PS4′s share button has heralded social gaming as the future, but do we really want to team up with strangers?
When I was eight, I decided to exercise my lack of self-preservation by adventuring onto our house’s roof. Since my appalling relationship with gravity made clear I would require the climbing talents of my brother to secure the operation’s success (family holidays to the beach would often see him disappear, only to be found a few hours later suspended off a ledge halfway up a cliff), he was immediately recruited and we ventured forth onto the tiled wilderness.
While Mr. Number 11 mowed his lawn next door, oblivious to the pre-pubescent siblings dangling from his drainpipe on a Sunny-D induced high, a wild thought entered my head: working together me and my brother could become professional rooftop adventurers. As a dynamic duo we could clamber to the highest point of the chimney or uncover untold mysteries beneath the slates. Energized by our ambition, we danced along the guttering, gave each other footholds to get higher and excitedly plotted our next explorative adventure. We were a team. Then my brother (the idiot) went blabbing to our Mum about what we’d been doing. In that instant I learned a valuable life lesson: “always adventure alone.”
So you understand now why social gaming may seriously stress out 21-year-old me. However, a new craze has swept through the videogame industry that invites players to join forces to achieve their goals, to display their adventures online for the viewing benefit of the gaming community. Thanks to the PS4, we now have a ‘share’ button.
But this completely contradicts the image of the gamer. Everybody knows that videogames aren’t meant to be sociable. You can’t maintain the horrific tension of a horror game like Dead Space 3 with your mate sitting beside you desperately mashing ‘x’ as wotsits drool down their chin. You’re meant to play them in a darkened room sat in your underwear whilst picking fluff out your bellybutton and destroying half the virtual population of the planet. It’s a commonly accepted fact that gamers are all nerds with no social skills, so why is there this sudden preoccupation with social gaming?
Well, maybe because it’s not so sudden.
It’s a misconception that gaming is a reclusive form of entertainment. When you watch a film, everyone sits and stares at the cinema screen in silence (unless you’re twelve years old and want to find out the aerodynamic capabilities of a piece of popcorn) but when you play a videogame, your whole household can get involved. Stuck on a puzzle? Draft in the problem-solving capabilities of your physics student housemate. Playing through a particularly cinematic environment? Budge up on the sofa because you’ll need to make room for an ooooo-ing and aaaaah-ing audience to come and join you.
Particularly in university halls, gaming provides a type of communal escapism that no other form of entertainment offers. Multiplayer and co-op take an ordinary game and elevate it to a whole new level of distraction, and the consoles of last generation took full advantage of this with the implementation of online gameplay. People worldwide are now connected by their controllers, fighting alongside each other in virtual arenas against hoards of undead or simply just strolling through a desert together.
But now the next-gen console is introducing the next phase in the social evolution. Last week, after months of rumor, hearsay and It’s-true-I-heard-it-from-Steve-behind-the-bikeshed-at-break, Sony officially announced the PS4 specs. The PlayStation controller has become an iconic symbol of gaming and in its latest form, the Dualshock 4, the beloved ‘Start’ button has been discarded.
According to the developers at Sony ‘Select’ is for Neanderthals and the new Share button is where it’s at. With a flick of the thumb players can now instantly capture game footage and forward it to friends. In addition, the PS4 will now allow you to hop into a friend’s game and watch the action of their console unfold on your own screen or, intriguingly, take over gameplay yourself. The idea is that if a group of ninja-fingered friends get together on the PS4 network, they can recreate that pass-the-pad feel of swapping the controller in the virtual sphere.
So what does that mean?
It seems in the next couple of years video games are going to start aligning themselves more and more with social media, becoming a part of our online lives in the same way that Spotify and Netflix pop up in our news feeds. Call of Duty, Counterstrike, SSX, Streetfighter, Hitman:Absolution and even Tomb Raider constitute just a handful of the games that now offer social gaming features, and there seems to be an ever-increasing pressure on developers to deliver more. Yet, we should take a tiny step back from the ‘social media is the future’ precipice and think about the implications of this.
Of course videogames are sociable, but that’s not their sole feature. Part of the joy of playing a game is the escapism it offers from the real world, the richness of its story and the quality of its graphics. If you constantly have little notifications popping up on your screen and a big button glaring up from your controller screaming “SHARE ME”, some of that magic is lost. If developers become obsessed with launching videogames onto virtual platforms, the core features that make a game a decent game might be crushed under the pressure of telling people that you’re playing it. Just as linking Spotify to Facebook means you can no longer listen to One Direction without some distant virtual acquaintance sniggering from behind their keyboard, gaming could easily become a matter of public status, not personal pleasure.
But then again, if you’re not feeling sociable, you can just sit in a darkened room and play some campaign alone in your undies, right?