Friday, November 18, 2016

Gaming innovation Is all about social interaction

11/18/2016

We tend to look at changes in the gaming industry as individual events. We like to judge the latest consoles, the latest games, and even the latest competitions as standalone happenings in an industry that's always moving forward in surprising new ways. But if you look at some of the recent developments we've seen in various areas of gaming, there's one central theme that's pretty easy to spot: video games are now all about social interaction.

Let's start with the Nintendo Switch. It's not out yet, but we've seen it in action in a pretty tantalizing reveal trailer, and sure enough, Nintendo did its own weird thing once again. As one write-up mentions, one of the most noteworthy things about the console is that it's embracing local multiplayer, while its competitors "live online" where multiplayer is concerned.

Not only is the Switch encouraging console multiplayer activities the way we used to do it (in a living room, with friends), but even the on-the-go version of the console facilitates this style of gameplay. The mobile aspect of the Switch, somewhere between the size of a smartphone and tablet, features detachable controllers that allow two players to face off against each other. It's a fascinating move that boldly places social interaction ahead of gaming sophistication on Nintendo's list of priorities.

However, the aforementioned write-up wasn't wrong in pointing out that most of Nintendo's competitors are pursuing multiplayer online. But that's not always what it sounds like either. In particular the online casino business has taken some interesting turns toward making competitive online gaming even more interactive. This site features a lot of information on what drives popular platforms these days, and specifically discusses the idea of "live dealer" games in which the dealers are brought to players by video feeds rather than simulated digitally. It's not quite a full-fledged video chat but it's close and players can now watch real people running games even as the players themselves chat and compete with others who are seeing the same thing. It feels a step further than traditional online multiplayer in facilitating a social connection.

And then of course there's actual competitive gaming to consider—not just multiplayer, but multiplayer with stakes and an audience. We're talking here about eSports, a phenomenon that has grown far larger than many critics ever thought it could.

Just recently a former professional athlete was quoted in an interview as saying that eSports might be bigger than the NHL in two years' time. Whether or not you agree with that assertion, the fact that it can be made without ridicule is alarming. And this isn't just happening because the games are so great. Rather, it's because the very idea of eSports brought about a way for gaming enthusiasts to come together, even if it's just to watch other people play for prizes. The idea of eSports survives because gamers like to interact and build a sense of community around the activities they enjoy.

And on top of all this, we have the virtual reality revolution on the way. VR is a largely individual activity right now. But that's not to say there aren't multiplayer experiences already, and it stands to reason that as more games are released we'll be seeing exciting new ways for gamers to compete and collaborate with each other in an environment that feels like real life. VR holds staggering potential for furthering the potential of interactive gaming.

Considering all of these things, as well as the fact that mobile and console games are increasingly angled toward online competition, it all becomes clear. Though we like to pick apart changes in gaming as individual developments, the gaming industry is ultimately moving in a uniform direction toward an environment that is more social than ever before.

-- Travis Kaplan is a freelance writer and web designer. He contributes to numerous blogs on topics in technology, gaming, and entertainment. 


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Follow me on Twitter @ricmanning and read my technology columns at My Well Being.

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