On line and real world interactive games are vastly popular because they allow a person to compete on many levels from the comfort of their own home. From the limited interaction that comes from seeing how a score matches up with the scores of unseen and unknown others, to the intense interaction with others in a role playing extravaganza that goes on forever, interactive games provide a social framework and a connection to others while engaging in the same addictive and enjoyable processes that family and group board, card, and other games used to provide.
Beginning with the games that actually involve real world social interaction, the new Wii systems allow for competitive sports that are played by real people making real movements that are then represented on the large television screen. The difference is in not having to go to another physical location or pay the costs of a bowling lane, golf, tennis or other place. Also, the special shoes, racket, and other burdens are not needed. This allows social interaction at home and in senior club houses, with physical activity and competition when individuals might otherwise isolate or pursue other activities.
With games that are normally played with others, such as Scrabble, on line sites like Yahoo allow a person to find a competitor and to play a game in real time, with accompanying chat and other forms of group and private communication. This way, games that would otherwise sit on the shelf for lack of a partner are available to those who want to play at any time. Over time, mortal enemies and great friendships develop, with a board or other game as the mechanism that brings people with shared interests together. Clubs, forums, tournaments, live chat events, and even real world tournaments and events are developed, creating a specialized on line society.
Moving up to the full immersion, character and artificial world based games, a whole spectrum of social interactions as another identity becomes the focus. Games may be endless, with only death, incarceration, or banishment of the character as a process that cuts off or ends play.
These games require acquisition of both complex skills, good hardware and software, and an understanding of the ways in which the artificial word works. In some cases, the focus is on battle between enemies. In other cases, the social structures are very rich and complex, with a wide variety of active, intellectual, political, and other social roles available to participants. In most cases, there are values, norms, rules of computer and play etiquette, personalities and opinions that are expressed through the role play. Criminal, social and other rewards and sanctions can be real world in effect. Being banned from the game is an example of real world sanction for violating the terms of agreement for access to the game. Being arrested, captured, jailed or executed are examples of internal sanctions for violating some rule or law that exists within the game environment.
The most profound aspect of social interaction through gaming is the fact that all human behavior and contact is represented symbolically, through avatars, through algorithms that translate decision making or cursor movement into special effects that represent starting fires, throwing an axe, or making martial arts movements. Or, human action goes through logical systems that translate electronic impulses that represent a physical movement into visual representations of the movements that a real bowling ball or golf ball would make when hit or thrown. Even at the most basic of human movements, the movement and clicking of a scrabble tile into place is symbolically represented.
Over time, if an individual almost exclusively plays common interactive games on line or on the computer, actually playing golf or scrabble can become a comparatively sensual and overwhelming experience. Having real people behaving in real and unpredictable ways, having scrabble tiles fly off the table and into the potted plant, and being able to have physical touch, hearing, smell, body language and constant conversation that can go anywhere, is evidence that the real world presents far more interaction that is a challenge to the senses and distraction to the mind.