Recreational and Online Gaming – Really Not Worlds Apart
By Angela Alvarez
Four years ago, I played on a soccer team with some of my best friends against other girls-only teams. Before each game, we packed up our uniforms, cleats, shin guards and bottles of water. With our coach, we took public transportation to the fields where our games were taking place. While he tried to make sure we knew what the game plan was, we were busy tying up each other’s laces, something we always did for good luck. Together, we played as a cooperative team and were a huge source of entertainment for members of our respective communities. Today, my cleats are dusty and under my bed, and my Xbox 360 controller is the new instrument of fun. Little else has changed however, since my soccer days. I still gear up (which primarily consists of making sure I have enough Red Bull by my side), spend time discussing strategies and practicing, play with friends in competitive matches against other teams, and while I find myself too busy to entertain my neighborhood community with penalty kicks, there are a dozen virtual communities I frequent. I’ve left my local community but have found familiarity in the Xbox Live community, where I can connect with millions of gamers like me.
For generations, community centers have been places where people gather and play on friendly or competitive terms. These recreational facilities allow people to build friendships, network, have fun and compete for personal satisfaction. In recent years, with widespread use of the Internet and an increase in the popularity of online gaming, community centers have evolved and now have a new incarnation that exists in the video game world. Online gaming prompted the creation of numerous communities devoted to improving peoples online experience and which offer many of the same benefits as traditional community centers did for previous generations of people.
Community centers, gyms and clubs all over the world provide their member with a place to meet people and participate in different hobbies. When it comes to sports, players can either team up or play on their own. Either way, playing sports at these centers creates a friendly and cooperative atmosphere that fosters relationships, teamwork, good health, and competition. Jay Wagner (Holdem) describes his neighborhood gym as being “a friendly place, [without] a lot of roid heads. It’s mainly professionals that want to be healthy.” Going solo at one of these centers allows a person to focus on his or her own goals, and to work toward them independently. Other people fill these centers catching up with teammates about their lives and staying healthy by exercising with them, at the same time. The place is full of action; there are so many different activities going on at once – swimming, basketball, volleyball, card games, arts and crafts, and more. Xbox Live is no different – it’s easy to find people playing your favorite game, and it’s simple to find a match and quickly join up.
Countless online communities exist for gamers, and the objective of these communities is similar to that of recreational centers – to bring together people who have similar interests, while tending to the common shared by the members. Whether it’s the need for practice with a certain game, or a place to escape the sometimes-harsh words shouted on Xbox Live, online communities offer all of this without you having to leave your home.
Digital Combat is one community that very closely mirrors the functions of community recreational centers; it is a site for clans to congregate for tournaments and a great place to look for prospective opposing teams. With 7,900 registered members, DC is a flourishing community that provides its members with podcasts, Xbox 360 news, a forum and plenty of opportunities for action. Amidst all the gung-ho competition, DC manages to stay completely welcoming. According to Shawn Bernard (Grabraham), one member of DC, the best thing about it is “the friendly atmosphere of competition. The team captains are involved in deciding the rules for the games and competitions so everyone has a say in the competitive side. The community driven aspect of it is really key to me. I am a people person… and I like to meet gamers from all different walks of life and get to know them and [DC] helps make that possible.”
Playing on a team can teach the value of teamwork, and the ability to cooperate with others. These lessons on teamwork can be learned at young ages because of activities like Little League Baseball, which Bernard’s seven year-old son participates in: “In his baseball games and practices he is really learning how important teamwork is. You can’t play every position at once so they have to work together to play the game.” Learning values such as the importance of teamwork is one of the benefits of a community center. However, social interaction with other people who have similar interests and who can create a very welcoming atmosphere also contribute to the appeal of online communities.
DC is a thriving community where from the beginning, cooperation between members and staff was important. David (XtremeD) even credits the site’s existence to the entire gaming community: “The gamers are the creators … myself and Cajun Shadow are the ones who planted the seeds.” To keep the site running smoothly and drama-free, DC insists upon respect between players during games and in forums. Every member at DC acts as a part of one large team, cooperating to make the site work. Even broken up into separate clans, cooperation still exists in these small clusters as they work to emerge victorious in battles. The value of good will was clearly demonstrated on DC recently, when several of the members opened their hearts and homes to a fellow gamer in distress. Acidburn received help from his clan, which participates in some of the events at DC, after Hurricane Katrina hit his home and family in New Orleans. “[We’ve known] each other online [for] about 4 years, [but] never met in person until the storm,” remarked Acidburn about the team member that invited he and his family to stay with him. The bond between Acidburn and his clan mate exemplifies the power of online communities, where people now rely on relationships created through shared time rather than just a shared neighborhood, as they do with traditional community recreational centers. This is just one example that at DC, like many online communities, strong relationships can be built over long distances.
Another of the key benefits that traditional recreational centers and online gaming communities offer is interaction. It’s this interaction between people that creates relationships, competition, and the flourishing of the center itself. These communities act as large families, and cooperation is crucial to everyone attaining their goals. Each of these large families has its way of keeping the community together. The bustling forum of an online community is very much like the locker room of recreational center. It’s a place to find out the latest news and gossip, have intelligent conversations, or simply catch up with old friends. The various activities that community centers offer are much like tournaments and specific games that Xbox Live clans play. Many of the advantages of playing for a clan and being part of an online community are overlooked, until you shine the light of the community center onto them.
Recreational centers and online gaming offer their users such wonderful benefits. Both environments set the stage for fun, competition, and perhaps most importantly, building relationships. I no longer play soccer with my old teammates, however, we’ve moved on to other activities that we still enjoy doing together. I know that if it hadn’t been for the amount of time we spent bonding through soccer, we wouldn’t be as close as we are today. And when my grandmother scolds at me for playing video games for too many hours in a day, I just shrug it off. I know that I’m playing with a community that I will forever be a part of, and that will always be there for me.