Of Geekdom

You’re A Gamer

Yesterday I saw the above video pop into my subscription feed on YouTube, and since Pixel is awesome and was a Blaugust participant I of course watched it.  In the video she talks about a problem of shunning going on in the “girl gamer” circles, and it prompted me to write yet another one of these pieces.  While I absolutely see the issue happening in that community, I also think the issue is inherent in all “geek” communities, and it becomes pretty damned frustrating.  For awhile now I thought I could blame it on my generation.  As far as video games go, we are essentially patient zero.  My folks had a pong system, then I graduated to Atari… then to Nintendo… and pretty much every gaming fad in between.  So for awhile now I have felt this strange sense of responsibility for apparently being part of the generation that created this broken model.  I thought maybe the gatekeeping came from the fact that for many of us we have experienced a bit of shame over our hobbies, or at least being treated to those “you are not normal” type of looks on a regular basis.

I wear my “geekdom” on my sleeve but once you leave the development row at work… I am absolutely “not like the other kids”.  I have Lego MiniFigures instead of pictures of kids, and I have to explain so many of the assorted items of kitch on my desk.  Weirdly enough pretty much everyone knows what a Creeper from Minecraft is however, but I guess if folks have kids… that makes sense.  The odd thing is…  I remember a time when it wasn’t like this really.  I remember when you went to someones house and saw an Atari… you were essentially instant friends because you had a fast point of reference.  Same thing happened for Nintendo, and everyone would huddle around the lunch room to talk about this game or that.  It wasn’t just a geek thing, it was an every kid thing.  Hell my wife does not consider herself a gamer at all… but she had an Atari and a Nintendo and played both.  Her favorite game growing up was Snoopy and the Red Baron, and at some point I am going to find one for her for no reason other than sheer nostalgia.  So I guess the question is… what happened?

Forming Camps


The very first time I can really remember any tension forming, came from the early Sega versus Nintendo rivalry.  I mean during the Atari era there were other console systems like the Colecovision or Intellivision, but ultimately it didn’t really matter that much.  At the end of the day we were all playing the same ports of arcade games, which seemed to be universally offered on all platforms.  The first party title thing didn’t seem to really matter… that is until Mario and Sonic.  The advertising was constantly and obnoxious and full of partial truths.  I grew up in a small town, and quite literally no one that I knew could actually afford both a Super Nintendo AND a Genesis, so it ultimately meant you had to place all of your hope in one console or the other.  I don’t remember any fights breaking out but it was really the first time I can remember such a thing as someone owning the “wrong console”.  I had a friend with a Sega Master System, and I remember one birthday party where everyone was disappointed that he didn’t have a Nintendo to play.  No one really wanted to try this “other” thing, because everyone wanted to play Super Mario Brothers.

I could drive myself insane trying to trace the roots, but regardless of how we ended up in this situation…  it isn’t a great one.  Any system where we claim that Gamer A is not as much of a gamer as Gamer B because they like this thing or that thing…  is a really bad system.  I guess the part about it that I don’t really get is when did we start competing with each other on everything.  Can’t it be enough that you like a thing, and want to do a thing…  without having to feel the need to shit on everyone who is doing something else?  I mentioned Minecraft earlier, and that game honestly gives me a lot of hope.  A friend of mine was telling a story the other day, about how their kid bumped into some other kids while on vacation.  Somehow the topic of Minecraft came up, and suddenly all of these random strangers were instant friends.  Games have the power to bring people with no other shared interests together, and honestly most of the people I know on the internet… I know thanks to gaming.  So I see the potential that this shared interest has to unite us all… and it just makes me even the more depressed when I see people fighting over this game or that game.  Does it really matter if you prefer Call of Duty to Battlefield, or if you happen to like a PS4 over an Xbox One?  Can’t we all just be okay with saying “these are things I like” and be equally okay when someone else happens to like different things?

