Video Game Fanatics Socially Normal, Scientist Says

Hands-On Preview: GOD OF WAR 3

“I just can’t wait, I love the 'God of War' series and have been waiting for the third one for a long time, and yay, its here!” exclaimed Alex P., an eighteen-year-old high school student in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, one of more than 25 seemingly random people lined up in front of their local GameStop retailer just before midnight on Monday, March 12. 

Also among those trying to keep warm were a 28-year-old paramedic, a wife and mother picking up her husband’s birthday present, and a veterinary technician with a stockpile of energy drinks, all passing among themselves an early copy of the strategy guide and chattering with anticipation.

It takes a rare and popular release to justify the expense and trouble to set up a street-date rule bending exercise like this one.  It’s a gamble that can pay off: The blockbuster "Halo 3" took in $170 million on its launch day; "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" took in over $300 million; and the highly anticipated release of "God of War 3" for the PlayStation 3 from Sony’s Santa Monica Studio qualifies.  It is the final part in the core multi-million copy selling mythological action trilogy that began on the PlayStation 2 in 2005 that is reported to have had a budget of $44 million.  But as these events pull people in, what does it say of the gamers that stand in line just to play their new game a few hours early? 

“[Gaming] tends to be a collective activity even for people who play them in isolation,” explained Pamela Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Center in Las Vegas. “It’s a common bond with people that they know, they tend to have a group of people that are their friends that are interested in the same kinds of things, like we all do.”

The social aspects of gaming are largely defined by public perception to be either a purely virtual interaction, via on-line role-playing, or the domain of large public gatherings like conventions. However, they really have much in common with classically accepted pastimes.

“[Gaming] represents a community and a connection which people always seek out, humans are very social animals,” . Rutledge said. “So there’s that participation, and this is what you’ll see if its midnight or not, it’s really irrelevant other then that it makes it unusual, but its an event to participate in since there will be a higher level of excitement because it’s a new thing so you get to actually participate physically in something that you spend a lot of time with, and meet new people.”

Long-term social groups, unlike those created around political issues or tasked together by their jobs, form the basis of their cohesion in trust that is built though factors such as familiarity, collective fear of failure, a willingness to overlook frailties and/or ignore opportunities to exploit each other’s vulnerabilities.  

The time to form this trust, a key to honest communication, even in typical peer groups can be bypassed by common interest even, or especially, in the middle of the night. Rutledge details that, “people use sports and entertainment as common ground for talking, and certainly having the first [copy] is a marker of your interest.”

In line for God of War 3, a network technician in his thirties shows the launch trailer on his smartphone to the teenager behind him. They share approving head nods, not too far removed from exchanging cheers with the strangers one finds themselves allied with in the bleachers of a baseball stadium. In a brief moment a trust has been formed, as they are allied in pursuit of a common goal, conversant in a topic they are both interested in and are now less likely to behave in a socially negative fashion with each other.

At midnight, the store opens officially and the ad hoc club becomes just a line of people at a counter performing a transaction. They return to their respective homes to maybe resume interrupted sleep, but much more likely to start playing until they are blurry eyed and exhausted just as the rest of the country begins its day.  

Rutledge would not consider a moment of this oddly timed mid-week adventure a waste. “These are the kind of events that make memories in your life that you can revisit. Would you miss a rock concert or any kind of one-off opportunity?  These [are] as ritualized expressions of excitement and passions are pretty healthy human activities.”

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