Sunday, December 11, 2011

Social media that really isn't

Right up front let me apologize if this edition of midagedgamer seems like a 3000 character Twitter post.  From time to time I like to step away from the mechanics of being a middle aged gamer and observe the lifestyle itself.
This week a friend of mine came down with what is most likely the flu (although he probably won't admit it) so the regular Saturday gaming night didn't happen.  Whether I'm busy earning a living or just treading water the Saturday gaming night is an important event.  So when it gets sidelined by outside forces it's a real blow.
As I've written earlier, gaming for me is not so much a pastime as it is a social event.  Playing Battlefield 3 or maintaining my Lord of Ultima empire during the week while fun are really for the benefit of the big night of the week, Saturday.

Efforts to level up, make progress on a map or even try out new hardware tweaks have a dual benefit.  It's fun while you're doing it but it also provides interesting topics for discussion.  Perhaps that's the primary difference between younger gamers and folks like myself.

As I said, I look at the Saturday night LAN party as a social event.  

My friend and I usually go out and grab some dinner somewhere (and eat better than we did all week) to discuss all the recent happenings in our travels.  

In my case it's usually something about a job interview, a client issue or gaming during the previous week. 

It's very social and even as the night goes on there's a vibrant discussion about any number of topics.  Of course there's the gaming but there's also (sometimes heated) discussion on any number of topics.  The point is that an emoticon can never replace the expression on someone's face.

For me it's not enough to merely meet friends in some online lobby regularly.  It's too confining and allows for little interaction outside of the gaming context.  I've often said my game nights are the equivalent to the old "poker night" stereotype.  Other than the use of a PC instead of a poker table it's really the same thing.

My generation is commonly called Generation X or the MTV generation.  We grew up when social technologies were in their infancy.  There were home computers and game consoles back then but they were merely a substitute for the video arcade.  

Phones weren't "Smart" and the most entertainment anything with a dialtone could muster came from dialing the prefix "1-900" or making a tune with the keypad. 

It was far more fun to actually go somewhere that lots of other people like you would congregate.  Video arcades sprang up everywhere but the best were usually in shopping malls or attached to mini-golf parks ( My favorite was Golf and Stuff in Phx. )

There you could find your friends or others just like you enjoying the atmosphere and each other's company. 
Before you think I've gone all soft and nostalgic I'll mention that it wasn't quite utopia and I had a few memorably bad experiences.  All in all, however,  the experience laid the foundation for what I consider leisure time today.

I enjoy technology but for me it's far more fun to explore with my friends.  Preferably in the same room or at least the same location.
It seems the succeeding generations while very social and connected to the point of ridiculous, only interact on a superficial level.  Put something disagreeable to them on their FaceBook wall and you're likely to get a visceral response rivaled only by a political debate between candidates from opposing parties.

It's all about the image these days.  It was back when I was a kid as well but back then it was harder to fake.  We had to interact with each other without the luxuries afforded by the layer of abstraction that is the Internet.  

The "Smartphone set" will likely disagree with that statement but I've found it hard to develop relationships with people who are forever staring at their Smartphone whilst giving themselves carpal thumbs.  How do you hold a conversation with someone who barely looks at you? 
While talking to these people, I sometimes feel like the neglected wife whose husband only ever responds, "yes dear" to any query.

Just for fun I sometimes make silly faces while talking to them.   Sadly, they rarely notice.   Interacting "live" has been reduced to nothing more relevant than going through the checkout aisle at the supermarket.  Even that is slowly going away with RFID and self-checkout registers.
I believe that my generation still has a need for interpersonal relationships beyond just supporting an image and sex.  I also believe that succeeding generations have the same needs but believe that they've satisfied them with social media technologies. 

They really haven't...
Though they'll have to be my age before they even acknowledge the possibility.  By then they may quite literally be socially retarded or society will change to the point where our carefully crafted "e-image" is all we care about.  You see early signs of it today.  

Put something off-color on the Internet and it will haunt you the rest of your life.  Possibly preventing you from getting a decent job or running for public office.

That's why I don't put anything on the Internet that I might regret later.  So much for the promise of free speech and the liberation of ideas.  It seems that more and more we're concerned with what we want people to believe we are than who we really are. 
Let me pull this back to being a middle aged gamer.

The point of all of this is that I enjoy my time with my friends no matter what we're doing.  I prefer to be gaming above all else but I'm satisfied just to be amongst my peers in person.  The worst gaming night is still orders of magnitude better than the best online meet up.  At least to me it is.

We're all bound together by shared experience.  The quality of that experience colors our impressions of the world around us.  Technology should be a catalyst instead of a replacement for our personal interactions.
Ask yourself this, how many people do you know of your own age who don't have a FaceBook page?   I don't know too many but those are the people I seem to have the best time with. 

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