The Young and the Digital: The Allure of Social Games, Synthetic Worlds, and Second lives.

"Can I have my phone just in case I spot any Pokemon on the way down?"
“Can I have my phone just in case I spot any Pokemon on the way down?”

In this chapter of his book ‘The Young and the Digital: What the Migration to Social Network Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for Our Future’, Watkins discusses online gaming in regards to young men, and how it can be used positively as a source of socialising and lesson-learning.

Watkins mentions how less and less young men are watching television daily. This initially confused TV experts but soon people realised that this demographic’s technological use was migrating to online gaming. Watkins goes through a list  of the positive aspects of gaming – such as ‘doing things’ rather than passively watching a plot unfold, being able to master other synthetic worlds when in real life you may be timid and shy. Craig fends of critics of gaming who mention its dangers in isolating individuals from the real world by showing how the gaming experience helps bring people together, such as the release of the Nintendo Wii which seeks to integrate collaboration, group work, and face-to-face competitions, or the World of Warcraft – a game in which players endeavour to overcome obstacles together in ‘guilds’.

Watkins mentions second lives and how the gaming experience allows people to recreate themselves or create personas that express particular parts of themselves. He draws upon his research showing how men often portray themselves as women and vice versa on the online world in order to experience other things or explore their own interests. In this light I agree that gaming can be liberating in allowing people to do and explore things they wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

However I disagree with Watkins’ general enthusiasm for the online gaming world. I believe that although it is possible for people to be brought together and meaningful connections to be made through gaming, the real experience is always better. When I see my brother and his friends with their eyes glued to the Playstation on television, I can’t help but feel sad, even if they are laughing and seem to be having a good time. When we master online worlds we lose our mastery of the real one, the latter diminishing in beauty and detail as the other increases. I also believe that Watkins doesn’t delve deep enough into the gaming experience for women, as he refers only to men in his study. It is indeed possible for women to play online and I’m sure that a growing number of them do so. In order to fully represent the migration of the youth to games Watkins has to include women as they constitute half of young people. It would be interesting to see a discussion on how gaming platforms are creating synthetic worlds that appeal more to the interests of women.

I recently read this article in the Guardian mentioning how 2017 may be the year virtual reality takes off. This scares me as I think that it is already too easy for people to get stuck or addicted to online worlds which has an inevitable impact of the day-to-day life of the real one. If people can fully immerse themselves in a world, to the point where things appear not in front of them on a screen but around them (and in ever-increasing quality), then people may choose this more engaging version of virtual living over life itself. I believe that open and frank discussions need to be held about gaming with technology experts, psychologists the youth and indeed perhaps even in mainstream politics. We need to tackle these problems before they’re already upon us. Facebook crept into the lives of everybody seemingly overnight, we cannot allow the same thing to happen with virtual reality.

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