Why should we use computer games to enhance communities?

Rarely, if ever, have there been a factor as motivating in human life, as computer games. Numbers from around the world, suggest that half the world population in one way or another has interacted with computer games. In Europe, the amount of young people playing computer, is rising daily – not showing signs of stopping. There are games for every taste, and a multitude of possible ways to adjust the joy of playing to one’s personal taste. No matter how you look at computer games, and no matter what your opinion of games is, computer games are here to stay.

When you have a motivational factor this strong, we have two possibilities as a culture. We can demonize and prohibit it, to make sure it does not scare us too much. Or we can embrace the potential with open, yet critical minds, and use it to create a cultural development. But the size of this phenomenon takes a big effort to control and to use. We cannot just be negligent to it, and classify is a subculture anymore. We have to act upon the potential and motivation, across a wide specter of professions and cultural divisions.

As a society, the western world is experiencing a growing individualization. It is “me, me, me” and “Me in the center of attention”. This is dominating a big part of the younger culture, and how they perceive and act in the world.  This is not necessarily a bad development for our culture. But it has to be balanced by an appropriate counter-culture.

In Denmark there is a strong culture of democratic community. It is represented in the life of unions (in Denmark called “foreningsliv”, literally meaning union-life). It is also very visible in our schooling system. Why not use our strong culture of community to enhance to way we are using gaming as a motivating factor?

That is why gaming is a factor we should incorporate into our culture, and treat as a possibility to enhance our communities. Denmark, as well as other countries, have experienced a descend in the participation in social unions, and gaming might be the key to turn this around. Gaming is a growing phenomenon among youth culture – but it is already enormous. Some sports-unions have already acknowledged this, and have adopted eSports into their program. They are using their skills from the sports organizational world, to build strong structures, offering the young gamers to play computer games in strong communities – enhancing both personal and social development.

The development is easy to see; eSports unions are growing all over the world. The result is that the possibility for young people to advance their social skill and democratic competencies are growing with the unions.

What is the role of computer games in the development of community?

Basically, community is about having a common interest. Video games does not differentiate itself very much from other interests, when it comes to being a community-enhancer. It is all about the shared interest. But computer games are an interest we should understand and take very serious as a society, because gaming is so extremely motivating across generations, gender, social situation, etc. Luckily, a lot of games have a build in team-element, which makes it naturally well suited for community building.

All in all, computer game’s role in community building, is being something that you can gather around. But to make sure we do not burn ourselves in the fire, we have to educate skilled eSports counselors, across every organization handling eSports. We have to develop sound projects, and be aware of the problems that accompany new development. It is not adequate to make skilled players teach the younger counterparts. Skilled players are not necessarily skilled teachers. To make sure the students and users of the eSports organizations gain useful knowledge and skills form the usage of the games, we have to create a sound structure for the education of good eSports advisors. Meanwhile, it does not make sense to have teachers without the knowledge of the games themselves, teaching in eSports – they would not have the adequate understanding, to draw the useful knowledge from the games.

This reveals the certain pitfalls that can show their ugly face, when working with eSports as community enhancers. We must not be charmed by the lure of the great motivation itself. We must be vigilant in our organizing of concrete and clear processes, that helps both user and advisor in defining how they should act, and should not act.

The initiatives created by unions and schools, should have a clearly defined purpose, that is not just about gaining more students, and therefore profits. The purpose should encompass how they use computer games as a way to improve social competencies and expand upon networks of community.

Another pitfall lies in expecting games to automatically invoke community. Computer games are often competitive. As with all other competition, it might create dispute within the community. This is the reason to educate advisors and coaches in conflict management. It is also a reason to work towards healthy competition. If clear guidelines for behavior are set, as well as enforced, the community will benefit from it. It is not just in order to maintain a good atmosphere that we should be aware of these factors. As the next part of the article will explain, a healthy culture and a good social environment is the foundation needed for young people to develop their personality.

We know that young people have a need to test themselves within a group of their peers. There are multiple social arenas the young people need to participate in; family, close friends, school class, acquaintances, competitive arenas and even more. All in all, it is all about the social arenas of the young person. Social arenas, in which the young person can try different behaviors, and receive feedback. Note that this is mostly not a conscious process, but it is a very important part of growing up, and developing a personality. The community around computer games can be an important part of this.

Why has this resource not already been harvested?

