GeeKon Podcast #5

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Poor Man’s Gamer Presents: Gaming as a Culture

As many of you know this week is GeeKon, a time solely dedicated to geek culture and geek fun, well for the past week I’ve been trying to come up with an appropriate post for an event this big and important.  So a few days ago I went through my entire gaming catalog looking for any games that I deemed good enough to warrant this honor, but to be perfectly honest I just couldn’t.  Now by that I don’t mean to say that there aren’t amazing games deserving a look or anything, I just happen to think that GeeKon is bigger than any one game (or even any one group of games) which is why I’ve decided to take a look at Gaming Culture (as the title suggests).

To start off I want to talk about all the different kinds of gamers out there, because there are quite a few.  To some gaming is a pastime, to others it’s an escape, some see gaming as a way of life, and still others see it as a way of making a living.  You look around the gaming community and you will see people who only indulge in the blockbuster games as well as those quite content in the indie scene.  Additionally you will see those who play games casually day to day when they have a minute or two to spare on the bus or while waiting for a meeting, on the other end of the spectrum it is increasingly acceptable and even commonplace to engage in Major League Gaming, gaming for profit through contests of skill.  There are people who stick with certain series of games throughout their lives as well as those devoted to certain consoles.  When you look online you find that there are whole entire communities of gamers in MMOs and throughout the many social venues of the internet, from YouTube gamers to people who build communities on forum pages and within the comments on countless wikis.  We live in a world where things like Twitch Plays Pokémon is a raving wave of ever increasing attention and thrill and where gaming journalism is constantly on the prowl for scandals and intrigue.  Throughout the numerous and honestly quite different gamers there are still certain bonds that hold them all together and make them more similar than different.  Gaming is in itself and at its very core a means of having fun and it always has been.  It was something that brought people together whether it was in arcades or in LAN parties or even over the internet.  Yet gaming still remains criticized by many as a waste of time and energy.  In many lights it is viewed as childish and without use or purpose like so many other things from childhood.  Few outsiders understand what a role gaming can play to the adults that still indulge in it.

Today we live in a world where many have grown up surrounded by games.  They exist as a part of our childhood as countless other cultural norms like music and fashion and movies.  People have learned to cherish certain games and consoles because of how they’ve influenced their lives in countless ways.  By talking to any gamer you can see just how important gaming is to how they became the person they now are.  So to help me in exploring gaming as a culture I sat down and spoke to a few of my friends and asked them what it was that gaming meant to them and how gaming had influenced their lives, and now I’d like to share with you some of their answers.

I first sat down with a friend of mine who told me the story of how gaming had brought her and her brother together.  She and her brother would sit together and play on the original PlayStation for hours at a time; it was how they bonded with one another.  When their father saw how closely they had gotten over the system he decided they deserved an upgrade and bought them the PS2 which only went on to continue and strengthen their relationship.  On top of that they explored the early world of MMOs together, barely too young to register for an account they lied about their age and made a shared account for the two of them.  At the end of our discussion my friend went on to add that the games she remembers and cherished most were games like Rayman and Crash Bandicoot.

The next friend I went to is a little older so he had a slightly different experience with gaming.  He remembered going over and forming friendships with his neighbors down the street by playing games like Vectorman and Golden Axe and X-Men for the Sega Genesis.  As he grew older gaming became something else, gaming became an escape.  With an ever increasingly busy schedule he had less and less time for gaming in his everyday life so instead gaming became a way for him to relax and get away from the stress and tedium of his everyday life.  Gaming was so appealing to him because of what it offered in comparison to his average day monotony, gaming allowed him a chance to engage and partake in the impossible.  In games he could drive a car 120 mph down the highway and not worry about the consequences, he could explore lost ruins and worlds, and he could find himself engaged in a way that he couldn’t find anywhere else.

My final consultant in the way that gaming has influenced lives gave me his answer through the way that different series of games had gripped him.  In games like Super Smash Bros he could find himself engaging in whole entire days of nonstop fun with friends throughout entire summers.  It was the way that his childhood found fun and excitement.  In other series he found much deeper meaning and connection.  In games like Pokémon my friend had nothing but fond memories staying up late for midnight releases and staying up until the wee small hours of the morning.  He started playing Pokémon when he was in 2nd grade and back then he connected with so many different elements of the series.  He fell in love with the idea of young boys going on adventures, traveling the countryside with friends, camping, and fighting to get stronger and stronger.  Pokémon was one of those things that he surrounded himself with because of just how strongly he connected with it; he had cards and posters and even stuffed animals that he used to take on adventures in his imagination.  In the Legend of Zelda he found a similar bond.  The first game in the series he ever got to experience was Ocarina of Time as he watched his cousin play it.  Later he went on to play through Majora’s Mask, his first true Zelda game.  In it you are kid going around helping people without question, putting your life on the line to save someone that you’ve loved and lost in a world full of travel, exploration, and adventure.  Later in life he was introduced to mature games through a friend and Final Fantasy X.  This game (and series) opened him up to games that focused more on in depth character development, open and complex worlds, and intricate and unique storytelling.  Since I’ve met him, I’ve introduced him to the wide and wonderful world of Steam and PC gaming, even getting him addicted to both Terraria and Sid Meier’s Civilization V (two games I absolutely love).

I’ve had a similar experience to all three of my friends.  In gaming I’ve connected with friends and families and developed stronger relationships with both, whether it was playing Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon with my sister, playing Guitar Hero with my family during the holidays, spending hours on end fighting a war in Civ V with friends, or just getting together to compare sales we found online.  I’ve enjoyed seeing where games have come and where they are likely to go (Oculus Rift) and though gaming may become a smaller and smaller part of my life I doubt it will ever really leave me entirely.

So with this I leave you to reflect on the ways that gaming has changed and influenced you.  While you do this take the time to enjoy this year’s wonderful installment of GeeKon and indulge in all things geeky, I know I will.  Feel free to share your own gaming stories here or on the GeeKon Record Facebook page.  In the spirit of GeeKon and the promotion of PC gaming I will be giving out Steam Keys to anyone who decides to share their story.  I have a bunch of keys to a bunch of different games including Hotline Miami, Little Inferno, McPixel, Guacamelee, Antichamber, Monaco, and many other games.