I Have No Answers

I have no real answers at the end of the day.  Lately I have seen a lot of angst in the World of Warcraft community as people disappear from that game.  I was absolutely part of the problem during the first great exodus to Rift, and I feel bad for it.  Ultimately what I want is for people to do whatever makes them happy, and play whatever game they are passionate about.  Similarly when they stop being passionate about it…  it is perfectly okay to walk away with zero shame.  Just because I am in a down cycle where I am not all that interested in World of Warcraft it doesn’t mean that I wish the game harm.  Sure there is a bit of schadenfreude occasionally over the earning reports, simply because I have felt for awhile that the staff doesn’t really get what players actually want.  I keep hoping that they will right the ship and turn us back to a game that I would be happy to play again.  At no point however do I want the game to go away or am I willing to actively rail against people for playing it.  I guess what happened to change my opinion… is that I started to see the alternative.

During that first parting of ways…  we had not seen the consequences of when a game stops being supported.  Ask the folks who played Star Wars Galaxies, City of Heroes or Vanguard how they feel about having a game world disappear.  After watching several worlds just simply vanish…  it has made me quite a bit more respectful of whatever game anyone happens to be playing.  We invest so much of ourselves in the games that we play, and whatever it is that you happen to be passionate about is awesome.  The gatekeeping and the “you must be this tall to ride this ride” signs that we seem to constantly be willing to tack up all over our landscape are counter productive.  I original thought it was my generation that broke the system, but now I am just not certain any more.  Maybe tribalism is just something that is naturally going to happen in any system when it gets too large.  Maybe “gamer” isn’t even really a thing anymore… and video games are just something that everyone does.  We don’t have a title for folks who watch TV, because that distinction is utterly meaningless.  Just because we both own a TV does not mean we are likely going to be watching the same shows…  but by the same token no one is expecting us to.  Maybe we need to shed the notion that we all have this common point of reference, and maybe we just need to accept the fact that we are all going to like different things.  Maybe in another generation this question just simply won’t exist any more because gaming has become so mainstream that nobody even thinks about it as an identity.  Whatever the case…  for the time being…  I just wish we could treat each other better.



NBI Talkback 3 – What Made You A Gamer?

Early Beginnings

searstelegames I had an extremely strange couple of days, so instead of talking about that I thought I would tackle the third talkback challenge.  For this one my good friend Jaedia posted a prompt on the Newbie Blogger Initiative website asking “What Made You A Gamer?”.  This is one of those topics that I have thought long about for years, and I am not really sure what the answer is.  I am not sure if there is any one thing that makes someone a gamer.  I think you are either born with the natural proclivities in that direction or you are not.  My earliest memories of gaming are pretty clear however.  My parents had a Sears and Roebuck version of the Atari Tele-Games console system…  aka Pong.  I remember being completely enamored with being able to move the bar on screen to intercept the square bouncing around the screen.  I don’t necessarily remember playing this all that often because well… it was my parents toy and not mine, but I remember the desire being real.

A few years later thought my parents purchased an Atari 2600, and that is the system I remember being “mine”.  My mom was a teacher and I guess one of her students was selling theirs used.  This is important because it sets up a long tradition of me buying console systems second hand that I continue today with my Craigslist finds.  The console came with the base system, several well worn controllers and a dozen or so games for the big price of $50… which actually was quite a bit of money back then.  I was enthralled by the games and while they really had no story to tell on their own, it didn’t stop me from making up stories.  Even the most generic game could be a vehicle for me to tell tales of valor and bravery.  I remember for whatever reason that Sea Quest was one of my favorite games at the time, which was this simple game about going down in a sub marine to save divers.  In my head I was this crack submarine pilot fighting off sharks to rescue my troops.

