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The GamerGhazi subreddit is my new favorite place on Earth.

I’ll admit that I’m blessed with a sense of self-worth divorced from my popularity as well as self-determination enough to not need anyone’s approval to call myself something like “gamer”.  It takes a strength of will or character to do this day in and day out.  That amount of will/character fluctuates, as you might imagine.  On the average Tuesday, it’s easy to stand in front of the mirror and address being a heavy-set, straight, white, reasonably well-adjusted, married male with a double major in 2 STEM subjects and a career track position in the tech industry.  On days when terrible people suggest a person should be killed for the crime of adding “gamer” into how they choose to identify or suggest the greatest achievement of a person’s life is lessened because of the shirt he’s wearing, I admit I question, in spite of force of will.  On those days, an affirmation helps.  Most of the time those affirmations come in the form of, “No matter how bad it gets for me, it will never get THAT bad.”  Daytime talk shows were always fantastic for this, and Jerry Springer was the pinnacle of Affirmation Mountain.  The internet has connected people to information from all around the world 24 x 7 x 365; thus the internet is the place to go in the modern era for the trek up Affirmation Mountain.  The top of the mountain for the short-term for me is GamerGhazi.  If you want to watch people vying for Olympic gold in mental gymnastics, GamerGhazi is your hook up.

So there I was, wading through the vines of bitter melon when I stumbled across some gold about “gamer culture”.  Here’s the link, but I’ll quote the whole thing:

A lot has been made about how magic, inclusive and amazingly supportive the “gamer culture” is and how gamers are automatically good people. It’s a load of garbage.

Try mentioning that you like playing console games and people will shit on you for the wrong console or for playing console games at all.

Try playing a game online and people will shit at you for being too good, too bad or just for being there at all.

Try liking a game that the hivemind has decided is bad (fun tip, post on your social media account that you just finished Mass Effect 3 and thought the ending was awesome)

Try disliking a game that the hivemind has decided is great.

Try saying that you think DLC is okay in most cases and in any event, the publisher have to the right to do what they feel will sell.

Watch when a sequel comes out and it’s not 100% exactly the same as the last one.

Dare to like a “casual” game.

Go to the bioware or blizzard forums and just have a read.

And that’s as a fairly straight, white male. There’s nothing magical about gamer culture. It’s just a hobby and has as many shit-heads as anything else.

Implied in this post are things I didn’t know about gamer culture.  For example, I didn’t know that gamer culture spontaneously appeared out of nowhere in the 2000’s to become, like everything else in the universe, a cog in a machine to endlessly manufacture self-esteem for self-righteously entitled millennial brats.  All that time I spent in arcades in the 1980s and 1990s?  Gone, like the pre-Disney Star Wars Expanded Universe, the uncountable number of evenings spent playing 6-player Magic: The Gathering with good friends, every great story I have from craps tables in Las Vegas, and the time I was an eyelash away from qualifying for the RoboRally World Championship.  Also gone are the thousands of years that gaming existed before the most recent generation of console and PC video games.  I could go on, but before I do, let’s talk about gamer culture—the real gamer culture—not the gamer culture invented by people willing to work for nothing and incapable of fighting for anything.

Camaraderie and Fellowship

I left my hometown for college in 1995.  Out of a graduating class of ~190, I was the only person to enroll at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire as a freshman.  The immediate consequence of this was arriving on campus and not knowing anyone.  It wasn’t until the second week of classes, when I took it upon myself to organize my Magic: The Gathering card collection in the TV lounge of the dorm I was living in. That night I met the first of what would become a group as small as four, as large as ten, that would play M:TG at least 3 nights per week every week class was in session for the next 4 years.  Oh, I was also a founding member and vice president of an official campus gaming organization that had access to conference rooms in the student center for gaming events.

Fast forward to January 2001, when I’d moved to Colorado for work.  Once again, I didn’t know anyone.  I was in a holding area for new hires while we were being assigned to positions.  By happenstance, I came across two other new employees having a discussion about video games.  Several things came from that conversation almost 14 years ago.  First, a friend I made that day and I have been meeting once per week at least 45 weeks per year for the last 14 years.  Second, I would get introduced to a group of great people of every race, class, and background imaginable through LAN parties.  Third, one of the people I’d meet through the LAN parties would become a co-host of the podcast I’d create in 2006 and co-found a business with me in 2010.  And then MMOs happened.

