“Gamers” Aren’t Dead – A Response to “A Guide to Ending ‘Gamers'”

I didn’t want to write this.

When I revived She’s Lost Control Gaming after it’s almost year-long silence, I wanted it to focus on the games, because I feel like too much time in the gaming media is spent talking about anything but the games.

This, however, motivated me to respond.

In response to the recent turmoil surrounding gaming and gamers, Devin Wilson, on his member blog on Gamasutra, wrote up an article titled “A Guide to Ending ‘Gamers’,” in which he proposes a set of eighteen strategies for changing the gaming community.

I have some things to say about them. I recommend referring to the points in the article before reading my responses, as they’ll make more sense that way.

1. We don’t wait.

Mr. Wilson proposes that we stop waiting and examine the present state of games culture right now. He proposes that we stop looking for what’s around the corner and waiting for the medium to “mature,” and start demanding the medium “mature” right now.

What is a “mature” medium? What is “maturity,” for that matter? Something that’s “mature” is fully-developed. A “mature” human being, biologically-speaking, has no growing left to do. Semantically-speaking, a “mature” medium has explored everything it conceivably can and has no more room left to grow. I don’t think that’s what any of us want.

What the article is getting at, however, is that games aren’t “grown-up” enough. Just as some might refer to a fart joke as “immature” for being base and simple, gaming is also “immature” because it’s supposedly base and simple. It’s the dichotomy between being “childish” and being an adult. In this context, “maturity” takes on a different meaning.

What’s the big difference between a child and an adult?

An adult makes his or her own decisions and owns the responsibility for that. A big part of being an adult is having the freedom to both laugh at a fart joke and appreciate a political debate. “Maturity” is the ability to handle the freedom to make one’s own decisions. Just because some people don’t make decisions you agree with, it doesn’t mean they’re immature.

2. We listen to those who are less privileged than we are.

For as long as I’ve been gaming (Going on 20 years now), gaming has been the great equalizer. I’ve gamed with various groups of people throughout my gaming “career,” and not one of those groups has excluded me because I’m black, or him because he’s Asian, or her because she’s a girl, or him because he’s gay, or her because she’s Jewish, etc. If you can hang, which means nothing more than being able to play nice with everyone else in the group, you’re 100% welcome in the community. Yes, we joke around. Yes, we rib at each other. Yes, we talk trash. Anyone who can’t handle that shouldn’t associate themselves with groups in which that’s the norm. Those groups won’t mind.

It’s the same with any other search for anything: The higher your standards, the harder it will be to find what you’re looking for. If not talking smack is important to you, you look for groups where smack talk is discouraged.

For as long as I’ve been a gamer, the gaming community has supported and involved “the less privileged” when institutions failed to do so. And when we did that, it wasn’t under the banner of “social justice.” It was under the banner of gaming. It was under the banner of sharing what we love.

3. We display broader interests as individuals who make and play games.

I’ve known no gamer, in-person or online, who isn’t into other things as well. There’s plenty of overlap, for example, between my college’s anime club and videogame club. I’m honestly tired of the perception that gamers do nothing but game. Many of us watch movies, read, watch anime, draw, write, sculpt, and create media. This point is simply not an issue anymore.

When gaming went mainstream and everyone became a gamer, did they all just stop watching movies?

4. We make and play fewer isolating games.

The argument is that the games we play (as “gamers”) are designed to keep us isolated for hours while “having our egos stroked,” and that that breeds a gaming community of venom and hostility, because gamers have been so affected by the media they consume and the lengths of time they spend away from other people, consuming it, that their people skills have atrophied and they can only react positively to ego stroking.

This is the wrong way to look at this. This not only portrays the hateful, vitriolic minority of the gaming community (People who send death and rape threats, for example) as normal people who just played too much CoD, rather than the sociopaths they likely are, but portrays all of us as one game of Team Deathmatch away from becoming one of those people.

5. We become far more mindful of the games we make and play.

This is a shorthand for “we start looking for racism and sexism in games and become critical of violence in games.” Yes, violent games do increase aggression. School sports also increase aggression. Racism is apparently pervasive in gaming, yet we aren’t seeing rampant lynchings by gamers. Misogyny is apparently pervasive in gaming, yet we aren’t seeing rampant woman-beatings by gamers. The idea that media influences and changes people gets pretty weak when the people ostensibly being “changed” and “influenced” number in the millions, and no evidence of said change and influence can be found in how they live their lives.

