Games that Bind: Community Through Games

9 11 2010

We’ve often heard that games give us a reason to socialize, but is there more to it than that?  As society gains more in complexity, are we also dealing with shifts in our cultural dynamics that have us looking for social contact in alternate ways?

Andrew Hiscock from Bitmob wrote an interesting post from a Anthropological, Sociological and Psychological perspective on possible reasons why we game today:

The problem is that…society has a staggering complexity. We have evolutionary defined social circles existing in a society that may not allow for the full expression of cultural needs to be expressed within the “close” group and the “regional” group. There is poor organization, no set hierarchy, and no loosely defined roles. Sure, these are taken care of in society at large, but not in the people we can call part of our sphere. This has set up a sociological conundrum in which modern man find themself.

Comparing the social circles of today and the social circles of early man, we can find a variety of differences:

1. There is a lack of shared group problem solving that leads to solutions to direct and clearly defined problems.

2. There are no clearly defined roles within a set hierarchy.

3. Any member can adopt any role they wish, without clear benefit to the group at large.

4.  Boundaries of intergroup activity are not clearly defined

We can see these points articulated in modern video games: the rise of social (either online or communal) gaming; the development of role-based games (World of Warcraft, Battlefield, and MAG all come to mind); specific scoring systems associated with roles within a video game; and video game fans’ self-identifiers (hardcore vs. casual, Sony vs. Microsoft).

(Source: Why we Game? Bitmob)

In past Agrarian societies, where agriculture and farming were the primary means of support, our strongest social circles had to be family and local communities.  Our roles in these communities were clearly defined.  The roles helped focus our abilities, were guided by necessities for survival, and also set an expectation to a person’s contribution in their community.  However, our modern societies have gifted us with an increased independence, and today’s communication with extended family is often reduced to exchanging Christmas cards or visits at the occasional birthday parties. Without these past requirements for interaction, are we looking for reasons to communicate with our extended social circles and can games fulfill these needs?

Many game-based events have been used in the past as reasons to focus and converge community spirit.  For example, the town of Tarragona , in Spain’s Catalonia region has hosted a traditional game of Human Pyramid building since the 18th century.  Teams comprised of families and friends converge every 2 years to compete in this popular contest called the Concurs de castells, to build the tallest human pyramids.  The games encourage participation from everyone: the more people who take part, the stronger and more complex the pyramids.  It is an interesting event that builds a strong community spirit.  Interdependence is key in the design of the game, as every participant relies on the other to fulfill his/her role, or the pyramid collapses.  Most importantly, what drives people to this event is not just winning the contest, but rather the experience of everyone working together in order to succeed: a common goal.

This short video (approx 4 min) shows the Concurs de castells, interviews players and talks about roles people play in the game:

Another popular game in other social circles is the game of Mahjong.   Rich with memories and family traditions, Mahjong is a 4 player game that originated in China around 1870 consisting of small, marked tiles.  I stumbled upon an interesting video interviewing people and their thoughts about the game.  From social game providing a reasons to gather, to deep meaningful memories of family bonding, Mahjong has been a part of many lives.

This brief video (approx. 3 min) interviews people and their memories of growing up with the game of Mahjong:

Perhaps these social needs are subtle driving factors in the potential application of gamification into so many areas.  I think we will find that tomorrow’s “games that bind” may not be Mahjong, but a game like World of Warcraft or FarmVille.

More on Roles, Multiplayer Relationships, Interdependence, and Synergy in Gamification Design

Video links of other cultural games of interest:

Polynesian Stick Song game:

Olympics

Scotland – the Highland Games:  http://vimeo.com/1258169

Soccer a game bridging cultural divide:  http://www.abc.net.au/news/video/2009/06/22/2604473.htm

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6 responses

10 11 2010
Santi

Been following your blog for a while and jut love to see the so close “Castells” example on it :)

10 11 2010
Strategic Synergy

Hi Santi! Thank you for your comment :) I’ve been fascinated by the Catells for a few years now – I think it’s a wonderful example of creativity in community-oriented games. Must be amazing to watch live!

12 11 2010
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Thinking about Cultural Games that Foster Sense Of Community – From Human Towers to Mahjong. New Post By @StratSynergy…

This article has been featured on APFIND – An account planning news community inspired by Digg™…

12 11 2010
CrazyKinux

Love the examples you’ve shown. I think putting the social in any game brings it to a whole new level. Human beings are social creature and strive in environments where they are given the tools to interact constructively.

12 11 2010
Strategic Synergy

Thanks for your comment CrazyKinux! It’s interesting, whenever I find myself missing an MMO, it’s the people I miss and not just the game. Some of the MMO’s have been very good at helping me creating a gaming social graph, hard to stay away for long!

11 12 2010
Saul Goldman

Great post. I completely agree that games fulfill a fundamental need for community and a sense of purpose.

However, I’d note that our contemporary social games, like World of Warcraft, are ageographical- so the sense of purpose is tied to one’s identity within the game. I’ve always wondered if we could use Social Games to reinforce actual weak bonds within society- to play games with your neighbors and family; that way, you strengthen the bonds of an actual society, so that outside of the game, you have enriched the life of the community and the quality of life for all who participate.

I study game mechanics and social games as a way to solve social problems, so that’s always my lens. I really enjoyed the post though- great job! I subscribed and can’t wait for more!

~Saul

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