Video games are awesome. Many who are part of the gaming community feel that video games have enriched their lives, citing overwhelmingly positive experiences. Myself included, which is why I want to highlight my love of video games as much as possible. Both in my playing of them, and writing about them.
In the article “Gamers and Mental Health: You Are Not Alone,” I spoke about how gaming and the community can help us deal with mental illness. It has helped me continue to heal in my ongoing battle with depression. In this article, I hope to discuss how your attitude towards video games and the gaming community can affect your experiences.
If you’ve engaged others in a gaming community, you’ve most likely made a lot of acquaintances and friends, and perhaps a few of those have developed into lasting relationships. Through connections like these, I have been able to support, or been supported, by other gamers. I’ve personally seen acts of kindness that would make you weep, such as gamers coming together to help pay for rent, an electric bill, or a dire emergency.
Acts of friendship, charity, and overall humanism, all fostered through the mutual love of video games. I wish I could disclose these stories to you, but doing so would reveal details of people’s lives who would rather remain anonymous.
And mind you, these aren’t just anecdotes I’ve heard online, many of these are things I’ve personally witnessed. More than just witnessed, I too have been blessed by the aid of other gamers, acts that I had only really expected from family. Often times they are small gestures, but even the smallest of acts of kindness can make a big difference in someone’s life. It’s not just something every great once in a while, but something I see on a regular basis, virtual strangers going to great lengths so help people who have nothing more than a shared love of video games.
This can all happen within a single game or a multi-gaming group. Guildmates can become roommates, or even soul mates. A dedicated group of players can be the best of friends, and as e‑sports continue to gain momentum and legitimacy, become a professional team. There are many hidden niches in gaming, which continue to interlink communities in unexpected ways.
Nowhere else in my entire life have I ever been part of a community that was so ready to give of its time and energy to help others, often to those they barely knew. The internet can feel like a cold and unfeeling place at times, but there is a lot of love I’ve seen coming from gamers over the years.
Yet, the media (especially games media) and other outside forces are so quick to highlight the negatives of gaming. Entities with an agenda, seeking to destroy for profit. It is rare that gaming is celebrated on how it benefits society, how healthy it can be, and the acts of kindness it is capable of. A platform that welcomes anyone who wishes to add to the positive experiences. Instead, we get articles that paint a much different scene, which would lead one to believe that we hate life, people, and only seek to destroy the world while hurting whomever we can along the way.
Why? Why take something so awesome and try to destroy it? It all comes down to politics and the need for clicks and ratings, which drive a torrent of articles, videos, news segments, and even academic papers who use dishonest reasoning to obscure and erase the truth. Unfortunately, many outside of gaming believe it to be true.
If you approach gaming by first whipping out your ego, you’re going to have a not so great time. No one will give two fucks who you think you are, which can alienate people whose entire existences relies upon identity politics. That’s why, for instance, all anonymous online accounts are assumed to be “straight white males.” It doesn’t make sense to those using identity politics as a weapon, that a person might not want to use their identity as a form of leverage, or that the faceless masses they want to deride might be more diverse than they are.
If you come to an online community expecting to be attacked for your identity, and waving your persecution complex around like a flag, then you’re not going to make many friends. The sad irony of the fear mongering about gamers is that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; if people come into a community with their barriers up and are always defensive, then it increases their chances of negative interactions. If you’re told the normal banter between players is really “coded misogynistic abuse,” then that’s what you’re going to see.
A running theme I will keep bringing up is the power of anonymity. Online, it really is the great equalizer. Perhaps that’s why celebrities like Wil Wheaton hate it so much. It’s not about who you are, but what you say and how you say it. In gaming, it’s even more than that; it is also how well you play, how skillful you are at completing a task.
No matter your culture, your income, or even what you look like; a mutual love of video games is enough for you to fit in. If nothing else, that is enough to give people something to talk about and bond over. No one really cares who you are in your life, which makes anonymous gaming so great, as it allows people to experiment with who they want to be or escape from the confines of their possibly not so happy reality.
Anonymity, within the gaming community, is often portrayed simply as a shield for harassment, with isolated incidents or outright fabrications extrapolated to an entire community. Trying to take that anonymity away demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes the gaming community tick, as well as a dangerously paternalistic and authoritarian attitude.
If you seek to have a positive experience in the gaming community (or any community), then it is wise to approach it with good and honest intentions. Having preconceived conclusions of who is in said community will likely leave you with little chance to really connect to others, as you will only see the flaw that you are looking for.
