When I was a kid, if you wanted to chat via text, you had to put it on a 5 1/2" floppy written in Basic and pass it to your friend. Sure there was IRC, but you had to hook up your 9600 baud modem to make it work.
I have been a gamer though throughout. Back then it was Brickout and Lode Runner. For me today it is SOCOM II (I am biased against Halo) and Doom and various RTS computer games. In my experience, the most successful games are 'social'. There is a community or clan that hangs out as much to be around other people like you and to be social, as anything else. Everquest works because of the group dynamic. The advent of voice communication makes that even more powerful, and makes computer games more like a fun phone call or chat line.