Love Video Games header

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.

Love insert 1

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.

Love insert 2

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.

Love insert 3

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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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long-form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.