Since online gaming was introduced to me I've always been intrigued with the idea of sharing my gaming experiences with another person. I loved having another thinking, feeling person in there to huddle with for warmth in the cold mathematical winters of our digital worlds. Something about playing a game with another person makes it feel like less of an escape and more of an adventure. Two or more people pretending it was all real always seemed to increase the immersion, and, along with the validation of having fellow enthusiasts to team up with, there was also the slightly more conceded interest of now having a way to measure yourself against another human being.
With the arrival of the 360 the availability of details on fellow gamers was increased by a factor. The information has become so abundant I don't even have to physically talk to the other person to know what they've been up to. The most intimate details of their gaming life are open to anyone who wants to browse their profile.
Hey, you're not on. When were you on last? What were you playing? Root Beer Tapper? Wow, did you buy that? Let's see, the Gamerscore is zero so you probably didn't. Hey, but you did get the new NHL game! What's that like? Must be good, you've unlocked over half of the achievements. The entire history of gaming on their 360 can be found out without a word spoken.
It's a collection of all the pertinent information in one place available to the only other people interested it in. It connects people not just with a common goal, but with a common lifestyle. My friends don't just see me when I'm playing a game, they see me if the 360 is on, period. That means that I am available whenever I am doing most of the actions that brought our interests together in the first place: watching movies, listening to music, watching TV, playing games. Hell, they can even see who's on from any internet connection. It's not just another multiplayer aspect of gaming. It's the reality of having almost every gamer with a 360 under one roof. I'm talking about community, and maybe even going so far as to call it family.
I'm starting to feel the need for a human presence, and validation through that contact, in even the most die hard single player experiences. The need is becoming so strong that I've given up on some of the single player games available for other platforms that don't allow me to stay connected to a community. Zelda: Twilight Princess for my Gamecube? Quit. Do you want to know the real honest answer as to why I quit? It was because I didn't feel like I was contributing to my gaming identity. I wasn't enriching myself in the one place that people can view my achievements. Telling someone what you did in a game last night isn't the same as having recorded proof of the act displayed for all of the online community to review and revere.
That brings me to the other siren call of Xbox Live; the possibility for not only companionship, but also for admiration. Fame, it's going to cost you Leroy, about 4.95 a month. Transforming the Live community into one gigantic High Score board is like turning it into an incubator set to the exact temperature gamers need to thrive and grow. The achievements unlockable for every single 360 game on the market transform every game into a multiplayer game and with so many titles in so many genres, surely there will be a niche high score for everyone. Most people aren't bad at everything, and even if they are, it's easy enough to spot the other people that, well, kind of suck too. It's like a built in matchmaking service (the Cupid.com kind, not the Halo 2 kind).
I know that the 360 isn't the only console with an online community. The PS3 and Wii and even the Nintendo DS all have the ability to connect with other players on a social level. But I do know that the online console gaming community for Xbox Live was here first, and I know that with a reputation of stability and affordability that easily rivals the system it runs on, the good people that subscribe to Xbox Live and enjoy the myriad of features available to them through the service are gaining access to the best gaming community out there today.
This online "Tree House" phenomenon that Live has turned into reassures me every day that I made a good decision in spending my hard earned cash on a next generation system. The level of connectivity with fellow gamers across the country, and even the world, is like something out of the Jetsons. It's this robust network of social communities and scoreboards that is going to keep the 360 on top of the Next Gen dog pile, and it's the lack of this attention to personal contact on a grand scale that is going to be the biggest obstacle for rival systems to tackle in the future.