Social, Global, and Multiplayer Components in Video Games
Being able to connect with players from over the world has opened the floodgates for enormous amounts of information about video games to be shared between gamers...
For almost two decades video games have become increasingly more social and globally intertwined. Online platforms and infrastructures such as Sony's Playstation Network (PSN), Microsoft's Xbox Live (XBL) and the most recent (September 2018), Nintendo Switch Online service have created a bridge for gamers around the globe to connect with each other. These platforms have allowed gamers from across the world to share tips, tricks, strategies for games, compete with other gamers from all around the globe, form alliances, chat, share media, and share their gaming experiences with each other (for example, via PS4's shareplay feature). Being able to connect with players from over the world has opened the floodgates for enormous amounts of information about video games to be shared between gamers. Playstation Network's communities is an amazing example, in which players post to a discussion board to share photos, ask questions, and make comments or suggestions to fellow gamers.
Most people would probably agree that games such as paintball are much more fun with more players. UNO is another great example, where players typically look for more people who are willing to join the game if there are only one or two people willing to play. Being able to share your individual experiences in open-world and open-ended games with your friends who have the same game (but different experiences than you) is the hallmark of really good modern games, such as Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. In popular Player vs Player (PvP) and first-person shooter (FPS) games such as Epic's Fortnite, Activition's Call of Duty Modern Warfare and EA's Battlefield, players communicate with a headset via an online communication platform (i.e. Discord) or within the game itself, to complete a wide variety of adjectives, just like any real-life team game with an objective (for example, capture the flag). In Capcom's Monster Hunter World, "hunters" battle against a variety of different monsters with other players (friends, or friends from other parts of the country) for "loot" or high quality items that they use to obtain more power in the game. Players are often immersed within these game worlds playing for a countless number hours, due to a combination of teamwork/social components of games, challenge, aesthetics, and their rank (a visual indicator of their skill level or how good someone is, in the form of a picture, title, or number -- discussed below). If you have any relatives who are gamers then you've probably have seen them play these games for extensive periods of time.
"Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs or "MMOs") are notorious for being highly social games, as in order for players to make any kind of progress in these games, they have to form relationships and collaborate with other gamers."
Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs or "MMOs") are notorious for being highly social games, as in order for players to make any kind of progress in these games, they have to form relationships and collaborate with other gamers. In fact, in a popular study about the motivations for play in online games (MMORPGS) done by Yee (2006), one of the biggest motivations for play was the social component of MMORPGs. This ranged from chatting and making friends, collaboration and teamwork, and forming relationships with other gamers. In 2018, not only are there much better MMORPGs (that is - they have better stories, better game mechanics, more challenging, along with what made older MMORPGs fun in the first place), but there are social media platforms that didn't exist back then that provide gamers with better avenues to be social with each other.
Other studies not as popular as Yee's have confirmed the value of social components of video games (Jong, Lai, Hsia, Lin, & Lu, 2013; Wu, Richards, & Saw, 2014) in both studies, the collaborative, relationship-building nature of the game employed in each was the most valuable feature, because these features not only motivated students but helped students learn. For example, in the team game used in Jong et al., 2013 students played a 3 vs 3 multiplayer team game against their classmates. Students were more motivated (than students in the non-experimental group) to learn more about operating systems (the topic/subject of the questions in the game), and spent more time doing homework, projects and studying in order to have a better chance of winning.
In fighting games such as Bandai Namco/Arc System Work's recent Dragon Ball FighterZ (or even Capcom's Street Fighter V) players duke it out with players from other regions or continents. There are numerous online/virtual "lobbies" where players can choose to battle one another to earn points and increase their rank, eventually fighting players who are at or above the player's level. Fighting players who are at or above your rank, as you can probably guess, is challenging, creating somewhat of an addictive loop where one can test how good they are against numerous players in their region or from other areas in the world (of the same skill level or better) for hours on end. This is a perfect virtual atmosphere to generate a state of "flow" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990), a heightened state of engagement and a sense of total immersion within in activity in which one can easily lose track of time.
Besides fighting games, gamers have competed in mini-games in various games in which the developers have created online rankings. For example, game designers have created global rankings where users compete (in various different things depending on the game) to have their name posted on global leaderboards. Schools and teachers do this all the time with class averages, or even a list of the top students in the school - and the same phenomena occurs. Kids know "who's the best" at a particular topic/class (in this case, a game), and owning the bragging rights for said accomplishment. The games themselves however can be fun. In Nintendo's Super Mario Odyssey, players can connect to the network to play mini-games called "Hide It" and "Find It", in which gamers have a specific number of seconds to search for balloons hidden by other gamers across the country or around the world. In Hide It, players can hide their own balloons so other gamers around the world have to find them.
In Nintendo's Mario Kart 8, players can choose to race with players worldwide or regional. Adding to the notion of "fun" is when developers hold contests that involves the use of social media, such as the FFXV snapshot contest. Players took photos in FFXV and tweeted them using hashtags to have a chance to win prizes. In addition, the winning picture of the snapshot contest had their photo in the actual game. On the topic of photos, current consoles give users the opportunity to share their photos to other social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
It is important to note that this applies to PC games as well. Highly competitive and skilled PC gamers compete for literally millions of dollars. This year's Dota 2 International prize pool was over 25 million dollars. Therefore, in addition to video games being fun, there is also an economic motivator for extremely skilled players.
So what about educational (math) games? There aren't that many, and certainly none that have all of the other components that make video games fun. Arcademics and Mathplayground have multiplayer games that allow you to play with gamers from other parts of the country, and even allow you to play with other users on the same network. For example, although quite repetitive, kids can play Grand Prix Multiplication to level up their multiplication (or other operations) skills. What would it look like if we had an educational math game that encompassed the multiplayer aspect that modern games have but with the other elements?