Let's walk through a conversation I have on a regular basis.
Gamer Friend: "Have you beaten Mass Effect 3 yet?"
Me: "No, I started the first one, but haven't gotten very far."
Gamer Friend: "You haven't beaten Mass Effect yet?
Me: "Nope, but I just beat Psychonauts!"
Gamer Friend: "I thought you play a lot of video games?"
This is a recent example, but the games are interchangeable with so many others. While you were playing Skyrim, I was playing Pikmin 2. Why? I love old games, dated graphics and all. As much as I'd love being more involved in the zeitgeist immediately after a major release, I love playing games that I've heard good things about for years, knowing I'm in for a treat. Yet, there is always one major force pulling me away, and that's the feeling of isolation that comes from an offline single-player experience.
There is a world of difference between playing a Virtual Console game on my Wii, and playing a retro game re-released on Xbox Live Arcade. If I want to play a 40-hour 90s JRPG alone in my apartment on a weekend afternoon, I can go to either platform. Play on the Wii and I'll have spent the entire day eyeballs-deep in a compelling-if-antiquated fantasy world with nothing to show for it but some carpal tunnel. Play on Xbox Live, and that experience becomes a connected one. My friends see what I'm playing. I can share my achievements. I can see who else has played this game, how far they've gotten, and find out what else they recommend.
If playing on Xbox Live is like seeing a movie in the theater with your friends, playing on the Wii (or an older system like the PS2) is like watching that same movie on an airplane, with the airline's proprietary $3 headphones on, and the overweight guy next to you leaning on your shoulder while he sleeps. The content's the same, but one case is a catalyst for conversation, while the other is a way to keep from feeling dead inside for two hours.
It's these experiences that convince me that Facebook et. al. are onto something with the mantra that social games are better games. I'm excited for a future where every game gives me the option to share my experience with my friends. I won't force it on anybody else, but I'm going to take that option every time.
In the meantime, I'll have to justify my more disconnected gaming sessions in some other way... like writing a blog post about it.
Chrono Cross (Playstation)
Professor Layton and the Curious Village (Nintendo DS)
Rayman Origins (Xbox 360)
The Witcher (PC)