6. We maintain a critical eye towards the e-sports scene and its accompanying machismo.

“Machismo” is one of those words I can’t stand because it’s only ever used to describe something the person writing it doesn’t like. Where there are other, perfectly-good words that could be used, words like this are used because they have a specifically negative connotation to them, letting the author influence how the reader sees a particular subject.

Endocrinologically-speaking, competition does things to your body. During the few times I’ve played Halo with money on the line, and during the times when I’ve faced off against friends I consider rivals in certain games, it was intense. When you’re competing and really playing to win, your body is swimming in a cocktail of stress hormones that will change your behaviour. “Machismo” is a result of that product of competition.

As for “obsessing over brutalizing strangers’ avatars over the internet,” the rational people among us understand that all that “brutalization” is is a feedback system. It’s a system put in place to show us how well we’re doing in the game.

7. We change the culture of game consumption to be less about buying and rating games, and instead develop a paradigm that is more about playing and thoroughly investigating games.

The argument here is that gaming is about obsessing over making the correct purchases, and that it makes gamers into gatekeepers, because they want to protect the value of their investments. This in a world where free game League of Legends is the most played PC game. Gaming is about playing games. Buying is the way we get to play them.

As for rating games, there’s been a backlash against rating games in reviews for years. The only people clinging to that concept are reviewers.

8. We jettison the hardcore/casual dichotomy.

Casual/hardcore was never a dichotomy. The people who portray it as such are dead wrong.

Here’s how it works: Some games I play to just play, and some games I play to win, or beat on the hardest difficulty level, or clear 100%. I play RTS games casually. I have no qualms about setting all of my computer opponents in Sins of a Solar Empire to “easy.” On the other hand, I play Virtual-On Oratorio Tangram for the 360 hardcore. Right now, I’m in the 2,000s range in the score attack leaderboard of nearly 40,000 people. I’m proud of that, and I constantly work to improve that score. Casual and hardcore aren’t what games you play, but how you play them.

9. We let the industry’s tentpoles fall to the ground more often.

The call here is to “stop allowing ourselves to be told which games we need to play,” which is all fine and good, but the implication is that we’re all drones that go out and buy the next big thing because we have no free will can’t help ourselves. Those of us who live in the real world know that gamers buy all kinds of games. Besides, we have no problem letting the industry’s tentpoles fall. Remember what happened to Sega?

10. We always remember that we don’t need to buy new things.

This has never been a problem. An entire subset of gamers exists based around the idea of consuming old games rather than new ones. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with keeping on the cutting-edge of gaming, if that’s how you want to game.

11. We stop upholding “fun” as the universal, ultimate criterion for a game’s relevance.

Literally “stop having fun, guys!”

Here’s the real-life bottom line: It doesn’t matter how “edifying,” “healing,” or “pro-social” your game is if it isn’t fun to play. If your game is a chore, nobody will care about your “message.” The argument is that “fun” is “a meaningless ideal at best and a poisonous priority at worst,” and that “plenty of categorically unhealthy things are ‘fun’.”

People in the anime community have said this about moé: That because it’s so subjective and each individual has their own standards for it, it’s meaningless and useless. The thing about both is that they don’t exist to have one overarching set of criteria. What’s “fun” to me might not be “fun” to someone else and vice versa. I don’t find playing RTS games against other people very fun, but some people find it fun enough to make a living out of it. I find spending six hours straight playing X3: Terran Conflict more enjoyable than I probably should. Many people would find that boring.

The concept of fun is not useless just because my fun is not his fun or her fun, or even because my fun might be “unhealthy.” The point is, regardless of what a game is going for, it needs to be enjoyable to play first and foremost. If your game is an ordeal to get through, then nobody is going to give a damn about anything else it might have to offer.

12. We don’t afford any credence to the idea that games are “just for fun”. Games are not neutral.

The problem with this is that some games are just for fun. Some games are neutral. The problem with this is that it carries with it this idea that if a game includes concept, it’s taking a stance for or against it. If we were to take on this ideology, it would mean MechWarrior 2 supports eugenics, Virtual-On supports corporatocracy, and Armored Core supports private corporate militaries and the proliferation of mercenaries.

Play any of these games and you’ll understand that those elements are just parts of the setting. Games don’t need to take a political stance on every element they include, and the fact is, most don’t. What we need to stop doing is insisting that games hold values that they don’t, and berating others for wanting to play their games without being harangued into a sociopolitical discussion.

