How Come Nobody Understands Me?

How Come Nobody Understands Me?

Lucy takes a look at the troubles and misunderstandings facing gamers today

Yesterday, I told a friend of a friend that I write about videogames. The look I received in return was a familiar one: a quizzical raise of the eyebrows, a nod of the head, an obligatory 'ohhhh....' from the lips. 'So, like, um. Crash Bandicoot?' 'Yes!' I exclaimed, grasping their hands. 'Thank you! Just like Crash Bandicoot.'

I was surprised at my reaction. It was over-emphatic and ponged of that same kind of desperate gratitude one feels after cooking a bad meal and your partner tells you the ginger added a real interesting kick.

It's a sad truth that the casual mention of my gaming lifestyle increasingly feels more like a confession, and this friend-of-a-friend's response was a comparatively learned one. It is rare, in my social circle at least, that the PlayStation icon is a known entity; it seems that the old school fallback Tetris or the media-soaked World of Warcraft are the titles at the tip of every non-gamer's tongue.

My fellow writer Tristan Clark, who also spends his time being a successful indie iPhone developer, recently had an experience at the hairdresser that drove him to write a rare Facebook update: "Tristan Clark doesn't like having to defend his profession, however polite, to the hairdresser. Getting pretty used to it though".

Upon questioning, Tristan expanded on his experience. "There have now been two occasions recently where I was asked what I did for a living. Upon answering that I made video games, I was greeted by the now-expected moment of silence as the other party tried to think of something to say."

Many of us memorize a snappy or flippant line to fill this conversational gap. "You were envisioning either running over prostitutes or Pac-Man, weren't you?" said Mr. Clark to said hairdresser. And said hairdresser sheepishly nodded.

So why this gaping ignorance? Why is there no industry overlap with my very own social circle, whom I value to be intelligent, media-savvy and creative?

For years, the news media has been an easy scapegoat for those of us lamenting the ineptitude of the 'general public'. The features on videogames one catches on the six-o-clock news are invariably fluff pieces, or intertwined with violent tragedy. Parents of young children have been a particularly susceptible group to reactionary pieces, and I frequently hear the claim of a videogame-free household bandied about like a badge of honor. As long as there is a demand for violent content in videogames, this cyclical trend will continue, and it does nothing but perpetrate the myth that videogames are a social and intellectual drain on our (otherwise stable?) society.

Yet one cannot place all blame on overexcited headlines, which are the inevitable byproduct of any entertainment mass media. It comes down to something more complicated: much of the non-gaming populace have no real aversion to the medium, they just see it as a 'kids thing', or a completely absurd means of escapism.

For years, the industry itself has been trying to bridge the gap. One cannot deny the success of Nintendo's efforts, yet the Wii still has a long, long way to go before it becomes an integral part of every (financially sound) household. Here's a hypothetical question: Considering its perfectly accessible control system and range of casual party and puzzle games, why doesn't every non-gamer now own a Wii?

Two Christmases ago, after a few glasses of wine, I convinced a non-gamer friend to have a go at Wii Tennis. She got the gist of the motion-controls immediately, and was soon jumping around the living room, shrieking with enjoyment. I left the room to get a drink, confident in my assumption that my friend was having the time of her life, and I'd converted another into 'my world'.

But when I re-appeared two minutes later, the Wiimote lay neglected on the sofa.

Why? I asked. "The game ended," she replied, "and I couldn't figure out how to start a new one."

My offer to tutor her on the mechanics of the simple interface was to no avail. She was bored now, and wanted to move onto something less challenging (which I believe was a screening of Mary Poppins with another wine in hand.)

So is it, at its most basic level, a matter of providing the player with an easier learning curve? I am unsure. There seemed to be an intrinsic miscommunication between the language of the game and the non-gamer, even with something as boldly accessible as Wii Tennis.