Discovering Role-playing Games

DaveTrampierPlayersHandbook At this point we are going to take a bit of a detour, because I was happily an Atari kid for years making up stories to fill in the gaps that the games were not providing for me.  Then an event happened that literally changed my trajectory permanently.  As I have said before I grew up the child of a teacher, and that means a bunch of things.  Not the least of which is that you end up spending a lot of time up at school waiting for your teacher parent to “wrap things up”.  I knew all of the janitorial staff by name and they were a kind of family that I hung out with as they did their things, and I waited on my mother.  At the end of the school year there was a tradition, the great locker cleanout.  On the last day of school, anything that was left in the student lockers at 4 pm was going to get dumped in the ground and thrown out, to clear the lockers to be cleaned for the next school year.  I learned my scavenging instincts at a young age, and this was pretty much a magical time for me as I wandered around through the piles of debris picking up gems.

Most of the treasures I found were in the realm of nifty “stationary” items like binders or notebooks, but I remember during second grade I stumbled upon a book that quite literally changed my life from that point onwards.  That seems like a fairly bold statement but finding a dusty well worn copy of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook was like opening a whole other world to me.  To say I was obsessed with this was a bit of an understatement.  I poured over the pages of the tome soaking in everything I could from it.  While I didn’t understand anything about the game itself, it provided for me a structure of types of heroes, types of weapons, types of magic that imprinted upon me.  I loved the artwork and the next year at school it dominated the recess games I played with my friends.  We were a band of warriors, and the fact that the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon started around this same time only served to fuel the fire.  The only problem being that we lived in the bible belt, and “Dungeons and Dragons” was an evil thing.  So instead I got wrapped up in the Marvel Super Heroes game also by TSR.  For some reason my friends parents could stomach them playing a game based on comic book heroes, so long as we never referred to or referenced it as being “like” D&D.  We had to go so far as to hide the dice needed to play it, so as a result I became the game master because my parents were cool with all of this.

The Nintendo Christmas

nintendo-nes-mario-console-boxed The next major event in my game development came with the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System.  Up until this point I had been doing everything I could to squeeze the joy out of a combination of the Atari and my scattered pen and paper role playing games.  Then my cousins came to town with their Super Mario Bros and completely destroyed my world.  Everything about the NES was just better.  There were stories being told through the games, and with characters that you could actually recognize as characters.  I grew up in a pretty small town and the arcade was a less than savory place.  So my exposure to Arcade games to that point was pretty much limited to the occasional lobby of a department store.  While I craved playing them, and begged my parents for a quarter anytime we were near one… it was not something I really got to do all that often.  When the NES came on the scene I was completely blown away by the graphical fidelity and my entire existence became about getting one.  This was the Christmas that the Nintendo was universally sold out around the country.

I had to be the most annoying kid because I kept tabs on which stores had them, which stores were rumored to have them… and which stores were sold out.  I kept my parents up to date on my findings, in hopes that they would rush out and get one.  So as Christmas rushed towards us and there was no Nintendo shaped box under the tree…  I was completely devastated.  Then Christmas morning happened… and I had put on a good face and was prepared to swallow down the disappointment.  There under the tree was sitting a gleaming Control Deck box just like the one above.  This was probably the most joy I had experienced to that moment, and if my parents had a video camera it probably would have looked a lot like the N64 kids.  This was the single best and worst Christmas I had ever experienced.  About two hours after getting my Nintendo…  we lost power due to an Ice Storm that was raging… and we did not get power back for three days.  So while I had the object of my desire…  I had no power with which to actually enjoy it.  The rest is pretty much history, games like Final Fantasy were able to merge my love of RPGs and my love of games, and now I spent most of my time playing MMOs.  I still think however that people either are inherently game lovers or they are not, and there isn’t really much that can “make” a gamer.

