What comes to mind when I say "Social Game"? Is it a game on Facebook or Mobile that has you building a virtual empire using some virtual currency that encourages you to invite friends to join in order to be rewarded with more virtual currency? Most of you probably arrive there. But how did we get there? How is that social? At all? Well, that's maybe the subject for another post. I'm going to talk today about my opinion of true Social Games. Games where social interactions are not just a side-effect, but the entire point.
I've been ruminating on my favorite interactions in games and why I fell in love with games in the first place (video, board, etc.) and I've come to a really interesting conclusion: my favorite part of multiplayer games is almost never the game itself. No, it's almost always experiencing that game with others. The real interesting part? The best, most fun I've had in games is when the rules and mechanics promoted me to interact with others, directly or indirectly.
So what is a Social Game, by my definition? A Social Game is that meta-game you play in Monopoly where you promise your brother leniency when he lands on Park Place in exchange for him paying off all your mortgages. In Mario Party, it's when you make a deal with your best friend to pass up that next star in return for you stealing all of Joe's coins. These are miniature Social Games within regular games, and they are so much fun. The beauty of these social games is they come naturally out of the mechanics. In Monopoly, it's never stated in the rules players can make deals under the table, but since the game is so intertwined with the concepts of property and money, players just play that way. Frequently in Mario Party, it's mutually beneficial to work together to impede the progress of someone else, so alliances are formed, however briefly. Social Games been around forever, in miniature form.
So what about whole Social Games? Let's take the classic party game Mafia as an example. You'll hear me talk about this game a lot because it's one of my favorite games of all time and really encapsulates where I think gaming's future is headed. Mafia is a really, really simple game. You've got a group of people, some of them are bad guys (Mafia), some of them are good guys (Townspeople). The bad guys know who the other bad guys are, but the good guys have no idea who the bad guys are. The good guys' goal is to out all the bad guys by killing them off by way of voting each round. The bad guys' goal is to off all the good guys by killing them off in secret at the end of each round. There's some extra rules for spice, but at it's heart, that's it.
So why is this game so fun? Well, it's because the mechanics of the game promote, nay, force the players to interact with each other in ways that just aren't all that common in the real world. You see, in Mafia you must decide if a friend you've known for years is lying to your face and is really a member of the Mafia killing off your allies one by one. It's an exercise in social deduction and engineering. And, on top of that, it can get zany. Deciding someone is guilty or innocent based on nonsensical posturing is a par for the course. Really, Mafia isn't really about finding who Mafia is and who Town is. It's about interacting with a bunch of people in fun ways that often aren't possible in real life. Who can say they often get to con their friends and have fun doing it
Social Games have been, without us even having a name for them, growing all around us lately: card games like Cards Against Humanity, board games like Resistance and Coup, and classic party games like Mafia and Werewolf are all gaining popularity. These games are taking the meta-game/social game side-effects of larger games and condensing them into almost purely socially interactive experiences. And that's really exciting. And it's because of that I propose a new genre of game for your consideration: Social Interaction Games. And no, not those kind of social games.