XBOX Live chat-rooms, PSN text messaging, various gaming clients on the PC... applications and services aimed at making our gaming experiences more social and involving. They serve a plethora of purposes, spending some time with friends online is easier than ever, grinding for that time-consuming achievement/ trophy has become so much more pleasant and finding out what others are playing in order to join them is finally a breeze. All in all, the once theoretical term of "social gaming" has become reality... or rather, routine.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with having your pal available for a little chat at the press of a button. We are, after all, social creatures by nature. Unless we count ourselves as some kind of lonely hermits interacting with others is a very logical process. But what about those games, deeply invested in their story-lines and atmosphere, who actually REQUIRE our complete and undivided attention to offer us all they have to give? What happens when we play Dead Space, Dragon Age or The Witcher while someone's voice keeps booming in our ear about "that headshot" or "where I was last night". It is clear as day that the mood is bound to get spoiled. Funny thing, we don't even notice. The reasons are very specific.
We enjoy the socialization. Playing alone seems like a bit of a drag when we can do it with some company. Why waste time in contemplating silence when we can have our mates throwing the occasional one-liner in the mix, lifting our spirits? So we go from the "The atmosphere and story is important here" idea to that of "let's just spend some time gaming". It surely does not seem problematic by default... but the damage to the experience itself is very real. In the end, we might find that a supposedly horror-related game was not as spooky as we had thought. We might think that the scenario of an RPG was lacking, because we missed something during the "lulz". The emotional spike at the end of that very intricate moment in Mass Effect came out like an odd joke. All in all, the game expects you to play in an invested enviroment... sadly, in many cases, this is not the case.
The beginning of Mass Effect 2 boasts one of the most dramatic events in gaming history. It's not so much about heroic acts and self-sacrifice as it is about loss and desperation. Seeing the things that you became accustomed and attached to during the course of a 50-hours-long storyline during the original being taken away in 5-minutes-long event is a very drastic, very powerful procedure. Watched under specific circumstances this can create some pretty powerful emotions. Watching it while you are chatting with seven other people via XBOX Live chat makes it look... "cool"? You are still going to enjoy the eye candy no matter what but the sentiment will be lost unless the scene is treated with some respect. I mean, is chatting about unrelated things all the time worth losing this splendid moment?
Some might think that I am making a very big deal out of this. Maybe in the eyes of the casual, cut-scene-skipping player I do. But really, as a person who considers gaming an art form I have to pay some mind to what the creators of a title wanted to give me. Surely, all the gorgeous music, the fantastic environments and complex characters were not meant to be experienced while holding a controller in one hand and a tortilla in the other. Since I've been relatively young I've been following a specific code of conduct concerning the way I invest my time in various activities: If you do not respect what you are spending your precious time on, you probably do not respect yourself. Now, you don't have to agree with me dear reader but consider this, as a piece of friendly advice: Making the most out of everything is something that instinctively resides in every person. So try doing yourself a favor and invest some time into absorbing all that the developers intended to give you. You are going to spend the chunk of time and you've already paid for it. Now I believe it's a good idea to reap as many of the benefits of that labor as possible.
Many people believe that silence and contemplation are closely related to philosophy. I tend to agree. After all, few came to a deeper understanding of themselves while throwing back shots during a night in some club - not that I have anything against such things, being the booze hound that I am - don't you think? Let's offer ourselves a moment of concentration, when the chance arises and let's give these works the time they deserve. Some might even surprise us.
After all, there is always the chance for another playthrough with our pals, throwing around the occasional joke.