One of the things that has often come to my mind as I have played City of Heroes is the aspect of socialization. As in the real life, my experience is that people of similar play styles and outside interests tend to congregate and stay together long those with only casual and immediate intersections of purpose (such as completing a specific mission or leveling their character). It’s also interesting to observe how pieces of people’s real personalities sneak through in the course role-playing their characters. (I know that some people have made some very astute and accurate assessment of me based on how I’ve played some of my characters. Yes, I do have considerable trouble doing completely evil characters, but I think that’s also a dramatic issue I have that we can discuss at another time.)
Some of the people I game with I’m come to consider real friends, as close as many as I have in real life. We share many of the same common interests, attitudes, and issues. During gameplay, it’s not unusual for us to also discuss the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica or the latest Star Trek news. Rather than gathered at a coffee shop, we’re gathered somewhere in Paragon City blasting villains, engaging in idle chit-chat about life in general.
In many ways, it’s an extension of other chat rooms available widely on the Internet, with the difference that we have already been drawn together by our mutual affection for superheroes and comics. Or the desire to be one. Or something. I can think of few other ways that people from all over world (and I do not exaggerate here) can come together to have fun and talk about things that they enjoy. (The whole time zone thing does it have its drawbacks, though, let me tell you. Just try to schedule a mutually acceptable time for more than three people across as many time zones and I wish you “Good luck” in doing so.)
Is this a replacement for in-person, face-to-face socialization? I don’t think so, at least not for all of us. But I think it serves as a worthy (and often more convenient) alternative at times. Is it necessarily a bad thing? I suppose that depends on how it is used and how far it is used as a substitute for real personal communication. Certainly the media has made clear the potential evils and dangers of online-only interaction, but that doesn’t make it inherently evil.
To be continued . . .