PW, you are more the expert at this than I am, I think.
The reading for this final week is available here.
The prevalent attitude regardint the "third place" of games is that “media are displacing crucial civic and social institutions.” That is, the Internet allows connection over time and space (good) but the Internet also enables “pseudo comunities” (bad). But not all Internet use is the same, something which the above claims suggest
The notion of “Third place”
Relationships are fostered at home, and at the workplace (2 places); relationships are also fostered at a new “third place” for informal sociability (pubs, coffee shops) - there has been a decline in participating in “Third place” sociability. MMOs or Massively Multiplayer Online Games are a place for increasing social capital, and a new “Third place.”
Such places are neutral ground: individuals are free to come and go with little obligation to interact with others. These places are levellers: an individual’s rank and status outside are not important. Conversation is main activity: playfulness and wit are collectively valued. There is the notion that these places are accessible and accommodating: they are easy to access and accommodating to those visiting (not sure this is exactly true). There are regulars (people who frequent the place, inviting newcomers and provide a mood), and the place has a low profile (that is, the place is not pretentious). The mood is playful: frivolity and wit abound. It is like a home away from home: home-like - rootedness, feelings of possession, spiritual regeneration, feelings of being at ease, and warmth.
So is an MMO a “third place”? Consider what the authors suggest: an MMO is a “third place” in all areas except accessibility (it costs to have access) and low profile (although it works in terms of conversation, but not in terms of “physical” settings). Are virtual communities really communities, or is physical proximity necessary? (This seems like an age-old question.)
Social Capital (again): this is like financial capital, but for social and personal gains rather than financial. Bridging social capital is inclusive; individuals from different backgrounds make connections between social networks (large, weak networks). Bonding social capital is exclusive; strongly tied individuals provide support to one another (small, strong networks). Bonding social capital was much rarer than bridging social capital.
“MMOs are new (albeit virtual) ‘third places’ for informal sociability that are particularly well suited to the formation of bridging social capital.”
“Perhaps it is not that contemporary media use has led to a decline in civic and social engagement, but rather that a decline in civic and social engagement has led to retribalization through contemporary media.”
The lack of bridging relationships, the opportunity to expand the social structures of which one might be a part, can be looked at as extremely negative. From this point of view, any technology which suggests greater bridging social capital might be seen as extremely worthwhile and perhaps beneficial: “Without bridging relationships, individuals remain sheltered from alternative viewpoints and cultures and largely ignorant of opportunities and information beyond their own closely bound social network.”
Is there a Christian view of games? Christians have often weighed in with medieval and early modern critiques of games: evils of games of chance; slothfulness attributed to gaming; addictive nature of games; avoid leisure and do work instead (“idle hands do evil deeds”). At one point, Dungeons & Dragons was considered a game which opened one up to devilish influences. Once this died down (ironically coinciding with the decline in the popularity of the game), Christians became concerned with video games.
Do we really need a "Christian" game industry? What do you think of this statement, that "gaming is a God-given potential"?*
*Citation: Quentin J. Schultze and Robert H. Woods Jr., eds., Understanding Evangelical Media: The Changing Face of Christian Communication (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2008), 208.