This article originally appeared on VICE Asia
If you asked me why I know enough about DoTA (Defense of the Ancients) to understand insider references and hold my own in any game, I would cringe and laugh awkwardly before answering. The safe response would be to admit that, at one point, I did have it installed on my computer, and that I’ve watched several hours of YouTube guides and professional competitions. The embarrassing answer? I did all that because someone I liked when I was 14 was very into it. All those hours I put into it were for the sole possibility of us playing together. And it kind of worked.
I sent a “group message” looking for people to play DoTA with and he responded — my wish granted. In reality, I only sent it to him. Our gaming sessions evolved into text messages, first limited to discussing our last play or planning our next one, but we eventually talked about random stuff too like school and family. This went on for several months.
I cringe looking back at it now, but over the years, I have come to realise that more than just virtual adventures, gaming is about developing meaningful relationships that go beyond silly schoolboy crushes. I know that sounds like a stretch, but hear me out.
My 30-year-old sister, who had shown no prior interest in Mobile Legends in its three years of existence, suddenly spent sleepless nights playing it late last year. The change of heart was brought on by her Bumble match saying that the game was causing him to reply late. They’re not dating anymore but to this day, they still play Mobile Legends matches together. Their gaming relationship surpassed their romantic one.
It’s true for platonic relationships too. When I started playing Capcom’s Monster Hunter: World, I sent out an SOS flare while struggling to hunt down one of the more difficult monsters. SOS flares are sent out to the game’s server, and anyone within the server could respond to the flare and join your mission to help out. Another player with a hunter rank 80 levels higher than mine saw my call and joined the mission. He also offered to form a party together so he (or she, I never quite found the need to ask) could help me throughout the next couple of missions, as I was still gaining strength. We did not know each other prior to me firing my SOS flare, but we have gone on more than 70 hours of playing together since then and are still PlayStation Network friends until now.
I wouldn’t be able to tell if I crossed paths with that person on the street, and the same could be said of the other usernames listed as "Friends" on games like Call of Duty Mobile and Mobile Legends. Yet, there’s an unspoken bond between me and my online gaming companions who know that working together — as cheesy as it sounds — would help us win and make the game more fun.
Multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Final Fantasy XIV encourage camaraderie through their conversation channels and inter-player interactions like duelling, trading, guilds, and parties. There’s even an entire Reddit thread where people share stories of how they met their significant others through World of Warcraft.
Gamers have long been depicted as antisocial loners but really, games can be very interactive and a way to form long-lasting relationships. A Pew Research study found that a significant majority of people who play video games actually only play when they’re playing with others, whether in-person or through a connected network.
This, of course, is something only understood by those who take the time to pick up the controller (or download the apps) and actually play. They learn that the games kids play give them something they can talk about over lunch in school, or how the guy playing alone in a dark room was actually telling his friends from halfway across the world about how his day went.
While the idea of learning how to play video games is daunting for many, there’s an undeniable joy when you shoot alongside a sibling during a game of Call of Duty, or when you go to “war” with your friend in Civilizations — in which games have been known to last around six to seven hours.
A study on gamers’ social behaviours conducted in Sweden says it best, “digital gaming is shown to be situated in a complex weave of interactions and structures that go over and beyond the gaming itself” — just as it did for me and my crush all those years ago.
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