How do multiplayer games emulate social interaction?

With the recent developments that led to a state of global quarantine, I found some time to start playing MMO games again. A friend and I were wondering which game we could play together and whether we could get others to join us. We noticed that not everyone liked the same kind of game as us. I started thinking about how we tend to allocate time and energy to friends based on those shared interests. While we may interact with many people on a daily basis, only a handful of them make the transition into our personal lives. What would it mean to have relationships transition from virtual to real life? On that note, I looked at my past experiences in playing multiplayer games. I sorted them into 3 broad categories: Couch/LAN multiplayer, Online multiplayer and Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games.

Couch/Local multiplayer

The players are all in the same physical space and can communicate freely through voice/visual cues. The players are also familiar with each other and have a pre-established relationship outside of the game. These games are usually only possible if there is a strong enough relationship between the players beforehand. Examples : Tekken, Street Fighter, Shank, Niddhogg. The relationship of the players in the game bear similarities to their relationship in real life. Ex: playing physical games/sports.

Online multiplayer

  1. The players need not share the same physical space.
    Communication is usually done only through voice, where players use a microphone and talk freely with the other people on their team.
  2. Players could also be in the same physical space as is the case in LAN parties.
    Communication can just be done by yelling at the other players.

It is interesting to note that most of these games involve some form of teamwork/collaboration. They could still be competitive, but usually tend to be against other teams. In both cases, players tend to have pre-existing relationships in real life that bring them into the game’s space. However, it is also possible in case 1, to be matched with people from across the world and be put on the same team. Aside from LAN parties, the relationship between players mimics their interactions in real life. They tend to be a bit more careful, but do willingly engage with the other players.

Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) Games

Usually, players connect to servers that have hundreds to thousands of people playing in the same virtual space. Each with varying levels of expertise and characters in the game. The players usually don’t know each other outside of the game. They communicate with each other mostly through text and sometimes through voice. Some games even have predefined chat options that can be accessed with 1 or 2 clicks/key presses. The players usually don’t fight each other; they fight monsters together. However, some games do allow PvP battles.

When playing an MMO game, the players are immersed into a world that is substantially large and complex. There exist thousands of rules that the players have to discover by reading through hundreds of wiki pages by themselves. There is also another option: they could just ask another person. And usually, people are more than willing to help others with their problems if they’re not currently on a quest themselves. This kind of interaction comes so close to reality.

Imagine the following scenario. You are in a new country and your phone doesn’t have internet connectivity. You’re supposed to go to your hotel in a particular location. You know the destination, but have no idea how you should get there. What is the first thing you do? That’s right, go to the information desk at the airport. The person gives you some basic directions and maybe even offers to make arrangements for you. Alternatively, you could just ask the person standing next you. Players are more cautious about who they interact with, just as they would in real life. Sometimes, players who meet in game end up forming relationships in real life.

I arrived at the conclusion that social interactions are vital to any multiplayer game. The interactions emulate those we have in real life and this is why it is easier for people to get lost in the worlds of the games that they play. It offers a vibrant array of actions for the player to perform without having to expend a lot of effort into using body language. The exceptions to these are couch/local multiplayer games. However, I am not focusing on those as they are much closer to reality due to the players sharing the same physical space. These observations warrant a much more detailed analysis, which I intend to do after playing some more multiplayer games.

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