20 April, 2011

Gaming Culture

written by Blain Newport on Wednesday, 20 April, 2011

Gaming culture is a funny term. It recently popped up in a review of Portal 2 when Adam Biessner of Game Informer said the original game "defined a year-plus of gaming culture". The veracity of GLaDOS' promises of cake, the weighted companion cube, and of course the ending music kept popping up all over.

I don't think of those things as culture. They feel like memes, amusing refernces. It's probably just in my head, but I thought that culture was the stuff that was meaningful to people.

Or maybe I'm just out of touch. When I go to PAX now (and I just registered for PAX 2011), most of what I see feels pointless. All your base? Rick Astley? Dragonball Z? I like silly things, but putting them up on a thirty foot screen in front of hundreds (thousands?) of people who have already seen them feels extra tired. Heck, there were silly videos I'd never bothered to watch that felt instantly out of date in that format. But maybe that's just because being in a giant entrance line in a largely featureless concrete room that feels like the holding pen for a slaughterhouse does nothing for comedy. But I digress.

Culture used to be exclusively about geography. The printing press and faster forms of travel let ideas move around a bit more. And the internet lets them go all over. But does playing the same games and talking about them make gamers a culture? I'm not an anthropologist, but I suspect it doesn't.

I think it's called a culture, though, because people tie it to their identities. People dress up as game characters. People get game tattoos. People give game character names to pets or even children. I guess the idea is that culture is what shapes and defines identity, so if gaming does that, it's culture. But all this stuff happens with movies and music, too. Is there music culture? Is there movie culture? If there are, I don't hear them called by those names.

I have heard of hip-hop culture, so maybe it's about feeling apart. Liking music in general doesn't give you any identity. But if you're really into a particular type, then you start to be interested in the trappings and behavior associated with it. Maybe. If that's true, than the term gaming culture will probably go away as gaming becomes more pervasive. Or maybe it's already going away as we break into smaller groups like core / traditional gamers versus casual / social gamers.

Anyway, that's my muddled thinking on the subject as it stands. I predict that as long as there are hobbies closely associated with gaming that are considered outside the norm (writing chiptunes, cosplay, etc.), the term gaming culture will still exist. But as gaming becomes ubiquitous, those communities will become cultures of their own, and playing games will be like watching movies or listening to music.

I feel compelled to add a final note. These are all cultures based on escapist entertainment and consumerism, not the healthiest of sources. But that's a bigger subject for more educated people.

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