Okay, I admit it. I’m a bit of a gamer.
Whatever that used to mean in the past – the meaning changes every so often- right now it refers to online games. Online computer games one joins to play with lots of other people scattered anywhere from North America to Australia to Europe.
Why on earth would I mention such a thing here?
Because, contrary to popular misconception, it’s an area where social skills do play a part. And it’s a more significant part than can be immediately appreciated by looking at a box or reading a game description.
So how can a computer game require social skills?
Well, in these games, people often work in teams. And communicating with other people – via typing or actually putting on a headset and mike and talking with other people – is a vital part of teamwork. Communication means social interaction.
And people are just as sensitive to nuance – the unsaid implication, the social niceties and all of it – online as they are in person. Even if they can’t see a face, they can hear anger or kindness in a voice, and they definitely pick up on courtesy (or lack of it) even in the typed word.
For example: “Shut up and leave me alone!” vs. “Can you give me a moment to think about that, please?”
So when I run across an article about online gaming being the new haven for the socially hopeless, I take it with a grain of salt. I’ve just seen too many people ostracized or picked on – yes, people are the same everywhere, even online – to think of it as the “perfect” place for our socially challenged loved ones.
That said, there are many advantages to the world of online gaming and its different form of social interaction.
No eye contact is required. There is no body language to decode. Sound can be controlled, you can wear whatever you like, and nobody’s stinky perfume is in your face.
With games (whatever the game), people respect ability. And respect often translates into tolerance. So if someone’s got that attention to detail and capacity for learning that our loved ones often take for granted, that’s a huge head start.
Many of the social skills required are simple ones; ones that parents can help with even if they don’t know the first thing about the game. Like thanking others for their help and encouragement. Like handling disappointment as gracefully as possible (as in any game). Or like simply refraining from negativity (in type or speech).
For example: “Congratulations on reaching level 20!” and responding with: “Thank you.” That may seem obvious, but believe me, not everyone sees it that way.
The biggest problem that I see for the socially challenged – and I see it often – is a tendency to monologue (sounds just like real life, doesn’t it?). Others will ask him/her to stop talking so much (people are more direct online, which is usually a positive), even if by “talking” they mean “typing”. If ignored, they’ll then begin to grouse about how talkative that person is, pick on him/her, and then finally work actively to kick that person from the group.
Yes, it can be sad.
However, online gaming can also be – like it is for my husband – a positive experience that introduces a whole new group of supportive, accepting friends. They may be scattered across the world, but hey, they exist.
People really are the same everywhere. Whether they can see a face or not, they are very sensitive to social behavior. And they can be pleasant and open to new and interesting people, or they can be close-minded and intolerant.
Does that mean online games are just another social minefield to fear?
Well, yes, in a way, and no, in another. They have their positives and their negatives. It’s a judgment call based on the individual. They’re not for the very young (obscenity filters can be removed, and people are not always kind). They may not even be for every teen out there. Then again, they may be perfect for that shy young (or not-so-young) adult who needs a different kind of place to fit in, or a way to socialize without actually having to be overwhelmed by people and their smells, demands, and noises.
But what they stress to people like me is that they’re not a social vacuum. They’re not even that different from clubs, groups, or playgrounds. The venue might change, but the underlying truth is the same. What it’s really all about is helping our loved ones learn appropriate, acceptable behavior in every setting, from the playground to school to work to online interaction.