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We all know the image many people have of what the average gamer is: an overweight, smelly nerd sitting in a dark basement eating Cheetos (until the day he snaps and goes on a video game-induced killing spree). As gaming society expands however, this image has become so far removed from reality it's laughable. The fact is that there isn't a stereotype that fits the majority of gamers. We're men, women, young, old, rich, poor, popular, introverted, single, married, parents, pet owners....in short, we're people. Aside from a love of video games, there's really very little that distinguishes gamers from the rest of society.
Given this explosion of diversity, there's a wealth of different opinions, play styles, preferences, politics, and hot-button issues that set people off and create animosity. This is compounded greatly by the anonymity the internet provides and can (and does) lead to instances of nastiness and abuse. Getting over these issues and learning to respect and live with the differences between gamers is crucial to gaming society, and to the way we are seen by those who would tear us down. Here are some thoughts and observations on how to best cope with the wealth of differences in our community:
You have a right to not be threatened with bodily harm. Abuse of this nature is rampant in online gaming, and should be reported through the proper channels. Violent behavior like this is one of the gaming community's biggest liabilities; it's all too easy for people unfamiliar with the group's size and scope to point at the violence and abuse displayed by some among our number and conclude that we're all that way.
Responsible gamers interested in preserving the good name of our community and creating a more tolerant and comfortable environment should do everything they can to fight against displays of obvious abuse. Such behavior should be reported, shunned, and openly disavowed and corrected wherever and whenever it shows up.
To this end, it's helpful to step back and make the conscious decision to not let others' statements be taken as a personal offense. Reporting everyone who disagrees with you because you find them offensive is a waste of time to community moderators, and reflects poorly on the person who does it. People have absolutely no obligation to agree with or even like others, but exercising tolerance in heated situations is a powerful way to create unity and rise above circumstances that can and often do degrade into something truly ugly. Remember: everyone has strong feelings and opinions, and they're all just as valid as your own.
Modeling good behavior is the most effective way to inspire it in others. A good portion of the bad behavior exhibited online is the result of people ignorant of proper behavior feeding off each other. Trash talking and other obnoxious habits will often lessen or disappear in the presence of a gamer who is willing to speak calmly and rationally to the offenders. Many in the community are young, and will mold their behavior to that of those they game with; the more people are willing to engage civilly with these impressionable new gamers, the more likely they are to change for the better. Being an example of the qualities you wish to see in others is more effective than any number of lectures or put-downs, and instantly raises the tone of any discussion or game you take part in.
We all share the responsibility of defending our pastime. It's easy to hear someone abuse gaming and the people who enjoy it and silently disagree, but that doesn't really help our cause. The best way to deal with these critics is on a personal level; it's much harder to hold an untenable position when you have solid proof against it staring you calmly in the face. By being articulate, polite, and firm in support of our community and our games, we hold the power to influence public opinion in the face of criticism. You might never convince the nonsense-spewing zealots themselves, but other people are observing and forming opinions of both sides of the argument. A calm, confident, and respectful representation of gaming and the many virtues of our community will always come across as much more convincing and effective than the ravings of the narrow-minded people who try and tear us down.
Gaming is a hobby, not the reason for your existence. It's easy to become narrowly focused on something you enjoy doing. We all fall into that; how many of us spent days on end playing Skyrim, or building the perfect save file for Mass Effect 3? Gaming marathons aren't a serious problem, but gaming to the exclusion of everything else in life is. To avoid becoming the negative stereotype, it's important to recognize and remember that video games don't supersede the people, responsibilities and talents that make up the rest of our lives and personalities. Becoming well rounded as a human being is as vital for gamers as it is for the rest of society.
The gaming community has come a long way from its early days. We're a widespread, incredibly diverse group of people. We've made great progress in turning the tide of public opinion in our favor, and as a whole we've demonstrated an admirable level of maturity and intellect. But our struggles aren't over. To be happy as a group and respected by the world, we have to be even better than we now are. We have to weed out the ugly elements that continue to plague the community, and to hold ourselves to a higher standard of behavior than that of our detractors. Most of all, we have to remember that the community and activity we all share and love is worth fighting to protect, and that its preservation and improvement is more important than our personal disagreements and differences of opinion.
Coping With the Challenges of Gaming Society
Blog entry posted by Jessica Holt, Aug 9, 2012.