Some of us enter these worlds to get away from all that stuff.

13. We make and play fewer linear games about one person saving the world.

I agree with the idea of this one, but the article’s reasoning is just more BS. The idea is that all the “people terrorizing games culture lately” “learned” their behaviour from games linear games about one person saving the world. Evidently, it never occurred to the kind of people who would write articles like this that some people might just be so fed-up as to begin a one-person crusade, regardless of the fact that there are quite a bit more than just one of these people.

14. We make gaming more like recreation or reading that it is like religion.

Gaming isn’t recreation?

The article launches into a whole bunch of religion-based buzzwords. Gamers right now aren’t “merely a mob of odd hobbyists frustrated by change.” They’re fanatics, on a holy crusade. They have dogmatic views on gaming, what the article calls a theological approach. Any criticism will be received by some as blasphemy.

The thing is, however, that we are just a “mob” of hobbyists frustrated by change. Our hobby is important to us, and I’d honestly question anyone who doesn’t chafe at the kind of changes being proposed in this article.

I’ll make this clear: Just because you’re advocating change, doesn’t mean you’re on the right side and that the people resisting your change are dogmatic fundamentalists or whatever buzzwords you want to use.

15. We get serious about inclusivity.

Gaming is about as inclusive as it gets. Everyone who games is a “gamer.” That’s why we have so many subsets to gather around. “Gaming” has never meant that every gamer has to play every game. Even with such a broad reach, however, being a “gamer” gives me a baseline of understanding with just about every other gamer.

Also, broadening one’s own horizons has never hurt. More gamers should endeavour to expose themselves to more games. It gives us all a better sense of what we like and dislike.

16. We do not assume that the harassment we’ve seen lately is a complete aberration. We understand that there is a link between this medium that terrorists see themselves as defending and the terrorism itself.

Conflating the backlash in gaming with terrorism is disgusting. Al Qaeda is terrorism. ISIS is terrorism.

What this is in gaming is a group of people who are fed-up about people coming into their hobby and telling they’re bad people. Some of us have been gaming since playing videogames was uncool, before it was something everyone did. Some of us remember being value-judged back then for playing games. We’re not going to let it happen again, especially from people who profess to be gaming enthusiasts themselves.

17. We agree that caring about the world and its inhabitants is more important than clinging to our toys.

Our toys are here for us to play with, not for you to twist and bend and beat into whatever you want in the name of “caring about the world and its inhabitants.” If your whole thing is about “caring about the world and its inhabitants,” go march and hold up a sign somewhere. Gaming is about the games.

18. We all grow up – we bring games along with us – we make and play games that we have no reason to be ashamed of – we’re honest about what may very well be shameful about games.

If you are ashamed of videogames, gaming doesn’t need you.

If your reaction to the new CoD or GTA or Assassins Creed is being ashamed of the gaming industry, rather than playing a different game, find another hobby.

Not everything in gaming is for everyone, but nobody needs to be ashamed of gaming. Gaming has made remarkable strides since its inception, and continues to do so. We should be proud of gaming, and encourage it to move forward, rather than be ashamed that it isn’t what one subset of people think all games should be should be.

Discounting the fact that most gamers aren’t problematic; discounting the fact that most of these problems have been solved by the stuff inbetween the “AAA” and “Indie” markets that always gets ignored; and discounting the fact that this entire assault on “gamers” is just another excuse for these people to push their agenda and forcibly eject those who aren’t with that, the problem in gaming right now, in this very moment, is that there is a subset of people in gaming that have installed themselves as the nobility class and now think they can yell, complain, and shame other gamers into acting the way they want them to. The gamers didn’t like this, and retaliated. Now the people who used their positions to shame and berate gamers are flailing as the gamers fight back.

Moreover, many of these people are trying to change gaming, making it focus on things other than games. You can see it right in the article I’m responding to: “listen to those less privileged,” “display broader interests,” “stop upholding ‘fun’ as a criterion.”

We do listen to and involve those who are less privileged. We do have broader interests. And no, Devin, we will not abandon “fun.”

There is no value in these proposals other than to prove that some people just can’t hang and might need to find a new hobby, or form a subgroup amongst themselves within gaming. The bottom line, however, is this:

We built this house.

Gamers built this house.

You’re 150% welcome to come inside anytime. Our door is open to you. We will give you a key.

But don’t come in our house and start complaining about the color of the carpet.