Let’s all sing Kumbaya and eat nachos!
Video game culture is currently undergoing an identity crises with predictably ugly results. The battle lines are drawn between the Purists and Social Justice Warriors (SJWs). Purists see themselves as defenders of the old ways of gaming, and largely reject the social and artistic development that surrounds games. They wish to preserve video game culture as it was in the 80s, 90s, and early 00s, and see games as “just games”. The SJWs seek to embrace the notion of games as art and argue they have an obligation to broaden their appeal beyond the traditional bastions of white, male gamers. SJWs see games as deliverers of messages, not just receptacles of fun. In this article, I hope to set out my own vision of the future of video game culture. One that I see as founded on inclusivity and the power of shared interests.
For many gamers who grew up in the 80s and 90s, video games were a beleaguered standard that we loved and defended against societal misunderstanding. Gamers were classified as “nerds” and our contributions were seen as infantile. Many of the socially inept among us used video games as a shelter to explore new lands and meet wonderful people without having to interact with social rules we did not understand. We formed groups of people for whom video games were our shared language and passion. The school scene may not have understood or liked us, but we had access to worlds they could only dream of.
That time has passed. Video games can still be a refuge for the isolated and outcasts, but are also accepted and played by much of society. Some cling to the notion of separation as a source of their identity, but this is now a choice. Even though the outcast space has diminished, video games can and should be a welcoming culture that seeks to share its love. Games have diversified to the point that a myriad of audiences can find characters and worlds that they relate to. There is something for just about everyone. We should seek to bring others in to both enhance their lives and to enrich gaming culture with a more diverse set of actors. We should turn gaming culture into a place that defies social exclusion and welcomes those who seek it. We should never penalize someone for their lack of knowledge or enthusiasm. We should not degrade those who are different. We should seek to show others why we love games so much and how the culture as a place for them.
I recently went to MAGfest (Great time, everyone should go) and saw this in action. I went to see my roommate play in the Triforce Quartet (They are also awesome. You should love them.) and was joined by my girlfriend, my old roommate/friend, and his fiancé. Playing to stereotypes, neither of the significant others were gamers nor played many games. They peaked at Atari 2600. They are not part of the gaming crowd. That being said, when my old roommate and I glommed on to an old arcade machine, they went off on their own and found a Pacman cabinet. They didn’t play long or do well (Ed – I have been informed they got to the third level and, therefore, “did pretty good”), but they had fun. In the midst of a convention that seemed alien and a culture that was profoundly odd, they found a 35 year old game and had fun with it. They talked about how they played and shared a bonding moment. That’s what video games can do. They can make you forget your troubles, join with others, and enjoy the moment. It was awesome.
I reject the notion that gamer culture should remain static or that the notion of gamer culture is dead. Video games culture, like most cultures, changes over time to incorporate new thoughts and (hopefully) new peoples. I want gamers to continue to embrace the old notion that video games can be a shelter that brings us together. I want us to recognize that the strongest power our culture has is to find a place for everyone. And, while we’re doing it, I want us to have fun.