Technology is an ever-evolving landscape, with new hardware heralding advances every year and enhancing the overall quality of gaming and the community that loves it. Alongside those technological advancements, however, another phenomenon has risen, not only influencing the way society interacts, but also how the community utilizes the tech at its fingertips. That anomaly is social media—the expansive behemoth that has made the world a much smaller place, connecting people across oceans at the touch of a button.
Social media has branched into first-world society’s every niche, influencing the way people communicate, giving everyone a voice—whether that voice is worth heeding or not. Gaming has been a massive recipient of social media’s impact, as the industry has seen a boom in gamers’ ability to record, screenshot, and share their experiences within their favorite titles. Often, game companies—console manufacturers and game developers and publishers—partner with social organizations and platforms to bring gamers together.
Recording & Streaming
The ability to record one’s gameplay has surged in popularity in the last decade. Everything from capture cards to built-in software can be used to round up game footage. Streaming has become such a craze that platforms specializing in the service have become a form of social media in and of themselves. Twitch, one of the foremost, pioneer streaming outlets, has evolved into a congregational focal point for the gaming community, where fans of different genres, franchises, and streamers can come together to view their preferred content and converse.
Recording and streaming gameplay has become such a popular occurrence that companies like Facebook have become involved in its spread. Uploading footage to platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and more has assisted with bringing unlikely fans into the gaming world. More senior generations are more able to glimpse and understand that video games are more than time wasters—they’re a place of commonality, of shared experiences.
Twitch and Facebook have had such an impact on the gaming industry that companies are launching their own streaming services to capitalize on the both the popularity and financial boons. Microsoft, through Xbox Game Studios, has established Mixer as its premier streaming outlet, allowing users to share live gameplay with PC, Xbox, and genre fans.
Through recording and streaming, gamers can advertise themselves and their respective skill levels. Whether watching for the superior skill, the streamer’s personality, the game itself, or a combination of factors, fans can enjoy games together in more ways than playing them, opting to view them as their own interactive, cinematic experiences in lieu of a film.
It’s through recorded and live footage that many players find new communities and groups dedicated to certain games, as advertisements on Facebook, Twitter, and even gaming-specific software (i.e. Discord) grip fans and draw them towards content they can enjoy with new friends.
The ability to share one’s screenshots has never been easier, as gamers can now tell their Xbox, PlayStation, or PC software (i.e. GeForce Experience or something more sophisticated) to take a snapshot. Games such as Need for Speed: Heat use sharing screenshots to help the community interact. Continuing to use Need for Speed: Heat as an example, players can customize their car’s wrap (aesthetics), snapshot the image, and upload it (or other screenshots) to the game’s servers and allow other racers to apply the wrap to their own vehicles.
While that functionality does not provide a conduit for direct communication between fans, it does permit them to acknowledge each other’s talents, such as artistic prowess. In addition, social media has provided outlets for gamers to advertise their creativity and skills to their friends and family. Furthermore, when players can show off their skills on social media, they may inadvertently draw the attention of professionals who covet their skills and could put them to good use, providing the artist(s) with paid opportunities as proper recognition for their talents.
Programs like Xbox Game Bar also provide fans with access to in-game overlays, permitting the use of widgets for screen capture, sharing, and looking-for-group opportunities, thereby expanding fans’ circle of friends with which to play. Moreover, platforms such as Twitter are often integrated into video games, as is the case with Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft—where players can take screenshots with selfie cameras using filters reminiscent of Instagram or tweet their in-game achievements directly to Twitter.
Immersion & Familiarity
Social media has become prominent enough that game developers have begun weaving the concept into their games. One of the most recent examples of this is Death Stranding, which contains a social media-influenced program within the game world players can utilize to assist others, able to rate and like other gamers’ contributions to the title’s world. This sort of integration adds a sense of immersion and familiarity in worlds that are otherwise divergent from reality.
Like the relatable characters and conundrums experienced in cinema, fans often feel grounded when forming empathetic ties with video game characters. This familiarity keeps players coming back for more, providing more inherent opportunities for them to share their experiences not only on real life social media platforms, but also those built into their games.
Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are not the only forms of social media that exist. Programs such as Discord, Mumble, Ventrilo, TeamSpeak, and more have coexisted as mediums for gamers to interact. Even sites like Enjin—which essentially used to be Facebook for gamers—have filled a void and given a once-niche group of individuals places to convene and share their interests. Programs like Discord or Reddit have grown so popular that one can find a channel dedicated to anything video game related, or if the channel somehow does not exist, it can always be created by someone wiling to manage the responsibility.
Social media has given gamers the power to not only join like-minded individuals, but also create their own spaces in the event their niche-within-a-niche has yet to be provided with a sanctum. Players can now share their goals and experiences and find a common place to teach each other tips and tricks, all because of social media’s ability to spread the word that no gamer is ever alone.
The Good & the Bad
Social media has taken the most incredible aspects of humans and provided a spotlight in which people can reveal their best characteristics, impressive skills, and commonality with like-minded individuals. It has taken the video game industry to new heights, distilling comradery, synergy, and the ability to share similar interests. Friendships have blossomed as a result of social media’s influence on the video game industry, and gamers have come together at a rate once believed impossible.
However, with that condensed world comes drawbacks, such as the saturated levels of toxicity that comes with giving everyone a voice. For every altruistic personality to which gamers are exposed, there is a malevolent one lurking in the background, ready to arbitrarily ruin a stranger’s day due to some misplaced sense of hostility. Rivalries turn into full-fledged antagonisms, sowing the seeds of anger and resentment, until those seeds sprout into ugly forum wars or belligerent bickering in voice chats, or inhospitable altercations in the games themselves.
Social media hasn’t changed the nature of people’s messages; it has merely shined a light on something that has always been there.