TALL: Games and bonding

Welcome to The Alexander Letters of Ludology (TALL), a weekly column with a stretch of a name dedicated to the study of play, community, digital literacy and good ol’ fashioned video games.

Rather than following the latest trends and smash hit games, I prefer to relate my experiences in life to my love of games and thoroughly examine how the two interact. So, let’s get personal.

I saw my brother last weekend for the first time since Christmas. The U.S. Army gave him leave for Labor Day weekend, and so he popped up from Texas to makeup for some lost celebration time. Since I saw him, I went to Japan and turned 21, he had his bachelor’s party and got a dog (a husky named Naga—so cute), and my niece was born (not as cute—sorry niece). So, we got to catching up the best way we know how: games.

Out of the three day weekend, not a single night was spent without games. This was always our primary mode of bonding, but it really drew my attention to the bonding properties of play. Each game we spent time with was different from the next, be it D&D, cards, Super Smash Bros, or Halo: Reach, but they each had a unifying principle. While playing, even though we spent less time talking about what we missed over the last year, we each felt a growing fulfillment of getting closer after each game. Games just seemed to bond us without additional effort.

Games, of course, aren’t the only way to bond with other people, and they can even tear friends apart (I’m looking at you Mario Party). But in my experience, games promote and facilitate social bonds more than other channels, the reason being two fold: accessibility and intentional fun.

Now I know these ideas will be contested vehemently. My opinion is far from universal. Some of my closest friends swear on their life that they “hate games” and refuse to play. So let me clarify that my perspective on bonding through games aligns with view on bonding in general. Bonding comes as a result of shared experience, a notion of “oneness”, and feelings of empathy. The “I get you” moment, if you will. Talking to someone who played through the same video game yields a similar experience to meeting someone who had the same amazing professor or terrible boss. You may have never met, but you share that connection and experience.

Playing a game together kicks the empathy building process into light speed. It’s an accelerated, atomized, microcosm of human experience, a shared workspace or sports team on fast-forward. You can team-up, compete, connive, fail, and overcome all in the span of a couple hours, simulating those emotions and observing each other in each condition. However, unlike a sports team, a band, or a job, there is no pressure of reality on the game space. If you lose the game, you don’t lose your job, cost the team their chance at finals, or ruin the party. You simply lose the game. This is the approachability that make games so attractive to me as a bonding tool. The absence of life altering pressure. You can get to know someone outside of their greater responsibilities, anxieties, and obligations. There are no stakes beyond the game. The only real goal is to have fun.

I understand this is not the case for everyone. Some games end up generating anxiety rather than relieving it, and I would never judge a person for stepping away from a game. However, fostering a mentality of open-minded inclusion, approachability, bonding, and fun in relation to games, would certainly help promote earnest relations and friendship for all.

Alexander Schmidt is a fourth-year student majoring in English with a minor in communications studies. ✉ AS849426@wcupa.edu.

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