(Flashback) In Which I Fail to Define Gamer Culture
Going out of town, which means you guys get another recycled article. Waste not, want not! I wrote this in the beginning of 2012. At that time, a man named Paul Christoforo had been a huge dick to one of his customers over a specialized game controller. That customer forwarded the emails to Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade. Mike Krahulik sank Paul Christoforo’s battleship. You can find the full story here.
You guys remember Paul Christoforo? Yeah, I know that whole incident is dead and done, but I’m WAY behind on my blog so I’m going to dig it up and use it for an opener. (Could be worse. I could be talking about the VGAs.)
I followed the Paul Christoforo…thing… with no small amount of fascination. I wasn’t just amazed by the way the internet lifted itself up to land directly upon his head with the fury of a thousand Westboro Baptist protestors at a gay rights parade; the backlash against Penny Arcade was captivating, too.
It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. It just kept getting worse.
Like all internet dramas eventually do, this one seems to have played itself out (or I just stopped paying attention to it; both are equally likely). Unlike most internet dramas, I find myself continually irritated by one small thread in one article I read during that time.
Seriously, this has been bugging the shit out of me, and it really didn’t have a lot to do with Christophoro’s career kamakazi directly into the Internet.
Dennis Scimeca wrote an article entitled “Penny Arcade Explains Why We Deserve the VGAs”. Now, Dennis Scimeca is what I like to call a “Real Writer”; I have mad respect for him and usually come away from his articles with something to think about. This time, I came away pretty irritated by the idea that gaming culture isn’t a real thing. (Note: Mr. Scimeca updated recently with a post questioning the validity of “gamer culture”; it’s very well written and you should read it.)
“OF COURSE it’s a thing,” I said to myself. “I’m a member of it, it HAS to be a thing!”
Myself responded, “Well, PROVE IT.”
And I said, “Damn.” Because that sounded like hard work and I am morally opposed to hard work.
The first thing I had to do was make sure I understood what the word “culture” really meant. This was easier said than done; it turns out that there are about a million different descriptions of what a “culture” actually is, and while some validated the idea of gaming culture, others discredited it entirely.
Finally I found The Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute. They have a page marked “Definition of Culture” which states:
The word Culture is highly misunderstood. The semantic field for this expression collectively includes but is not limited to:
Language : the oldest human institution and the most sophisticated medium of expression.
Arts & Sciences : the most advanced and refined forms of human expression.
Thought : the ways in which people perceive, interpret, and understand the world around them.
Spirituality : the value system transmitted through generations for the inner well-being of human beings, expressed through language and actions.
Social activities : the shared pursuits within a cultural community, demonstrated in a variety of festivities and life-celebrating events.
Interaction : the social aspects of human contact, including the give-and-take of socialization, negotiation, protocol, and conventions.
Now I had a checklist, and since I was tired of surfing the internet I decided to run with it. Could I apply these definitions to what I think of as “gaming culture” and make them fit?
Some of them are easy; social activities and interaction, for instance, are very much what gaming is about. We play games together, we talk about games together. We attend midnight launches and conventions; there are hundreds of gaming forums and clubs out there. We’re interacting online and in person constantly, whether to play games or talk about them.
“Arts and Sciences” is also easy to check off the list. I heard someone say once that you can’t have hundreds of artists work for years on a project and not call the result “art”, and I agree. Games are art, and I’m not likely to take the opinion of someone who hasn’t played one into account if he says they aren’t. Creating a game is also a scientific exercise, as I understand it; there’s math stuff and computer stuff and other stuff I don’t have any idea how to do.
Language is a bit tougher, but if you’ve ever tried to talk about games to someone who doesn’t play them, it quickly becomes clear that they don’t understand a damn thing you’re saying. It’s a bit of a stretch, but I’m going to go ahead and check this one off the list just because I’ve heard “I read your blog to be supportive, but I don’t really understand what you’re talking about” so many times. It’s not just watching n00bs you pwned qq because you ninja lewted the rare drop they camped for days (dick move, by the way, you should be ashamed).
Yes, gamers have developed our own slang, but more than that, the experiences we’ve had both in games and out of them have provide a space where we can connect. Of course, this may be a problem I’m alone in having, but every time I talk about games to non-gamers, it feels like I’m trying to translate as I go along. It’s uncomfortable and unfulfilling for everyone involved.
That leaves the two really tricky catagories: “Thought” and “Spirituality”.
This is where I start to feel even less qualified to figure all this out. (I don’t even know how that’s possible, honestly.)
Do gamers see the world differently than people who don’t play games? Do we have different values, priorities, or beliefs that set us apart from people that don’t game? I have spent two days trying my damndest to think of one way that gamers are fundementally different than the people around them when it comes to interacting with the world (the REAL world, the one without respawns or health meters or those handy icons that tell you exactly what’s afflicting you), and I’ve come up empty handed. I can point out ways that gaming has changed my outlook on the world, but that’s not something that applies to everyone; I’m fairly certain that you can’t build a culture off one person.
Reading the Wikipedia article that defines culture again, I noticed this:
However, the word “culture” is most commonly used in three basic senses:
- Excellence of taste in the fine arts and humanities, also known as high culture
- An integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning
- The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization, or group
For some of us, it’s bigger than the games we play, and “culture” might be the only term that fits for those of us that would identify ourselves as gamers before we labelled ourselves using jobs, genders, nationality, or religion. When I call myself a “Gamer”, I’m not just talking about my hobby, something I like to spend a couple hours doing on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I’m talking about something I am passionate about, something that has changed the way I view race and gender in the real world and opened unexpected avenues for communication with my kids, my parents, and even longtime friends. I’ve met amazing people that understand what I find amusing or touching in ways that many people don’t, simply because we’ve shared experiences, perhaps not in the real world, but certainly in several virtual ones.
I know I’m not alone in this. I’ve read so many blogs and threads about the politics of games, about the way developers treat gender, sexuality, race and disability. I’ve read even more talking about how gamers treat each other, and asking what in our communities- in our culture– is creating the idea that sexism, racism, or homophobia are acceptable. This is bigger than an activity or a hobby; as far as I can tell, these types of conversations aren’t happening in knitting circles or bridge clubs.
I don’t know if a sociologist would look at what is happening with the people who make games and the people who love them and say, “Yes, this is the very picture of a developing modern culture!” Hell, after all that reading, I’m still not sure exactly what a “culture” is.
But I think that, whatever it is, gamers have one. And I’m part of it.
(You may be interested in reading Wikipedia’s entry on Video Game Culture. Wikipedia says it’s a thing, guys, and WIKIPEDIA IS ALWAYS ACCURATE AND FACTUAL AND NEVER EVER MADE UP.)