I’ve seen so many agenda based groups approach gaming like they need to be an insurgent group proudly battling to make it a “less toxic space.” People who’ve been playing for decades just sit and scratch their heads, baffled to learn a community they’ve been immersed in for most of their adult lives is suddenly problematic or hostile.
Perhaps people are having a negative experience with the gaming community because the first interaction they have with it comes from hostile accusations. If you fling shit at someone, the natural response it to have shit flung right back at you, especially from a group so loose and informal as gamers. If you act like a dick, then guess what? People are going to be a dick back towards you if they don’t outright ignore you. If you go around accusing every one of being a racist, or a sexist, or a bigot then you’re going to burn all your bridges pretty quickly.
You get out of gaming what you put in. So many of my contemporaries have dedicated time and money into organising user groups, maintaining forums, hosting servers, building a community, and mentoring others in being better gamers. Some have such a strong love, they produce free content for others to play on a daily basis, whether it is mods, community patches, or even whole games. Some to the extent of maintaining abandonware games, or emulators of long forgotten gaming systems.
Many within the gaming community are selfless, giving much of themselves for other’s enjoyment. And in return, they receive long-lasting relationships. Having spoken to some of the people who do this myself, I’ve found them to be some of the smartest, nicest people you could hope to meet. Their productivity gives them joy over and above the financial. People with PhDs or decades of experience offering their services to benefit the wider community. It’s amazing.
You can’t fake honest enthusiasm. If you are simply using the gaming community as a means to an end, or don’t share people’s genuine love for the medium, you will be found out. In fact, I feel sorry for games journalists who repeat endlessly how unhappy they are when playing games or surrounded by other gamers. I would find it very difficult to have as bad of a time as they are when playing or talking about games.
When it comes to video games, all I can say, is that I love it. And those around me, love it. That mutual love feeds into each other’s experiences. I’ve gone into communities or games I’d expected to dislike, or not be compatible with, and found much more than I’d ever expected.
Getting a more positive experience can be as simple as learning what kind of audience a game has or what tools you can use to mitigate negative interactions. I’ve seen people complain that all online gaming is bad because they went into the latest Call of Duty game with voice chat turned on and didn’t realise they could mute people. A little knowledge goes a long way, so does a good group of people to play multiplayer games with. Another case of getting back what you put in.
As we showed in our Star Citizen streams, it’s possible to have fun even in the most abysmal games when you’re surrounded with people you like and make you laugh. Even as we struggle in life, we are a lot happier than those trying to bend the gaming community to better fit themselves, rather than embracing what is different. We’re mostly broke, we’re sometimes sick, our lives are a bit of a mess, but we have each other and we love playing games.
The gaming community will never be ideal, just like the wider world will never be ideal, but it’s how you deal with those rough areas that determines how well you’ll do. If you swear off all gaming because someone once said the word “cunt” in an online match, then maybe you were never going to give video games a chance anyway. If you’re going to get the best out of gaming, you can’t give up at the first hurdle.
Most of the pundits decrying certain areas of gaming simply don’t have a preference for them. A big deal is made of mean words and shit-talking — as they claim — puts people off. However, that same banter is the backbone of the fighting games scene, the least white area of gaming imaginable. Watching white San Francisco based middle-class games journalists lecture a group of Black, Hispanic, and Asian gamers gives me a full body cringe. They’ll use the same mean words to tell them to shove their gluten free, vegan white saviour complexes, up their narrow arses. And that’s putting it politely.
Almost all the op-ed’s I see about how horrible gamers are come from a person who looked down their nose at a group of people and was chewed out for it, then wanted to retreat to the pages of their blog to have a good cry rather than resolve the issue. People aren’t required to be nice to you when you insult them. Maybe, just maybe, if you can’t seem to have a positive interaction within the gaming community, the problem is you and you need to look inwards.
Take a deep breath, put your ego and preconceptions aside, and engage with people on a human level. That’s where the real magic of the gaming community comes in. Its people. Not a faceless mass of opinions you don’t quite agree with. People.
Instead, individuals wall themselves off from the benefits of being a gamer by putting nothing in, and expect everything back. They can’t look past their own hang-ups they use to build their walls, and cannot see gamers as they actually are, but rather how they choose to see them. That is their problem, not gaming’s.
Give yourself to the gamers, and the community will give back. After all, if you don’t love gamers, how can you expect them to love you back?
Credit to mad_cat and Josh Bray for editing this article.
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