Saturday, January 19, 2013

Gaming Cliques and Factions

During the NFL Playoffs this month, I noticed something interesting.  Gabe, of Penny Arcade fame, posted on Twitter that he was watching the Seattle Seahawks game.  The comments on the post seemed to be raking him over the coals, however playfully.  Comments ranged from "Who are you and where is the real Gabe" to something like "Don't go to the dark side".

Because a universal tyrant is the same as a being a fan of football, I guess.

It just strikes me as odd that gamers would be so defensive over something like this.  Do they feel threatened  by old cliches that if you like sports, you must make fun of gamers?

The two hobbies of sports and gaming are not mutually exclusive.

And I'm not just talking about gamers who play "bro" games (more on this later).  Speaking from experience, I've been a sports fan all my life.  Ever since I was little, I've been playing video games as well, albeit a few console generations behind.  In elementary school, I would play football at recess, and Pokemon during other breaks.  I'd go to practice on weekdays and football games on Fridays, and then play a few games of StarCraft with friends on the weekends.

I know there are other people besides me like this too.  I know people who follow sports rigorously, but still play games like God of War and RPGs.  I have friends who would play Basketball almost every day if the opportunity exists, and would still sit and grind in MMOs.

So where does this mentality come from?

A theory exists that gamers are such an exclusive group because they (the general case here) were alienated or mocked in the past.  I'm not talking about this generation of gamers who were around when gaming became popular, but the ones from the 70s and 80s. Before video gaming became popular, people became alienated for liking alternative hobbies like tabletop RPGS, TCGs and other such hobbies.

Hope that critical was worth the social anxiety!

So now with that established, those people were the founders of the gaming culture.  They set the standards. 

Now this part is pure conjecture on my part.  They ended up setting up some barriers to entry to prevent them from being mocked again.  They do this by being abrasive to everyone who hasn't proven themselves part of the clique.  They act like their hobby needs some form of gatekeeper who deems yes or no, in some sort of Colosseum-esque type decision.  (No Gladiator picture for you, because it would've just been too easy).  So now we have a group that was formed due to alienation and exclusion who reacts to newcomers with even more exclusion.  That becomes the groundwork for circles and cliques we know today.

Below, I'm going to cover a few of the cliques I've seen over the past few years.

For a quick example, a lot of gamers look upon the 'casual' gamers with a sort of smug superiority.  If I were to draw a literary example to it, they're viewed like the Night's Watch from the A Song of Ice and Fire series of books.  Allow me to explain.  In ASOIAF, the Night's Watch are a part of the country, that play a role in protecting the northern border.  In most cases though, the Night's Watch is made up of several unwanted members of society.  The murders, rapists, and other criminals, along with unwanted high born children and bastards end up serving the Night's Watch.  Now to bring this parallel back to gaming, the casual market is made up of the old, young, and the people who don't invest in consoles.  These are the people who play Farmville, Angry Birds, Bejeweled and the like.  They are a part of the community, but the 'core' community just brushes them off as a sort of fringe group, while, in some cases, completely marginalizing their importance or impact on the whole of gaming.

The next clique you'll notice is the Indie game circle.

This is the main character.  You probably never heard of him

This is the group that you could compare to hipsters.  They avoid mainstream games for reasons that might sound worthwhile, until they say it repeatedly ad nauseum, and play ONLY Indie games.  These are the people who won't play Portal because they prefer to play Narbacular Drop because it came first.  No matter how good a mainstream game might get, would rather play some obscure title to seem to be ahead of the curve.  I believe this behavior comes from wanting to stand out.  I mean, we've all taken some smug pleasure in introducing someone to something before.  Especially when they say something like "oh wow, thanks for showing me this".  I think they like doing this so much that they prefer to try to stay on the bleeding edge of things.  The barrier this group creates is that if you jump at the wrong point, you may be seen as a poseur by them, and might seem insufferable by the general community.

Next up is the "Bro Gamer" community.  These are the people that seem to catch a lot of scorn from the majority of the gaming community.  These are the people that play Madden, Call of Duty, and other shooters online.  A lot of people make the generalization that these people only play the mega-blockbuster games and are afraid to try anything new.  Now, a part of that may be true.  it could be why Call of Duty is a multi-billion dollar franchise, and why Madden sells millions of copies every year.  Part of me wants to believe that this is why they catch some flak.  Other people feel that these games don't deserve the sales they get, and that the series should 'die'.  The calls for death in these games comes because they feel the games don't change enough to warrant yearly sales.  I think the biggest thing people might overlook though is how amazing these games are as gateway games.  These games have enormous player bases, and fans.  Millions of people in the United States watch the NFL on a weekly basis, and now can get more into their sport via Madden.  If people like some aspects of Madden, they could end up branching out into other games.  This is the same reasoning that some people could branch out from Call of Duty into 'deeper' games like Borderlands, and maybe Bioshock.

Now, why do we have these groups?  People like to categorize things, so they can easily explain them.  In doing so though, we really marginalize each genre's importance.  Instead of being an excluding community, we should be open to all kinds.  The biggest thing that's bugging me is how some people think their $60 investment in a game somehow makes them superior because somebody made a different $60 investment.  This also goes for console purchases too.  There's way too much elitism and judgement in the gaming community.  The above cliques and circle terms are hardly ever used in a positive manner.  This is that elitism showing.  "Oh I play Mass Effect, I'm obviously a /truer/ gamer than some casual scum".  If people in the past turned to gaming because of exclusion, why do we feel the need to exclude or denigrate others?  I would think this would lead to a more inclusive community because of how exclusion has affected others.

Food for thought, Belmont style.


  1. Excellent post. My friends are like this, ridiculing me for playing minecraft and not black ops 2. Or for playing diablo 2 for hours (when it was relevant) instead of say, halo on Xbox. It's a personal thing on some levels. My best friend told me one time that I was "gay for playing diablo 2 all night long" but is totally fine with playing skyrim until his thumbs fall off. It's a "I don't see it your way so therefore it's stupid" kind of thing. I see the beauty of minecraft and all it's awesomeness and he sees it as "fucking stupid pointless game." it's not going to change.

  2. I definitely agree that sports and gaming are not mutually exclusive. Is there really a difference between watching a football game and watching a StarCraft stream? No. You're watching people get paid to do something that has little value in the real world.

    Pick your passion and enjoy it, and let other people enjoy theirs. Thank you.