Xbox Live is all fine and good, but there is no substitute for a couple of friends sacked out on the couch together, playing a video game together in person. The industry shift towards social gaming isn't something new - it's the return of something old - that feeling that older gamers like me used to get when standing around an arcade machine back in the day. Wired's Clive Thompson explores the trend in his latest column, which looks at how much a guy sitting next to you can change the gaming experience, using Army of Two as his example.
I hang out with other gamers all the time, but it's mostly in multiplayer online play, using headsets. It's social, sure. But as any psychologist will tell you, hanging out in real life allows for even richer styles of communication to emerge. In face-to-face mode, we're better at picking up the little nuances — frustration, glee, sarcasm, subvocalised ranting, body language — that build team cohesion, and allow us to game with a positively Vulcan level of mind meld.
All completely true. The most fun I've had gaming over the past few years have been on those rare occasions that I have someone else playing with or against me at my side. Hearing a voice on the headset is one thing. Being able to turn to your side and punch someone in the arm when they screw up is another thing entirely.
Gaming with your friends is something that should be encouraged more. Oddly enough, this is one area where the PC gamers - connected to the internet years before consoles - excel. Look at LAN parties. Everyone lugs a computer out to a centralized location, complete with monitors, mice, keyboards, power supplies, etc., just for a chance to see the look on their opponent's face when they shoot it off. We need console game gettogethers, where a few folks bring their televisions, consoles, and controllers and people just chill and play together.
Mind you, if I ever seriously refer to such get togethers as play dates you have my full permission to punch me in the neck.