In early 2005, some friends made in the aforementioned LAN party group came over to my house on a Monday night raving about World of Warcraft.  I assume I don’t have to go into detail about how soul sucking WoW could be back then for people, and still is today, in spite of WoW making the transition from game to self-esteem engine for its player base when Wrath of the Burger King was released.  Later in 2005, the same friend came to my house again on a Monday and told me I had to listen to this thing called a podcast that was about WoW.  That podcast was the second episode of Blu Plz! with Total Biscuit.  At this point, the camaraderie and fellowship story splits.

In terms of gaming, I was in the leadership of three WoW guilds between 2006 and 2010.  One of those guilds made the transition to a raid guild; one of those guilds was a server first competing raid guild; and the third was a guild born from the podcast I started.  The single best part about MMOs are the ways they connect people; the common element among the guilds I was in was simple: we didn’t care who or what you were, so long as you were respectful of your teammates.  All the diversity gaming supposedly doesn’t have?  We were practicing it daily.  Did people screw up?  Of course people screwed up; everyone does, myself included.  That said, there’s no such thing as a utopia, and the good times outnumbered the bad in The Tainted, Calculating Infinity, and Versus the World by many factors of ten—memories I will keep for myself for the rest of my life.

For the other side of the story, fast forward to summer of 2006, when I finally convinced my best friend at the time that we could do a podcast about gaming.  6 weeks after we started the podcast, we were picked up by WoW Radio.  I met another group of strong-willed and creative people and created a different set of memories that I’ll keep with me forever.  Most importantly, though the podcast, I met the woman who would eventually become my wife.

This is to say nothing of all the time I spent in arcades over the years, especially the arcades in Mexico City, where the arcades were teeming with not cis-het white heterosexual males.

According to some, gaming is supposed to be a cesspit of toxic people.  I’m sure my experiences will be dismissed because I run the patriarchy.  It’s true I’ve run into some jerks, but jerks are everywhere.  To condemn a hobby, and attempt to undermine the things that make the hobby great based on the actions of jerks is intellectually dishonest.

The Meritocracy

Gamer Culture 2

Cathedral of Awesomeness

Nowhere is the meritocratic aspect of gaming culture more prevalent than the arcade.  For the uninitiated, arcade games would, at a minimum, show the high score during the attraction and demonstration routine.  Some games would show as many as the Top 250 scores on the machine of all time.  Achieving a high score afforded the player the privilege of seeing their score displayed on-screen and/or putting their initials next to their score.  It’s a badge of honor to have your initials show up on a screen every few seconds throughout the day—doubly so for the high score.

Fighting games brought their own culture into the arcade, and since the invention of fighting games, they remain one of the purest forms of gaming.  One player and their quarter(s) against another player and their quarter(s).  The best player in a best of three win, and gets to continue playing, while the loser must get in line and wait for another chance to dethrone the “champ”.  I worked in arcades in the middle of the genesis of the fighting game craze; it was a beautiful thing to watch and listen to.  Sure, occasionally a slur was shouted loudly enough to be heard above the cacophony of game sounds, but they were the great exception rather than the rule, and shouts of, “ULTRA COMBOOOOOOOOO!” were far, far louder than any slur ever was.

It would be intellectually dishonest of me, as well as unfair to anyone under a certain age, to limit gamer culture to arcade culture, or to say that anyone who never participated in arcade culture can’t or didn’t participate in gamer culture.  The previous paragraphs simply demonstrate that gamer culture isn’t a single thing, nor did gamer culture suddenly come into being in the last 5 years.

The meritocracy makes itself known in a few other obvious ways in gaming as well: e-sports and speed running are 2 more obvious examples of the meritocracy in action.  There’s another aspect of the meritocracy that people outside of gamer culture don’t understand the dynamics of—the ability to form an argument and defend it.

Here’s a perfect example of what I mean: What was the best shooter of the 5th Console Generation?  Most gamers are going to answer that question Goldeneye 007.  It was certainly the most popular shooter of the generation, selling 8 million copies.  But was it the best?  You might not know this, but the best FPS, period, pre Unreal Tournament was released on N64 and Playstation in 1999.  Yep, I’m talking about Quake 2.  I played both—Goldeneye on N64, and Q2 on Playstation—in 4 player split-screen.  Q2 was better in every measurable capacity.  Most Goldeneye fans will point to the sales figures, the novelty of the Golden Gun, and a release date for Goldeneye in 1997 vice a release date for Q2 of 1999. It’s an argument that doesn’t have a correct answer.  Similar is true for your favorite MOBA, WoW Faction, or an infinite number of other gaming related discussions happening on forums and social media everywhere across the internet.  Do those conversations go too far?  Sometimes they do; those are the threads you hear about before they’re locked or deleted.  It’s logical, since “fan” is short for “fanatic”. Threads getting banned and people going too far is the “what”; I want to focus on the “why”.

