Why Video Games that Close the Social Distance Gap are More Important Than Ever
Come together for the Holidays with friends and family for a socially distanced Zoom Game Night
With Thanksgiving 2020 in our rearview mirror, we now have time to reflect on the coming Holiday season what what it means to us. With the resurgence of Covid-19 cases in the United States and other countries, many families were left separated, to have celebratory dinner and game night apart. Even those who travelled for Thanksgiving are now facing the stark reality that we may need to be locked down to our homes in December.
Video games, particularly casual games, are taking a new place in today’s society. They have a new importance and objective — to provide much-needed interaction over the internet. I mention casual games specifically because they are typically more accessible to all ages and demographics. Look at “Among Us” — the game has taken over due in part by the times and it’s way of catering to casual players. It can be argued that if 2020 did not have gamers stuck at home, “Among Us” would not have become such a hit.
The design of casual games is more important than ever. Games that do not take advantage of online multiplayer are missing out on a massive opportunity. Local or “couch” co-op and multiplayer are less likely to grab players that are starved for connection to their estranged friends and family. Games also need to put focus on designing great user experiences, along with ease of use and accessibility. For example, your grandmother doesn’t have the same computer literacy that you or your children do, so naturally user interfaces need to cater to them. I can say from personal experience that a game with complicated, confusing and clunky UI puts me off almost immediately.
Lowering the barrier to entry is another key factor. Games that are PC only, force you to login or install a huge application are less likely to catch on. Making a (free) mobile port, or better yet a web-based game, creates an ease of use and accessibility solution that fits just about anyone with a phone, tablet or laptop. Take for example the acclaimed Jackbox Games Pack — it is designed perfectly for gameplay remotely via Zoom or Google Hangouts. Only one player needs to purchase the pack, and all participants play from a browser on their phone.
Another great design improvement comes from a purely game design standpoint. Games that invite conversation via voice and video are more important than ever. Think about the last time you played Scrabble, Dominion, or even Uno. These are great games, by the way! But they are just not designed to spark conversation — at most, players comment on the last move, then continue to focus on their own strategy. On the flip side, games like Cards Against Humanity, Codenames, One Night Ultimate Werewolf and Betrayal at House on the Hill force you to co-operate or plot against each other with heated debates, strategy meetings, and rancorous heckling. Games are more fun when you can talk to other players like they are right there with you.
Lastly, I think a renewed interest in Virtual Reality (VR) will help people create social gatherings that are safe but still have many of the personal elements of real-life parties and events. Games like Social Club, PokerStars VR, Rec Room, and (of course) VR Chat put very little emphasis on the actual VR controls, instead putting focus on just having fun in a shared 3D space.
While social distanced holidays are a bummer, there are game designers out there that are attempting to create experiences that can help lessen the sadness and isolation through gaming. Game creators will definitely need to keep in mind design patterns that work in today’s society in order to be successful!
Are you interested in how games are evolving and changing with the times? Then you may be interested in some of my other articles on the topic: