Anti-social games, defined

It hit to me what social games are. They are not platform specific (aka “Facebook games”). Nope, social games are games that have become multiplayer in a funky way.

Here’s a very simplified chart about multiplayer games (not about social games):

NHL ’93, which me and my bro played same time, in the same room (place). It is an offline simultaneously played multiplayer game.

NHL ’11 can be an online multiplayer game, played same time (among many other things). My bro is sitting in his home, me on my home and we both play the match (and I win of course). Different location (or “place”) and “same time”. If he goes away, playing stops.

Farmville player are located in different places, and play on different times. I’m simplifying this a “bit” I know. I cannot play NHL ’11 with my bro unless we play it same time. But I could play* Farmville with my bro, even though we’d play it in different times. This gives Farmville the aspect of being an online multiplayer game, played in different time

*maybe in some parallel universe where gravity has been turned upside down and people born 92 years old, getting younger from there on.

World of Warcraft can be played online with my bro simultaneously, but we can also choose to play it on different times and there are things that we can do to interact (I think we can collect resources on our own time and then later exchange them with each other or something like that I think). WoW can be viewed as online multiplayer game that can be played both same and different time.

There’s also the black spot, which I don’t know if it’s harvested, but at least to me this is one way to look at multiplayer games and also get some thoughts about what social games can be.

And I know, I wouldn’t pass academic argument, but for the sake of not going too deep into things… just let’s say that’s a pretty okay way to view differences.

But that’s not enough…
But social aspects in games are more than just “time” and “place”. I think there is huge amounts of things to learn from social games. I could imagine very many single player (resource gathering) games that could all benefit from many mechanics social games have to offer.

Platform is irrelevant.

Let’s say there’s a deer hunting game that you play solo (offline, single-player experience). It might be fun to be able to trade weapons with buddies, check their rankings against your own ranking, perhaps even assign them “jobs” where you say that “I’d need deer horns, can you get me some”. And number of other things. All these could help make the single player experience more social.

I know I made huge simplifications in this blog post, and if you want some good stuff, check out Raph Koster’s blog: see GDCOnline: Social Mechanics talk (2010) and GDC11: slides for Social Mechanics talk. These one go much deeper into multiplayer mechanisms… and what multiplayer even is.

Anti-social games
This is where I started thinking why “social games” definition is so blurry. Sometimes a way to define things is to look from opposite direction. For example, the opposite of “online” multiplayer could be “non-online” aka “offline” multiplayer. And opposite side of “multiplayer” could be “non-multiplayer” aka “single player”.

After all, if your game isn’t social, is it then “non-social” or “anti-social”? I doubt it. Humans are social animals (or beasts) and share their findings. There are social elements in games and different games take advantage of them differently.

It’s quite useless to classify “social games” as evil, rather I think we all could take a good look at what they really are and how they work… and see if there’s some good stuff to be used *cough* in real games.

Please notice: you might not want to take so seriously the last words in that previous line.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. Good thoughtful article! Some examples of “black spot” games are virtually any turn-based tabletop game. Chess, Checkers, Scrabble, etc. Each player can take their turn at their leisure, then check back later to see if their opponent has taken their turn.

    It’s similar to the old mail-in games, where a person submits their turn via mail (later e-mail), then waits for a reply with their opponents turn. In many ways these games were a hybrid of same-place, different-time and different-place, different-time. Each player clearly played at a different time, but their were duplicate boards at each location. So, does a duplicate board at two different location make them same or different? Neat thing was that such mail-in games were multi-player, often with many more than two playing simultaneously (with turns defined by a certain duration – e.g., one week).

  2. Would the Wii Message Board be included in the black spot or potentially Animal Crossing. In the same room you’d leave messages at different times for other players.
    I was going to mention Demon Souls but I think the idea there is to leave messages for other remote players at different times.

  3. Back in the day we had to play Laser Squad in the block spot mode. One player did their moves whilst the other waited outside, then you swapped round.

  4. I’d say “Play and Pass” type games qualify for the black spot. I play my turn on the iPad game hand it to you for your turn, on to the next person until back to me.

  5. Ah, okay. So you were thinking about that “black spot” section?
    check geocaching.com

  6. Well what I mean is that the way a place changes over time due to the action of humans is a result of same place + different time. The time period could be hours, days, years or even centuries. So I was thinking about what sort of games could be played like that.

  7. The black spot is where games like geocaching live.

  8. The way graffiti builds up on a wall over time is same place different time. I guess lots of things around us comply to that rule, but aren’t games.

  9. I was considering to provide examples on that & brainstorm… but decided to leave that section away (and see if some witty ideas are presented :))

    And of course “place” can be defined to be larger than “room”. Could be city block, or city, or region…. or even country.

    But in my example I was bit more focussed in “playing same room”. And I don’t want strangers to break in playing my playstation games while I sleep. Or I’d use my Rock Throwing skills.

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