An Enthusiast’s Paradise

Gaming, whether people in general like it or not, is an enthusiast hobby.  People paint miniatures with painstaking detail.  The best RPG Game Masters spend hours on end crafting detailed worlds to put players in.  One can build the dream PC system on a website like Falcon Northwest with an absurd price tag.  Gamers slavishly watch Steam at every sale looking for the best deals to add to their game collection.  The lines outside conventions that were derided on August 28th are, in fact, a credit to the passion of fans of Penny Arcade, Blizzard, and gaming in general.  It is passion and fandom that drives people to make mods for games, create amazing cosplay, attempt their own level designs, or attempt to make their own game.  Answer this: would LoL have 11 bajillion people playing it if DotA hadn’t been a thing for years before hand to show everyone that MOBAs could be amazing?  Does that enthusiasm take a dark turn?  Yeah, sometimes it does, especially when that enthusiasm is crapped on by 10 strangers on the same day.  Trying walking through downtown Chicago wearing the Green and Gold; you’re naïve to think someone isn’t going to say something to you, doubly so after Green Bay scored 42 in first half against Chicago the last time the Packers and Bears played.  There is nothing wrong with passion, enthusiasm, or fandom.  In fact, those three attributes are what re-built the video game industry post-1983 meltdown into the 100 billion dollar industry it is projected to be in 2015.

All About the Benjamins

Let’s talk about that 100 billion dollar number for a minute.  Why is there all this consternation about inclusion in one enthusiast hobby, but not another enthusiast hobby, like rock climbing?  100 billion dollars is the reason.  According to a 2012 report, the total expenditures on Gear, Accessories, and Vehicles for Trail Sports was 12 billion dollars.  Rock Climbing is a small part of Trail Sports, so the amount of money to be made on Rock Climbing by turning non-Rock Climbers into Rock Climbers and advocating for inclusion in Rock Climbing is small.  Imagine someone writing an article suggesting every mountain peak over 10,000 feet needs to have a cog rail installed on it, so everyone can have the experience of reaching the summit of all 57 14’ers in Colorado. Further, the physical limitations of people preventing them from climbing mountains means Rock Climbing is not inclusive.  Why is gaming different?  Gaming, as an industry, has out-paced Rock Climbing roughly 100 fold, and the video game industry continues to grow.  There’s a ton of money to be made in redefining gamer to be everyone, redefining game to be every piece of software ever written, and propping up non-game developers on panels at GDC 2014, like this one.

The panel, if you choose to not follow the link, consists of Samantha Allen, Mattie Brice, Todd Harper, Christine Love, and Zoe Quinn.  Let’s take a census of this panel at the Game Developer’s Conference:

  • Number of Game Developers on the Panel: 0.5 (Harper, who has game credits on his CV, but they appear to be research collectives, vice commercial games.)
  • Number of Total STEM Degrees Earned by Panelists: 0
  • Number of documented bigots on the Panel: 3 (Allen, Brice, Love)
  • Number of documented abusers on the Panel: 4 (Allen, Brice, Love, Quinn)
  • Token minority on the panel: 1 (Harper: Specifically there to add academic credibility to the panel. His PhD thesis advisor?  Mia Consalvo.)
Gamer Culture 1

Proud Owner

So, to recap, a group of people (sans Todd Harper) who have no credibility whatsoever to discuss video games got a panel at GDC 2014 to talk about what to do when you’ve decided to make your game “better”. How? By adding abuse, bigotry, fear, and hatred to gamer culture while demonstrating none of the skills necessary to call oneself a game developer?  That’s not what I call better. But what I do I know?  I’m just a misogynist with a vintage 1986 Gottlieb pinball cabinet where the titular character is sexualized in some non-descript way.

One final thought.  Readers owe it to themselves to read the comments of the Ghazi thread I linked at the top of the post.  There’s high comedy to be had all over the place.

Todd Wohling

A long time ago on an Intellivision far, far away my gaming journey started with Lock n' Chase, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons The Cloudy Mountain, and Night Stalker. I earned both a BS-Physics and a BS-Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Today I spend most of my time on PC. I left a career of 14 years in aerospace in Colorado, so I could immigrate to Norway.