Every so often I’ll bump into someone that clearly enjoys games more than the average person. There are little clues about their person, a gaming-related badge, an outfit, a particular sentence overheard.
Gaming is slowly but surely making it’s way into the mainstream, and it’s doing so ever so slowly and quietly that many people don’t even realise it. As video games become a little more popular. I’m finding it harder to come across like-minded gamers who are happy to talk and identify themselves as video game players.
We’re in the background
There’s a huge perception that gaming is heavily niche pasttime. Anyone active in the gaming community knows that this simply isn’t true, internet culture and video gaming culture is so heavily intertwined, because of that precise need for video games players to find each other forced by the ongoing stigma of playing or discussing video games in public.
I suspect this is a large part of the reason gaming exhibitions and trade shows are so popular, there are fewer occasions where gamers are likely to collect together in one place. Many years ago before gaming shops became solely about sales that was that easiest place for gamers to congregate. In reality large, specialist shows are one of the few occasions where this still happens.
I’m quietly comforted by each person I see who is obviously a gamer. I talk about it to them when it’s appropriate to do so, despite being the huge gaming advocate that I am, I’m also deeply aware that other gamers are not comfortable with their hobby being publicly known. It’s a sad fact, but one I think we can all relate to.
So over time, this quiet contingency of gamers are slipping around in the background of public life, enjoying the mastery and beauty of video games as a medium, promoting it’s social aspects over it’s well discussed negative aspects as best they can, or perhaps more realistically as much as they dare to. Over time perceptions are slowly improving, one step forwards, two steps back.
The result of our gaming interest being pushed underground is we all collectively miss out on that effortless banter that only really happens in person. Despite there being more people playing games, it seems to be getting harder to openly chat about a love of video games in public. It’s easy for someone with a passing interest in sport to do so, similarly for fashion, television, films or books. Talk about games though and a distinct atmosphere fills the room, as if it’s something you shouldn’t do.
So there’s an underlying quandary here about the ability to be yourself in a public sphere. Unfortunately (as is the case for many gamers I suspect) I don’t get to do this as often as I’d like. In vocalising our love of video games we do so mindful of the risk of stigma. Talk about video games too much (even to someone as equally appreciative as you are) and you may get a response from another in the room in jokey, but negative tones. Even when this happens playfully there are few other hobbies where it would be socially acceptable for people to respond in such a mocking tone. It would be deemed rude if anything else.
These judgements usually come from people who have hardly played any video games. This has always puzzled me. I wouldn’t be in a position to judge past-times that don’t suit my taste, I simply haven’t experienced enough of them to be able to comment on them, or understand why someone else might enjoy them. I believe the same is true for video games. Although games developers are making an apparent effort to make video games more simple for people who play games less to simply pick up and play them. Very few interests can be understood or mastered within minutes and for the most part gaming is the same.
We’ve also started to depend far too much on our communities online to meet other gamers. The internet has become the de-facto place to gather socially, as gamers find fewer occasions to meet up and play something in person. It’s become a bit of a double-edged sword as the availability and popularity of online games has soared we’ve found less need to venture out to find gamers in our locality.
It’s enough to put you off talking about video games altogether. These days I don’t tend to talk about video games to non-gamers at all unless directly questioned about it. Given how long this sea change is going to take. It’s no wonder than going online has become this communities preferred method of conversation.
Nothing is going to stop me from enjoying video games though. With any luck I plan to do so so indefinitely, I’m a firm believer that improvement in our ability to start gaming conversations will come. So we’ll have plenty of time to share our passion with the rest of the world as gaming becomes even more heavily intertwined with popular culture.