The 21st century has seen what can only be called an explosion in the usage of social media. Up to 4 and a half billion, people have joined the World Wide Web, and the time they spend on social media is increasing every year. It is easy to understand why it ended up this way, as social media provides countless opportunities for people to talk, meet, and be engaged with each other without restraining the real world. However, there is a sub-genre of online entertainment that takes all the benefits of social media and dials them up, that being online gaming.
Why is social media and online talking grown in popularity in the first place? First of all, it’s very easy to get access to a broad range of people to get to know; it is much easier to find a company that will correspond to one’s interests, passions, or beliefs. It allows people to talk through chat without having to worry about someone hearing their tone, watch their expression, and in general, allows more time for one to think what it is they are going to say, allowing for a freer space where people would grow more confident than how they usually are in real life. Another way to ease sociability is to allow people to create their own avatars. Most social media platforms, especially the likes of Discord or Twitter, allow you to post anything you want as an avatar, be it one photo of you in your best shape or something unrelated entirely. This also allows people to cover themselves with “masks,” which might be helpful for those who lack self-confidence when it comes to online talking, especially online dating.
Online gaming is designed to be a place of social interaction, be it team games like DOTA 2 or Overwatch or multiplayer modes in otherwise single-player games. However, one genre that stands out in this area is that of MMO RPG, as it can act as a substitute and extension of social media for gamers. MMO RPG stands for “Massively multiplayer online role-playing game” and is built upon the precipice of being able to create one’s own avatar, open yourself up to talking to a multitude of people and allow you to share activities with them. Andrew Ross explores this aspect of the MMO genre in his article on the matter. He quotes Raph Koster, who claimed that “Games are fundamentally social media and always have been.” It is not hard to see why he would think this way with how the MMO genre evolved over the years.
It is obvious why online games would be alluring when it comes to creating an avatar for the player. MMOs are often set in the settings and genres of fantasy or science fiction, therefore allowing players to choose a variety of different races which they want to present. They can be slim, noble elves, which can maintain an appearance even after hundreds of years of life, or conversely, mighty orc whose wild spirit is unparalleled. World of Warcraft serves as a game that allows much variety when it comes to races, and there are other MMOs walking in its footsteps, such as Guild Wars 2 or Final Fantasy 14. This also extends beyond races, as one can pick a class, a discipline they can excel in, be it warrior, archer, mage, or any other of countless options. They can also play a character of the opposite gender if desired. All of this allows people to create perfect interactive avatars, and it’s not uncommon for players to create idealized versions of themselves.
In another show of similarity to social media, current online games also create grounds for advertisement, though how subtle they are may depend on the game and developers. If a game is free to play, that would often mean ads in the login screen or having to sometimes watch them during the gameplay and/or when going on the pause screen. If a game is buy-to-play or subscription-based, the ads may be more subtle. For example, if a game takes place on Earth, there might be billboards spread around. It may also be beneficial to the people that run the company and the game themselves; having no advertisement may be a great motivator for one to pay for a full version of the game via subscription or buying. Overall, this creates grounds for advertisement, much like social media, and it is easier to manipulate people’s annoyance with ads to get their money.
Another way in which online games can be useful for forming friendships is, of course, the activities one can do there. It has the benefit of having all people who play the game be interested in it to varying extents, thus allowing for some immediate common ground. However, it doesn’t mean that the games themselves do not provide different ways to entertain oneself. Going with friends into dungeons and raids can be a fun and sometimes challenging experience. It often brings people closer, much like shared challenges in real life do. It also encourages team effort between the people that play together and a lot of focus from all sides. The same goes for “Player Vs Player” content that encourages people’s competitive side. Most MMOs also have implemented guild systems that allow people to form their own groups and expand by inviting new members over time.
And the results of this are more than evident, as there are many stories of people finding friendship and companionship in online games. One has to look no further than raiding statics or guilds where one can freely discuss the game, its gameplay, and the lore of its universe. And MMO players are no strangers to romance, either. Some MMOs, like “Final Fantasy XIV” allow for in-game marriages. Eliza Thompson explores the stories of couples that met through World of Warcraft in her article, and it shows that online games can function just as well as any dating app, especially when they have the privilege of already having at least one shared interest between people who play them.
Overall, there are countless ways in which online games can not only serve as a branch but as an outright extension of social media’s capabilities. While not everyone is into gaming, the same principles are now being used when it comes to projects such as Metaverse, with far more advanced technology, expanding upon the principles that can be found in MMO gaming. This is a clear demonstration of the evolution of social media and the way it gathers more resemblance to real life. This allows one to ponder on some of its more worrying prospects, such as people finding more immediate fulfillment in it than the prospect of real life. However, as it stands, online gaming and social media remain an opportunity for people to connect and forge strong bonds with each other.
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