The answer is that it already has been harvested in many ways. The problem is that games have been used in many different ways and with many different purposes all over the world. We will stick to the example of Danmark. In Denmark, thus far, we have no common expectation as to how we should handle eSport across all the offers provided by schools, union, etc. There is no common way of approaching the problems that arise from working with eSports. This is not in and of it self a problem, but it makes it even harder for teachers and advisors all the country, to address the common problems that arise from working with eSports.

One thing that is needed, to make it clear for parents, politicians and colleagues that gaming can be used as a good thing, is the positive stories that are unfolding all over the country. We also need a community within eSports, so that we can learn from each other’s mistakes and success stories.

Luckily, there are some who are trying very hard to make this happen. eSportsalliancen and eSport Danmark are working to create a network of knowledge and rules, that will govern how we address eSports in Denmark.

But we are still in the birth of a concept. eSports is changing daily, and will bring a exciting future with it, for us to explore. eSport Danmark will be an important part of how we address the general problematics that will arise from working with eSports. But we all have a joined responsibility, as a culture, to use each other’s knowledge and learn from each other’s mistakes. We must grow as a culture, to handle the great motivational factor that is eSport – to develop strong communities.

One last factor that needs mentioning here, is an important one to understand, when dealing with games: Games are not just “one thing”. Games are very versatile and different. Ranging from first person shooters, to housebuilding design-games, to real-time strategy games, all the way back to trading card games. And every day, new games are added to the pile. This is important to understand, when dealing with the eSport phenomenon. When we are working to create strong communities of gaming, we must be ready to adjust our structure to encompass new games as well, so that we do not throw our culture away, every time the gaming scene changes.

Gaming organizations must be agile. They must be creative in the way they offer their participants to participate in the gaming community.

A purpose that transcend the individual games should be a must-have for organizations. A purpose that guides the organizations to use the games as a means to an even higher goal. That goal could be to foster stronger communities.

An example is Sørby eSport. They have given themselves a mission, represented in their slogan: more than eSport. Check out their website and facebook accounts to understand how they are working with this, to succeed. Their example is one to follow, if your organization has a goal of more than just taken advantage of the huge motivation to boost profits and number of members.

How do we use this potential then?

Define your purpose

Start by defining your purpose. We have to explore and decide upen the purpose that can guide us to success, when harvesting the potential for gaming as a community enhancer. There is as many individual purposes, as there are gamers, organisations, unions, etc. It is all about exploring the way that you and your members wish to use gaming. Is it your purpose to foster the best players in the world? Is it your purpose to give young people an arena for them to socialize in? Is it your purpose to do social work to young people who need an after-school offer, to keep them of the streets? Whatever your purpose is, it is of monumental importance that you define it, and use it to guide all the projects that you do, to enhance your gaming community.


Educate and support your eSport advisors

To succeed with creating an gaming community around eSports, you will need strong and capable eSports advisors. When we use the term “eSport advisors,” we are referring to teachers, teamleaders, politicians, consultant, etc. We are talking about everyone who are involved in handling and controlling your members and projects within the organization. eSports advisors must be the spearhead of your organization, taking responsibility to achieve the goals of the organization. It takes proper education and support, for them to create to right kind of projects, to work towards the purpose of your organization.

Involve the surrounding community.

The way you address the culture around your organization, must agree with your purpose as well. Projects to include the parents, participating in the local school life, showing your presence and good will in the local community, can all be important factors of succeeding as an eSports organization. For decades, sports organizations have been doing exactly this, involving parents and school in their sports, creating stronger bonds between different parts of the children’s lives. eSports organization can use this for their benefit as well. By inviting the surrounding culture of their members, they can help create a stronger dialogue, helping to normalize what gaming is, and what it can be used for. This is an important part of the work with eSports, across all organizations dealing with eSports – involving all the relevant parties and help to further the good communication. By listening to parents, players, politicians, privat business life, public agencies, etc., involving them in the work that the organization does, the community will be visualized for the surrounding culture to see and understand.

Use your human resources – be curious!

As a closing statement from this article about computer games as community enhancers: Be Curious! The best resource we have for development, is ourselves and each other. Be open and ask the people you are working with how you can improve. Ask what your members need, what the team plan for the future, what the leaders of the organization think, how the organization can proceed, ask for the worries of the parents and ever other factor that has an effect on how you continue to develop as an eSports organization. And when you have asked you questions then listen, respect the answer, and use it to better yourself.

A hope for the future, is that communication about computer games will be more nuanced by all the stories of success we know are taking place all over the world. A hope that we use the knowledge that we generate, to make each other stronger, so that organizations everywhere can offer good gaming experiences to their members – creating stronger communities.