With many e-sports gamers being recognised as legitimate professionals and recent social gaming ‘experiments’, Karl Quigley examines the idea that the gaming community can be seen as a culture in itself
Throughout the evolution of gaming, from the classics of Pong and Pac-Man to the newest blockbuster releases of the Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed series, the gaming community has always been associated with negative terms. Even today, with video gaming as popular and mainstream as any other form of entertainment, the word gamer is often associated with so-called ‘nerds’. Regardless of how mainstream it gets, the dedicated community who call themselves ‘true gamers’ are looked down upon. The gaming community is plagued by the controversy of misrepresentation in the media and the ever present stigma of dedicated gaming. Yet time after time, the community perseveres.
The community itself is unique in its own way, containing dozens of smaller sects dedicated to their own way of gaming. There’s something for everyone, the most well-known including first person shooters (FPS) like Counter Strike or Call of Duty for the trigger happy, snap-reaction shooters, real time strategies (RTS) like Company of Heroes or Starcraft for those that plan two steps ahead, and of course role playing games (RPGs) like Skyrim or Mass Effect for a more immersive experience and those after a personal touch to their games.
But what truly makes this community unique is that there are deeper, more invested sects within these groups. Within the communities of RTS and FPS players there are hard-core players who dedicate thousands of hours to a game of their choice, learning the minute and subtle details that give them the slightest of edges.
Recently E-Sports, or electronic sports, have come under scrutiny. These competitions often involve hundreds if not thousands of talented and skilled players battling for the grand prize – which is often large sums of money or sponsorship from a large gaming firm. There are unsurprisingly debates about whether E-Sports can be considered real sports. To compete, a certain skill level must be attained. Similarly to any conventional sport, it requires large amounts of training and honing of those skills. The bigger competitions are often viewed by hundreds of thousands of people across the world, with prizes akin to those found in regular competitions.
As one of the most interactive forms of entertainment, these micro-cultures also allow for a unique study of human behaviour. Some examples can be noted; one intentional and the other emerging from a popular mod.
Curiosity – What’s Inside the cube? was released for all mobile devices in Winter 2012 by Peter Molyneux’s studio 22Cans. The game was simple in its objective with all players together in one room with one giant cube. Upon further inspection it was noted that it was made up of smaller cubes and then 22Cans announced that there were sixty-nine million cubelets and that a secret was held within this cube. The person who clicked away the last cube would win whatever was inside.
Molyneux himself claimed that while people played this game, they would be taking part in something larger, without even knowing it. It was a social experiment – every player knew they could not do it alone, but every player also wanted to be the person to click that last cube. A co-operative competition, always active regardless of whether you were online or not. It was a multiplayer social experiment conducted across the world and lasted until May 2013.
A more renowned game that could also be seen as a social experiment is DayZ. Built originally as a modification of the military simulator A.R.M.A, the game became majorly popular and is currently in early development for a full release. The game is based around survival in a zombie apocalypse, and the hyper realism offered by the military simulator became immensely popular with gamers looking for a challenge. It is a fully multiplayer experience, meaning other players are in the world with you and more often than not, the zombies are not the real threat.
Encountering another player is generally a tense experience, debating whether you will try to walk away, co-operate, or, if you’re aggressive, make the first move. Watching others play DayZ is always interesting, as some choose to scavenge in the wild outside cities and towns, while others prefer the more reliable method of gathering resources inside a city. This of course came with the increased risk of other players and, less importantly, other zombies.
Some players are bandits, attacking other humans on sight for their gear and supplies. Others prefer to talk to or avoid other players as much as possible. Trusting a stranger in DayZ can prove fatal; misplacing trust in a random stranger has more than once resulted in a bullet to the back of the head. It is odd that such a game can bring out generally unseen characteristics in people, and while some see it as harmless, it can be interpreted as a view on someone’s character.
It could be argued that the situations players find themselves in in these gaming social experiments could be used to reflect on real-life society as a whole. Yet the uniqueness of the micro-culture of gamers is so different to the usual day-to-day that it is, in all likelihood, a step away from an accurate comparison.