably was the first to meet with great success. At first, it was still me and present company…but now we could shoot strangers! And of course the best part of this set up was the fact that we could trash talk to our heart’s content without fear of being punched in the arm by our neighbor.
When the Xbox 360 dropped, the vast majority of titles released – if not all of them – had some level of Live compatibility. They also had achievements. And I must confess: I was an achievement hound right out of the gate. Gaming became almost entirely about me once again. I had to let the world know how awesome at video games I was…and quite possibly how pathetic and lonely my life was, but that was a side effect, not my intention.
My roommates would game together on my console, but when they were away I mined for gamerscore with the best of them. As of June 19, 2013 (the latest statistics I could find which dubiously match exactly those listed in 2011), the average gamerscore was 11,286 points. Mine is currently 43,260 points which brings me an oxymoronic cocktail of pride and shame.
Then life happened…
A friend of mine moved to another state, many of my roommates got married, and I graduated college and moved away from those I gamed with most.
Xbox Live suddenly became a lifeline.
I’m not exaggerating one bit when I say that Xbox Live became the primary mode of communication and connection amongst myself and these friends of mine. We’re not much for endless streams of texts. We’re not big on “So-what-are-you-doing” phone calls. But we did oh-so-enjoy joining forces from our respective corners of the country to amass points for slaughtering preteen boys in games like the Halo series, the Modern Warfare series, the Gears of War series, and most recently, Titanfall.
We keep one finger on the pulse of each other’s lives and the others on A, X, B, Y, and RT. The lobby is taking forever to populate? No problem. We’re catching one another up on things like the state of our families and workplace drama. One of us has a particularly bad day? We don’t sit it out, we suit up and take it out on the innocent and unsuspecting masses. I’ve come to know some by their gamertag and avatar long before ever meeting them face to face. Many of us are admittedly poor at long distance relationships unless controllers and headsets are involved.
But our online sessions are more than entertainment or distraction. They’re valued beyond K/D spreads and win/loss records (good thing, too, for we are in trouble otherwise).
They’re relational. They’re communal.
Xbox Live Friendships
My mom used to give me hell for playing video games, crying that they were antisocial. That’s simply not the case for the majority of games nowadays. Xbox’s newest smash hit, Titanfall, doesn’t even allow for solo play. How’s that for a change?
Now some may read this and tsk tsk thinking, “Mike, those aren’t real relationships you’re talking about.” Au contraire. I’d be willing to bet good money that most gamers could tell you more about the members of their clan, guild, or gaming friends than most anyone could share about the overwhelming majority of their Facebook friends.
What constitutes “real” community evolves with the times, and thankfully proximity is no longer the factor it used to be. The truth is that I’m a grown man and I still have play dates. And I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon.