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Online gaming is a large sector, but social gaming makes up a surprisingly large part of the market. While free-play gaming sites are typically not the money makers that their online casino and sports betting counterparts prove to be, they remain immensely popular around the world.

Zynga recently showed significant growth and indicated a refocusing of business efforts on its free-play Zynga Poker game. While real-play online poker remains popular, social poker with little to no financial commitment dominates. Play-money games attract mainly those who simply want to play for fun, with no skill commitments required and no money at risk. The social aspect – unsurprisingly – keeps players coming back as well, as some players make connections with others and form a virtual community.

PokerStars Free-Play Community to the Rescue

A recent situation on the free-play online poker site offered by PokerStars showed not only that there is a strong community of players who know each other, if only by screen names and regular games, but it also proved to be a life-saving hobby.

A player at one of those virtual tables began to experience a medical emergency. As recounted by PokerStars, the woman with a wound on her leg started bleeding out and began to see her blood pressure drop. She typed her concerns into the chat box as she got more scared, and the other players at her table chimed in. They were typing advice, mostly urging her to call the 911 emergency phone number for medical assistance.

When the injured woman stopped typing, the other players took quick action to contact the site’s support team for help. The customer service representative responded quickly, found the player’s home address, and called the local police. Meanwhile, the woman had taken the advice of her online poker friends and called for an ambulance herself before she lost consciousness, and she was taken to a hospital for treatment.

“They saved my life,” she said.

Communities Can Be Difficult to Find

In a day and age when everyone is on the go and social interaction is often replaced by texting, it can be hard to find a community of friends. Social gaming provides that opportunity online. While the players may not become lifelong friends, many of them are able to find a friendly and comforting place to play their favorite game while also engaging in light-hearted conversation.

The players involved in saving the PokerStars player’s life was that kind of social gaming community. One of the people at the table when it happened told PokerStars, “I discovered this group simply by scrolling through tables, looking for a friendly chat. They adopted me after I had joined them for about a week. … We play nights, most days of the week.”

There is a certain comfort in knowing that there are players at an online table who will be glad to see you, not to win money from you but to simply enjoy your company. There are only chips at stake in the free games on these sites, but there is a camaraderie that is rare to find in real-money online poker and makes the games worth the time. Players at the free-play sites aren’t grinding out a living or building a bankroll or even practicing strategy after studying hand histories. They are simply there to enjoy a favorite pastime and each other’s friendly company.

Real-money online poker has its perks, and millions of players enjoy the games, whether they are playing for thousands of dollars or in the penny games. But the social sites offer the same games without any of the financial pressure. Of course, the level of skill is different, but the atmosphere tends to be friendlier and more conducive to a recreational activity, one that may also offer a sense of community. And in today’s world, that community is a precious resource.

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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.