Flourishing Communites

No Longer Mainstream

This morning I am struggling more than a bit to find a topic to write about.  I keep coming back to a conversation last night on teamspeak regarding our identification or lack thereof with the term “gamer”.  One of my friends talked about how he has slowly distanced himself from the title because it no longer really offered anything in way of meaning for him.  It no longer really clearly identified his interests.  I guess to some extent I am no longer a mainstream gamer either if you really think about it.  When there is a big show like E3 It is evident that I no longer care about the games that seem to get the most press like the Call of Duty or Battlefield franchises.  Granted there was a time where I was happy to throw money at both of these, but that time has passed.

Instead I tend to focus on the games that give me the most freedom to inhabit the worlds.  The narrative game play experience is still fun on occasion but the games I tend to play every night offer some way for me to inhabit them.  The top franchises seem to be mostly about fighting against other players, whereas I want to cooperate and collaborate with them in creating social environments.  The thing that keeps me tied to Final Fantasy XIV right now is just how vibrant and alive the community is, and how easy it has been to find the social strata I have craved.  It is something that has just been lacking from other games I have played in the last few years, and I am not really sure why exactly it is lacking.

Flourishing Communities

I wish I knew why that sense of community flourishes in some games but not others.  I think in part it is due to isolation from the more negative forces of the internet.  The games that have had some of the best environments, have also been games that I felt where under appreciated.  In Everquest II the Antonia Bayle server community is amazing, and has a thriving role-playing and community event presence.  Similarly in Lord of the Rings Online the Landroval community is equally amazing, and offers everything from casual concerts at the Prancing Pony to intricate community events.  In both cases these are games that are not pulling in the big attention and I think the end result causes a much more tight knit and insular community.  Similarly Final Fantasy XIV has been somewhat isolated from the mainstream and developed a community that flourishes around a love of the game.

So I guess my pondering is, do these communities thrive because the mainstream gamer has shunned them?  I’ve literally seen some of my more mainstream friends turn their noses up visibly when I have mentioned I was playing Everquest 2, or Lord of the Rings Online…  and I am sure the same would be the case with Final Fantasy XIV.  In the case Final Fantasy XIV there is still a lot of bad blood out there surrounding the failure that was 1.0.  In the case of the others, I think it is mostly because they were “not WoW”.  I am beginning to be of the opinion that playing a second or third tier MMO is the best experience, pending you find a server that still has a thriving and active population.  The people that have stuck around there, do so for various reasons… but it often means that the community is well established and stable… and with a little effort welcoming to new comers.

Gamer Lacks Meaning

Now to drift back to the original discussion from last night about whether or not gamer is a meaningful term.  There was a time where that term meant something, a shared experience that became immediately relatable.   Now gaming in general has become so fragmented that just because someone self identifies as a gamer, doesn’t meant at all that you have any shared experiences.  I ran into this Wednesday at the funeral with my cousins.  There were four of us nephews… of us at one time or another have self identified as gamers.  However as we started to talk about them two of them immediately started talking about their latest call of duty exploits, and another pair of us started talking role playing games.  So when the term gaming was summoned it meant two vastly different things.  I still find myself unwilling to fully abandon the title of Gamer, even though most of the images that currently evokes no longer really represent me.

Maybe I have shifted my focus in the way my friend Tam has shifted to “Game Designer”.  Maybe the fact that I am now a “Game Blogger” better denotes my interest in gaming and my point of view on it all.  Even “MMO Gamer” probably does a far better job of representing my interests than “Gamer” does.  I think some of the discussion is about whether or not labels are important at all, and I think they are mostly.  Labels, especially one ones someone self identifies with are a kind of social shorthand.  It is like a sketch of the person that they want the world to see them as, and is meaningful in trying to align interests but not much more than that.  Once you get to know someone you learn their hopes, fears and aspirations… the labels stop being meaningful at all.  Prior to that however they act as a way to grease the wheels of interaction.  The problem with this however is that gamer is coming to represent something I do not support and do not want to be part of.  I would love to think that I could reform the title and bring it back to something just, pure and true…  but I think we have long crossed the point of no return and are now seeing the last death throes of “Gamer”.