In chapter five we get Fix #5:
Compared with games, reality is disconnected. Games build stronger social bonds and lead to more active social networks. The more time we spend interacting within our social networks, the more likely we are to generate a subset of positive emotions known as "prosocial emotions."
Okay, there's some good stuff in this chapter, but paragraph above kinda annoys me. She later admits that better social networks can and should be built in real life and that on-line social networks help to strengthen existing relationships primarily. But she does think that games have a positive impact for the depressed, the lonely, and others who might have difficulty making real-world connections at the moment. And, in fact, they lead more real-world contacts.
She focuses attention on on-line games like Lexulous and Farmville. The first of these seems to have strengthened family communications. She goes so far as to claim that for many of the games 5 million players the "primary reason" they play "is to have an excuse to talk to their mom every day."
This works effectively because of asychronous gameplay, where players don't have to be on-line playing at the same time.
Social network gaming seems to be counteracting a normal human tendency to isolate the more prosperous we become. Generally, the wealthier we are, the more we isolate from other people. (Some resonance here with last Sunday's passage from the Sermon on the Mount.)
These games develop "prosocial emotions," which include things like "love, compassion, admiration, and devotion." Clearly some of the things we talk about in church, but we discuss them more as virtues, habits, practices, skills than we do as emotions.
One of the gaming practices that facilitates social connectivity is "trash-talking." Here are some of the things she has to say about this:
We crave the experience of teasing each other about it, in private and in public.
Teasing each other, recent scientific research has shown, is one of the fastest and most effective ways to intensify our positive feelings for each other.
First, it confirms trust: the person doing the teasing is demonstrating the capacity to hurt, but simultaneously showing that the intention is not to hurt.
Conversely, by allowing someone else to tease us, we confirm our willingness to be in a vulnerable position. We are actively demonstrating our trust in the other person's regard for our emotional well-being.
Happy embarrassment . . . we're hardwired to feel it.
This section of the chapter is worth reading and thinking about, and I've not included every point thse makes.
I'm not sure what I think about it. As a guy, this is my experience, especially with other guy friends. So, I recognize what she is describing. In our current anti-bullying regime teasing is understood to be fraught with danger, and sometimes I worry that we will go overboard and punish harmless social interactions. But what is harmful and what harmless? That's so difficult to figure out. Even in my marriage, sometimes one of us is simply teasing the other, but the one being teased takes it as something not funny.
And I have wonder about Jesus' admonitions throughout the gospels to treat others as we would be treated, to understand things from their perspective, not to judge, to do good things for others, to be compassionate, etc. This teasing activity would put us in dangerous territory.
She also discusses the ability of acting silly to improve our social connectivity. Right on there.
McGonigal presents the concept of naches, which is "a Yiddish word for the bursting pride we feel when someone we've taught or mentored succeeds." I liked this idea and it fits with my approach to youth ministry.
One mild form of social connectivity is "social presence," where we share the same game space with others, but may not be actively playing with them. Some researchers believe that this experience can help train the brain to find social interaction itself more rewarding. McGonigal writes that more research needs to be done on this point, and that would be intriguing to see. Research on involvement in a congregation would seem to strengthen this idea. See American Grace, for instance, on how active church goers also become more generous and volunteer more, even for non-church projects.
She concludes that "Gamers, without a doubt, are reinventing what we think of as our daily community infrastructure."