Social Gaming for Introverts

by Gabby Sullivan

Despite the stereotypical images of disheveled men and socially awkward teens gaming from their moms’ basements, video games have always had a social element to them, from old school LAN parties to extensive MMO guilds to “social network games” like Farmville. While the inherent social nature of video games may have gone unacknowledged in the past, that perception is likely changing. 

Perhaps the most blatant example of this is the success of Fortnite, a free-to-play battle royale game that boasts tens of millions of active players. In February 2019, more than 10 million people logged on for a live virtual concert, and more than 7 million watched the game’s “Black Hole” event across Twitch, Twitter, and YouTube. Streamers like Dr. Disrespect and Ninja have garnered a significant social following on Twitch and Mixer, not to mention some serious paychecks. On a smaller scale, Fortnite and other online multiplayer games like Call of Duty and League of Legends provide players with a platform to hang out and stay connected with friends, similar to “traditional” social networking sites like Facebook and Snapchat. Whether you’re in a party with people you know or paired up with strangers, these types of “designed for social” games are becoming a norm. 

But what about for those of us who want a different experience? As a gamer myself, I’m excited by these developments in social gaming. However, as both a professional communicator and an introvert, I often dread the idea of coming home after a long day and attempting to coordinate a raid with five other people or subjecting myself to verbal harassment over game chat (a topic for a whole other blog post). When I think of my uses and gratifications for video games, social interaction isn’t necessarily one of them. So, I started playing Planet Zoo. 

Planet Zoo is a single-player simulation game developed by Frontier that allows players to build and (micro)manage a zoo. I was an avid Zoo Tycoon fan growing up, and even use the game to teach life science to students, so I have been anticipating a game like this for a long time. I have been enjoying Planet Zoo immensely since its release, but what I want to highlight about this gaming experience isn’t the game itself; rather, it’s the unexpected social elements I’ve discovered along the way that have made me reassess my uses and gratifications.

Originally, I expected this game to be my own little solitary refuge and, in a way, it still is. However, a Youtube search for a solution to my transportation problem sparked my connection to other Planet Zoo players and led me to PaulsLey’s Youtube channel, which has been featuring Planet Zoo tutorials and build videos. 

In addition to Youtube videos, there are online forums for the game, community challenges and design contests hosted by Frontier. There are even thousands of habitats, buildings, and other blueprints that players have uploaded to the Steam workshop. Over the past few weeks, I have been looking at these various social channels not only for tutorials and how-to’s, but also for enjoyment and inspiration for my own zoo. Although my engagement so far has been passive, I could see myself participating in forums and contests, or at least the comment section of Youtube. 

When I think about what’s next for gaming, social media, and our world in general, it’s hard to imagine any digital experience that’s truly isolated. For now though, there are still ways for introverts to balance the benefits of a social experience and the gratification of having a gaming haven. 

This Article Has 6 Comments
  1. Hayley S. says:

    I am glad you brought this up. Do you think the same could be said about virtual reality (VR)? Ever since taking the VR class last winter, I have become fascinated with VR and augmented reality, and the class made me reflect on the implications of my own online social interactions. It has been interesting to watch the evolution of social gaming from where it was just 10 years ago. We have created a new level of intimacy, connection and interaction for gamers to fulfill their uses and gratifications. Ultimately these social elements drive high video usage, engagement and big business within industry. Virtual reality is similar – you can create an avatar in Second Life, and maintain anonymity if you really wanted to, whiling enjoying some of the same social benefits, like connection or refuge.

  2. Thank you for sharing, Gabby! Like you, I find it hard to imagine coming home everyday and then interacting with people over a game that you want to be your oasis. I had an ex-boyfriend who was famous on Twitch for a game he was incredible at, and I didn’t understand the fanfare nor how he got to that level at all (red flag!). But anyway, I think the hardest part I had understanding about people logging in to watch other people play or those incredibly social games, is that like you, I would want gaming to be a way to unplug from people and relax. However, like your experience with Planet Zoo, I feel like there will always be a social component in any form of technology because we live in such an inter-connected world. As Hayley mentioned, it’s fascinating to see where the world of social gaming has come to today. But the incredible thing about that progression is you can pick and choose how you use those platforms to best fit your life. I’m curious to see if social networking sites will ever gamify their platforms because it does seem like that’s where we’re headed with Instagram focusing on stories (shout out to Anna’s post!).

  3. Alisha S says:

    Thanks, Gabby! I’ve never identified as a gamer, but I did enjoy SimCity and my Nintendo 64 back in the day (yay Mario Kart 64!) so it was very fascinating to learn about Planet Zoo and the Fortnite virtual concert. Like Hayley, I’ve thought a lot about virtual relationships since taking Donna’s Immersive Storytelling course last year. Her class was incredibly eye-opening and helped me to understand the benefits of virtual social engagement. As you reference, many have a preconceived and narrow idea about what gamers look like. In Immersive Storytelling, we met a woman with severe disabilities that left her immobilized. In her virtual world, she could walk, run, and even fly. We heard stories about folks with agoraphobia who were finally able to “get out of the house” and experience the joy of social engagement by attending concerts and functions in VR.

    Gaming and other forms of virtual engagement offer benefits to many, often in ways we don’t initially realize. And I love that it can serve as your own solitary refuge, too. 🙂

  4. Symone Sparrow says:

    Thank, Gabby for sharing this connection between video games and digital social worlds! Video games is an area I often shy away from, I am just night very good at them. 😩 But as the age of the digital native gets younger and younger, I can imagine that we will start to see more social communities come out of games new and old.

    Ditto on what Alisha and Hayley, since taking Dr. Davis’s Immersive Storytelling class and experiencing the interactions that can happen over digital worlds, I am blown away on the audiences that we as communicators are missing out on by excluding these communities from general communication strategies.

    You bring up another good point, about the amount of time it takes to have fame within these gaming communities. How on earth some of these users have the mental capacity to enter their gaming community after a full day of other activities is beyond me! At what point does interacting with these gaming communities become less of a hobby and more of a full time gig?

    Similar to virtual reality, I am interested on how certain games that require heavy duty software and devices will be able to allow for connection to take place across devices. While I don’t think this will be a concern for introverts, I am curious how others will be able to adapt to a access these communities. Or maybe that is the goal, to keep others from exploiting the communities??? All things I am sure have been analyzed, thought about, and considered by experts on gaming communities.

    Great post again Gabby!

  5. Kristin Schlotterbeck says:

    This is a really interesting concern you bring up Gabby, and it reflects some concerns I definitely here from some of the teens I work with, particularly girls. We hear a lot from young girls who are beginning to get into games like Fortnight or others at higher rates, but also experiencing higher rates of harassment, and other threats in those online spaces. The girls I talk with are almost always upset that they have to constantly navigate that type of thing just to enjoy the game, while others don’t have to, or at least don’t have to in the same way. We share with them some info from the Pew Research Center about harassment rates (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/07/14/men-women-experience-and-view-online-harassment-differently/). A lot of times, what we hear from boys in our classes is that everyone in online spaces gets harassed and people just need to get thicker skins…

    I’m glad that there are a number of organizations that are beginning to do work in this area, but I would really like to see gaming companies, especially for games with a social component, begin to implement more reporting and ‘leave the game’ policies. We wouldn’t allow that kind of commentary in any other space, or competition. It shouldn’t be allowable in gaming spaces either.

  6. Evan Spisla says:

    This is super dope. Because of the nature of “always-online” gaming, I think it’s impossible to have a videogame experience in 2020 that isn’t at least somewhat social. It’s interesting watching games like Borderlands 3 which would have been released as a single-player story 15 years ago, now being marketed as an online experience with such a greater emphasis on matchmade co-op. I too am frustrated trying to coordinate group play, so I truly hope we get an evolved social platform that will connect us greater than Steam or Xbox Live could ever do.

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