Then another revolution occurred. While PC gamers were able to play online against one another for a while before console gamers caught up, console gamers did find their way into the online arena, and with a vengeance. Early efforts with the Dreamcast helped gamers get their feet wet, and PlayStation 2 games like SOCOM and Final Fantasy XI pushed gamers into the water a little deeper, but Microsoft began throwing people from the diving board with the invention of Xbox Live, which standardized console gamers' approach to online gaming. Their formula grew and solidified with the release of the Xbox 360, evolving into the much celebrated Xbox Live that we appreciate today.
The current state of social gaming is in a state of flux. The arcade is all but dead. Most games nowadays come standard with some sort of multiplayer feature, allowing us to challenge friends or unknown allies/enemies to a match without ever having to see their face. While this can be considered a form of socializing, some people do consider this faceless interaction to have a separating effect on gamers, who equate friendship to names on their friend's list and not people whom they've actually met or interacted with. However, the movement towards online gaming has begun in earnest, with gamers disappointed if their game doesn't come with an online component. Some recent games have even completely eschewed single player modes for a completely online experience, such as the PS3 version of Warhawk and the recently released Shadowrun. Some popular franchises, like Knights of the Old Republic and Animal Crossing, are rumored to be going online only, so that fans of the series will be forced to interact with other fans if they want to continue their appreciation of the franchise.
On the other hand, Nintendo's uber-popular Wii has brought about a surge in the numbers of casual gamers. They also have a reputation for putting out party games, like WarioWare: Smooth Moves and EA Playground, both of which encourage a casual, social gaming atmosphere that can be enjoyed by a wide demographic. They have been so successful with their pursuit of casual gamers that both Microsoft and Sony have taken notice, marketing some of their downloadable titles towards the casual gamer. The Xbox Live Marketplace and the PlayStation Network host a number of games for the casual gamer, including titles like Solitaire, Uno, and Sudoku. Even many of the upcoming retail titles have a casual market in mind, with titles such as Scene It making appearances on the more hardcore consoles. Now gamers find themselves organizing Saturday evenings to play games like Wii Sports, PGR4, and even Viva Piñata with family members that wouldn't have a clue on how to play Bioshock, but can consistently outscore them in any Guitar Hero game!
So just how social is gaming? It depends on your definition of socializing. While arcades are nearly a thing of the past, gamers can still reach out to their friends and play them across the divide of distance by connecting to Xbox Live, the PlayStation Network, or getting their buddies' Wii Friend Code. Some people may not consider this faceless competition as truly socializing, but it is impossible to stop its advent at this point, with thousands of people online daily to get their dose of Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4.
Is online gaming making us isolationists? Does spending our time in Second Life waste our first one? Is it preferable to game together on the couch or from the comfort of one another's home? Social gaming is caught between the push for casual party games and hardcore online games. The convenience of online play is compromised by the jerks that abuse their anonymity, while "in-person play" requires coordinated time and proximity to your buddies. It will be interesting to see how gaming evolves in the future and whether or not the push towards casual gaming be enough to dethrone the online gaming juggernaut, or if the two can peacefully coexist. Until then, most gamers are content to snipe one another in Halo 3 or outdance one another in Boogie.
CCC Lead Contributor / News Director