Somebody to Play WithRemember when you were a kid and it was a rainy day, or during summer vacation when nobody was around, and you’d whine to your mom or dad that “there’s nobody to play with”? Interestingly enough, my parents never seemed to be terribly empathetic to my temporary lack of a Parcheesi partner and typically greeted my yearnings for companionship with open invitations to partake in a variety of physical activities ranging from cleaning my room to cutting the lawn. Sometimes, out of desperation, I’d even have to play with my sister. But how many times can you crush someone at Monopoly by convincing them to give you Park Place and Boardwalk for your railroad companies before the novelty wears off? Parental misgivings aside, didn’t we all find that there were times that we just couldn’t occupy ourselves? Well, for all of us who experienced the unrequited desire for a playmate, I can honestly say that those days are gone.

Before I continue, in the interest of full disclosure, I must say that now that I am older, finding someone to play with is no longer a problem. My kid’s are always up for a game of Scrabble with Dad and since, as an adult, I know more words that begin with “Q” than they do, my unbeaten streak now stands at three years and running. Anyway, I was reading an article the other day that said that Softlayer hosted over 100 million gamers across the globe. I’ll admit that the initial mental picture this conjured in my mind was not pretty. 100 million guys around the world sitting in their mom’s basements, in their underwear, eating Cheetos with one hand and with a joystick in the other is probably something that the folks at Softlayer choose not to dwell on, and I can’t say that I blame them. Of course, when you consider that this band of virtual warriors come in all sizes and ethnicities it kind of make you realize Disney was right. It is a small world after all.

It used to be said that, “The sun never set on the British Empire”—yeah, I know that was a long time ago and now it sets about 7:00pm Greenwich Meantime—and that’s the equivalent of what on-line gaming has brought us. A world in which there is always someone to play with. Feel like storming the beaches of Normandy at 3:00 am? No problem. Have the urge to begin a quest to capture Orlock the magic troll before breakfast? Fear not. Today there is always somebody on-line to help you make the world safe for democracy or wield the Enchanted Sword of Azarath to help you enter the Cave of Zandor no matter what time it is.

Personally, I think we can’t underestimate the societal impact of these “cyber playmates”. Loneliness will become a thing of the past since, since, for a small monthly fee, you can be instantly play World of Warcraft with Raj in India, Sergei in the Ukraine and Lin Xio in Bejing all from the comfort of your own Barcalounger. Who said that money can’t buy friends? And if you can enjoy the visceral satisfaction of virtually nuking that guy in Pakistan, do we really need to do it in real life? Maybe in the future all our world conflicts can be solved through these on-line engagements. We can replace generals and diplomats with a bunch of 16-year old kids for the price of a couple of cases of Red Bull and some Hot Pockets. The possibilities are endless.

Certainly there are those who choose to pooh pooh this proliferation of virtual entertainment. We’ve all heard their complaints, “kids today can’t read”, “we’re becoming a socially isolated society”, “Junior is 8 and he weighs 200 pounds”. Aren’t these really just the ravings of a bunch of latter day Luddites? I say anything that helps folks avoid having to play Monopoly with their sisters is a good thing. And don’t we all really want to live in a world where there is always someone to play with regardless of how bad the lawn looks or messy your room is?

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