Friday, June 4, 2010

Games that improve social skills? Surely, you jest!

So, while I wrangle with the techno gods to let me upload my vlog, I'm going to talk a little about how games can help improve social skills. I know what you're thinking...centaurs? But, the answer is that, yes, games serve more of a purpose than for fat, balding guys with carpal tunnel to escape to day in and day out. Wait a second, you say. Why should improving social skills be construed as good or even necessary? Well, for some individuals, social skills are not second-nature. Individuals with autism spectrum disorders, for example, often struggle with social cues and interactions which typically developing people take for granted. Counselors in both academic and non-academic settings work with individuals with autism to help improve recognition of these cues, but what about games? What can they do?

Online games like World of Warcraft and even first-person shooter games that have online functions may serve as a medium for social interaction. Unfortunately, the text-based comment functions do little to increase knowledge of how people should interact on a daily basis, especially when the act of decoding the online text might be difficult in and of itself. Even utilizing the team-speak function isn't wholly useful if you aren't comfortable with interaction anyway. What if, however, you have a game that tests you on your ability to form social links?

Well, in Persona 4, the main character cannot advance the game unless they form a variety of social links.

This screenshot shows the details of the main character's new relationship with Chie Satonaka. In order to get to the point of being in a relationship, the main character (whom I named Fumiko Obu) needs to hang out with Chie several times in order to rank up and become gradually more intimate. Of course, the beauty of this game is that you can refuse to hang out with people when they ask you and just go home and go to bed, but that doesn't really improve social skills or the quality of the game. In fact, if you don't level up your relationships with friends or girlfriends, then the battles become exponentially harder.

This screenshot shows how the weather affects gameplay. You cannot hang out with friends on rainy days so it is best to level up social links on sunny days. Rainy days are reserved for working jobs which can also help your personality profile.

Then, of course, there is the school aspect of the game. During gameplay, players are actually tested on lectures which are given in class. If you get the highest score in the school, then you are rewarded through a series of social link boosts. In this world, being the smartest gets you some serious street cred.

This screenshot shows you the personality traits you must level up. In order to qualify for some jobs, your understanding, knowledge, or diligence may be required to be at a certain level. In order to level these qualities up, the character must join a social activity like band, drama club, or a sport. Being persistent with these social activities will help you gain higher levels of personality.

Of course, this is just a cursory examination of the game and its functions. There are many other aspects which test the player's ability to form links within the game. While this may be a large leap to make, I think that seeing the benefits of improved social links in a virtual setting may also help in a real-life setting as well. In part two, I will reinforce that notion with some more information.