Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Are you a stereotype gamer?

Something that’s been bothering me for a while now, is the way many non gaming people view gaming. My parents, wife and kids for instance didn’t get (at first) why I was in Second Life; they worried about why any sane person would want to spend time in this (as they saw it) useless, fake, oversexualized environment. Then I started playing EVE-Online and again they worried, why is a grown up man spending time playing a game? Several times I needed to justify my behaviour, especially to people not really familiar with my gaming pattern. The strange thing is that, if I had spend those hours sitting in front of the television, most people would have found that perfectly normal behaviour.

Yet, for me, gaming (in the broadest sense, so ranging from Second Life to Twinity to EVE-Online and even hobbying with OpenSim) has been an active, stimulating and rewarding experience. It’s about enjoying the social aspects, about meeting new people and being part of a team. It’s also about being active on an intellectual level: exploring, learning new concepts, understanding people and processes. It’s about satisfying my curiosity at multiple levels. It's about doing things and achieving results, although that is not a big issue for me; achieving something is often a means, but it’s not usually a goal in itself. I am happy to get to a new level of missions in Eve Online, because it means new experiences, not because I have an inherent drive to reach that level. Same with my land rental business in Second Life: it’s an experience I want to have, something I want to try; I don’t need to achieve a goal with it (i.e. I don't need to make lots of money). In EVE Online, this makes me a ‘carebear’ by the way.

I rarely watch TV anymore these days. With my wife I sometimes watch series like the English detective series Frost, or stuff like CSI and Bones, because that's what she likes. A few times a month I spend some time on Discovery, NGC or (I admit it!) the Comedy Channel, but that's about it really; most TV isn't worth my time as far as I am concerned. To quote Roger Waters: "I Got thirteen channels of shit on the T.V. to choose from.."

So why is sitting idly in front of the television considered normal or acceptable social behaviour, while spending the same amount of time playing an MMO is regarded as slightly weird? I think that this has a lot to do with the stereotype of a gamer as a lonesome, overweight geek living in his parents' basement; who wants to be identified with that!

Yet this stereotype is far from accurate these days, according to this BBC article. One of the trends the BBC notes, is the rising numbers of female gamers; something I can confirm personally, as my thirteen year old niece, my nine year old daughter and most of her friends think it's perfectly normal to play Runescape, Habbo Hotel and the likes. The BBC says it has something to do with the social nature of the average MMO, which requires different skills and appeals to a different audience than standalone console games, and I think they're correct.

Perhaps it's time for the non gaming population to notice something's changed. The socially inept and the loners aren't MMO gaming these days; they are probably watching TV!

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