From "Madden NFL Football" to “Fortnite” and “Forza Motorsport," to “World of Warcraft” and "Call of Duty,” the virtual worlds of online gaming have ballooned in recent years.
As gaming culture has moved online, though, the face-to-face social atmosphere of the arcade heyday has become a thing of the past. John Lange finds that unfortunate.
“It loses some face-to-face practice of social interaction that is really valuable,” he said.
So, in an effort to reclaim the camaraderie and competitive spirit of same-room gameplay, Lange and co-owner -edd Batson decided to open Looking For Group in 2015.
“I grew up with arcades,” Lange said. “I grew up with putting your quarter up to wait your turn you were always standing around machine with four or five people and you would talk to them. And least some of that social aspect we wanted to bring back.”
Located among the storefronts along Brookline Boulevard, the organization displays a modest business sign outside. Inside, you find a number of big and moderately sized monitors, video game consoles, PCs and virtual reality headsets.
The group is membership-based, but also open to the public most days of the week. According to Lange, the gaming can get competitive and a little friendly trash talk is OK, maybe even encouraged. But he says players at Looking for Group--unlike some players online--are held to a particular code of conduct.
"We don't let people say hurtful things toward each other we don't let people use disparaging words at other players here but also nothing sexist, nothing racist, nothing homophobic those words aren't here," Lange said.
Co-owner -edd Batson, says since Looking For Group opened, he’s seen an uptick in the numbers of people eager to fellowship around both video and traditional board games.
"Anecdotally, I can say that I've seen a change in our community,” said Batson. “Where, for people who come in and didn't show up with friends, it's a little bit easier to meet someone you can sit down with at one of our couches and say, ‘I see there are three of you guys playing this game here. Can I jump in and be your forth?' It’s a way you can meet people and make friends."
Some might consider gaming more of a young person’s pastime, but according to the Entertainment Software Association, the age of the average gamer is 34. Batson says part of Looking for Group’s mission is to bridge the gap between younger and more seasoned gamers.
“One of the beautiful things about gaming is that you don't have to be any age to play,” said Batson. “You can be 15 and play with someone who’s 50 and just picking something up and seeing what's new these days."
Shane Tauber, a long-time gamer, became a member one month after visiting for the first time. He travels regularly over 30 minutes to partake in the virtual and social activities.
“Doing that face-to-face; being able to smack talk each other right there on the couch, you don't get a lot of that anymore nowadays,” Tauber said. “It's a nice sort of throwback to, I guess you could say the old days."