I know a lot of gamers who won’t admit to it, or if they do will only admit to playing things like Portal or other cerebral but less mainstream games. Personally, I don’t go around saying that I’m a gamer either, even though I, of all people, recognize the value of gaming and I make it an important part of my studies, and have generally come to the conclusion that gaming tends to give people certain advantages. There’s a few reasons why I don’t really describe myself as a “gamer”.
- I don’t like getting getting the opinions of other “gamers”, especially if they’re the weekend warrior type of gamer, or competitive gamers who don’t really love gaming as an art and tool.
- There’s a heavy negative outside stereotype about gamers, especially in the millennial generation, who tend to look at people over 20 who can discuss games and play them regularly as wasting their time.
- A lot of the gamers I meet are, to risk being judgmental, not that great at social skills, and some of them are outright bad people. Look on YouTube and you’ll know what I mean pretty quick.
Now, the first part is, perhaps, a little “elitist” on my part. The first game I remember playing seriously was Total Annihilation, back in the 90’s on my dad’s computer. Needless to say, I have a good deal of perspective on games, given that I was probably less than ten when I started playing games, so while I’m young I’ve got a lot of history. I don’t like really listening to newer gamers; particularly the Call of Duty/Battlefield crowd and a lot of console gamers, since they play for different reasons than I do as a gamer that is interested in narrative and strategy, not execution and competition. I should probably stop here and point out that I do have friends who play competitive games; I’m not so elitist as to just say “No, I’m not going to be friends with you” over gaming, but I don’t talk games with people who just play competitive shooters other than something like Tribes or Arma, because they typically care more about the scene than the art form. I know competitive (semi-pro) gamers who are well-versed in games, and play more games than I do, are good at most of them, and appreciate the art.
The second issue is one more of social perception; I don’t talk games with people who are more than a decade older than myself, unless I’m talking educational game theory or game design, because most of them just don’t appreciate the art form. I’m not necessarily saying that this is a bad thing; it’s a good thing to be skeptical about how much time we spend on gaming, but I see people spending at least as much time as I spend gaming watching TV or movies, but those more mainstream mediums gain more credibility than gaming does. Some of this has to do with the state of the industry, and people in multiple groups contributing to the images of video games as horrible murder training tools/the instruments of moral decay, some of which is not undeserved (coughRockstar’sedgierstuffcough). I learned as a kid not to talk about games to my grandmother, for instance (and, as I got older and expanded my tastes from my classical musician parents’ backgrounds, music, books, movies, television), since it would warrant a “Kids these days!” reaction. This is more of a social thing, and I’ve met a lot of cool older people who are really understanding of the gamer culture, but it’s the sort of thing I don’t try to engage for the potential consequences.
Finally, however, the truth is that a lot of gamers deserve a bad reputation. This whole social order thing isn’t an accident-it’s been built up over centuries because it works to identify trouble makers. I’m not talking about the Harrises and Klebolds here, either, but sort of a more broad aspect of our culture that encourages and normalizes puerile, crude, and abusive behavior. I don’t typically participate in console discussions, nor do I like to make blanket statements, but back in the 00’s, there was a sort of running in-joke about foul Xbox players. Even our gamer cultural icons, such as Penny Arcade, tend to be edgier than the mainstream ones, and their edginess becomes a core factor in their experience. Xbox Live sort of became the Wild West of gaming, with abusive players still remaining a big part of the package. I mean, we are the source for the term “griefing”, and people tend to get nasty when they can be anonymous. This isn’t always the case-I’ve hung out with some pretty cool people through gaming, but there are often instances where I bump into people who I wouldn’t even take a business card from. Personally, I’ve found that this is something that people either grow out of or settle into. Some of it’s generational. The millennial generation tends to pay less attention to foul language, be cruder, and more off color than our older counterparts, something which is in part due to our youth but also just a cultural perception of these things as being less important-sophistication and professionalism fall by the wayside of a sort of narcissistic self-indulgence, and in the anonymous sphere this tends to play out in all sorts of misbehavior. Typically we don’t see anything serious come out of this, but, for instance, the attack on the author of Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. It shows to a certain degree just how immature the culture is-when told to grow up, essentially there was a huge backlash saying “Let us play!”. I’m not an expert on the subject, but Anita Sarkeesian went through some things that she definitely shouldn’t have had to at the hands of the internet’s gaming comunities, and the truth is that she didn’t really harm gaming-if anything she benefited it, because, let’s be honest here, gaming is in a pretty sorry state, especially if it wants to become a household thing. Look no further than Daggerfall to see this; every female character is baring cleavage of some sort, and it’s a great thing that Bethesda’s come to the point it has (not that it’s great; as a fan of both realism and sensible depictions, I find that they still hypersexualize female outfits, especially if you look at their now somewhat dated Fallout 3), but it’s the sort of thing that we still do, just not in as mainstream a manner. Heck, the fact that Dead or Alive got a sequel shows just how immature gaming is.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is this: There’s an element of risk and shame to professing to be a gamer, even for upstanding gamers who truly view games as an art form an a new narrative medium. This is because the industry as a whole fails to live up to expectations of behavior from outside society, and individuals follow suit. It’s a worrying trend, because we’re seeing gaming increasingly weave itself into the way of life professed by our future leaders, and yet we also see this incredibly anti-social behavior and rather uninformed stereotypes about the media that are damaging to the reputations of gamers as a whole, and the cesspit that is the darker corners of gaming prevents the gamers and game publishers who don’t act like cretins from bringing acceptance to the hobby and community.