I wrote a few weeks ago about the endless and often overblown warnings we get that our handheld gadgets and online social networking are killing human interaction as we once knew it.
U.S. President Barack Obama got into the act this week with a convocation address in which he called out a few of the more popular digital toys for their potentially corrosive effect on the citizenry: “With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.”
On Obama’s hit list of four electronic brain rotters, two are dedicated video game platforms, which is no surprise. Video games and their players get little respect, and, in popular mythology, no dates either.
The Boy Scouts of America, in one of its attempts to keep up with the times, has introduced a merit badge for video gaming. In a sop to the stigma attached to the pastime, though, it includes among the requirements that the scout establish a balanced schedule for playing with time for homework and chores.
Imagine getting your woodworking badge in part for finding time to do anything but woodworking.
As always, there’s some truth to the stereotype of the socially withdrawn, perpetually celibate gamer. Video gaming is still a noticeably estrogen-poor environment, and online interactions can, as a result, be a little Lord Of The Flies.
Earlier this year, GameCrush.com offered both a solution for and an exploitation of this gender imbalance, offering male gamers the opportunity to pay to play video games with women, with attendant conversations ranging from “flirty” to “dirty.” If it all seems a little tawdry and desperate, GameCrush’s slogan, “Be a player,” does little to help.
Meanwhile, gaming culture seems on closer examination to be a little more complex than assumed. Researchers last month presented a study in which they interviewed male and female players of the online game World of Warcraft and found that relationships between them develop online much as they do in other contexts, by progressive degrees of intimacy.
People who meet in the game sometimes develop lasting friendships and even romances that endure out here in the sunlight. Marriages are not unknown.
How different, really, are couples who hook up via Call of Duty or Second Life from those who make their connection through eHarmony or Lavalife? Two people who meet while playing a game they both enjoy at least know they’ve got one thing in common.
Steve Collins offers his best guesses on relationships for Metro every two weeks.