Some choose to blame that abstract, versatile piece of technology: the controller. As Steven Spielberg stated in his Project Natal (Kinect) address at E3 2009:

"How can interactive entertainment become as approachable as all other forms of entertainment? The only way... is to make the technology invisible".

Indeed, letting a non-gamer go all Andy Serkis around their living room without a foreign object in their hands might prove enticing. Yet Kinect carries with it an intrinsic dorkiness that may further isolate those who see videogames as a childish pastime, or worse, 'uncool'. Those that are of this prickly opinion are the most difficult converts, as their prejudices are often deep-seated and based on a lack of proper knowledge, which, in this hysterically fanboyish Internet society, is hard to come by.

These are the people I direct towards a presentation by Jane Mcgonigal, or, if I can be arsed to make the effort, FUN INC by Tom Chatfield. Subtitled 'Why Games Are the 21st Century's Most Serious Business', this is a particularly good one to lend to your Dad. Both Mcgonigal and Chatfield are able to speak intelligently and eloquently on the finer sides of the medium, and come with my highest recommendation as educators for the non-gamer.

But perhaps I am over-analyzing. In my experience, the best way to get non-gamers to learn about gaming is a simple one: gift them a game. Here, they can pick up and play on their own terms, in their own time, and get a feeling for the game's mechanics without a nervous enthusiast hovering over their shoulder. They are not embarrassed to fail, as there is nobody round to judge them if they do. Incidentally, Machinarium and Portal have proved my most successful gifts: it turns out smart people like smart challenges.

As we look down into the abyss of what could potentially be a new generation of hands-free gaming, as more and more consumers pick up iPhones and Androids where apps are sold for $1.25 and strategists are beginning to embrace free-to-play digital distribution business models, there is a small glimmer of hope that the gap might close one day.

I hope, for my sake and for Tristan's, that it does.




 

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Comments Comments (29)

 
Kegz
Posted by Kegz
On Tuesday 31 Aug 2010 12:53 PM
6
That was a good read. You made a good point with the kinect, the lack of a controller with all these "confusing" buttons could very well help integrate non-gamers.
The Wii did help a lot. I think also the Singstar and Guitar Hero games have helped 'open up' gaming a little more to the general population.
 
 
 
KatalystaKaos
Posted by KatalystaKaos
On Tuesday 31 Aug 2010 12:53 PM
4
I used to care what other people thought about my gaming lifestyle, now I really couldn't give a t**s. I make a living in the industry now, and I am happier and freer than I have very been because of it. I have to laugh when people give me those strange looks and I point them in the direction of the Flat Earth Society :)
 
 
 
Donutta
Posted by Donutta
On Tuesday 31 Aug 2010 1:29 PM
-1
Yeah, but a lot of your friends are hipsters that belong in Aro Valley. :P

It's all about who you hang with. I mentioned the other day that I was going home to play WoW and no one batted an eyelid. In fact, someone actually asked: "What's your arena rating?"

He was disappointed when I told him I was mainly PvE.

I think the issue here isn't that gaming is looked down upon in general so much as it's looked down upon within the artsy circle in which you and Tristan orbit. It's not a dig, I'm just saying that my hipster ex-girlfriend never really enjoyed video games all that much either.
 
 
 
Posted by stupidlikeafox
On Tuesday 31 Aug 2010 1:33 PM
17
i have put up with the same problem as tristan for a good few years now. my answer to "what do you do?" has now been simplified to, "you know bejeweled and farmville? like that, only stink."
 
 
 
PotatoLegs
Posted by PotatoLegs
On Tuesday 31 Aug 2010 1:54 PM
6
you guys think you got it hard, imagine trying to explain the hundreds of little plastic men you spend hours trying to paint up.

wait it a minute, it actually isn't much of a problem.

hah
 
 
 
Kate
Posted by Kate
On Tuesday 31 Aug 2010 2:45 PM
4
Very well-written, Luce.

Games seem to have a reputation for being silly OR dangerous, with no middle ground, which is a shame. Hopefully that will shift.
 
 
 
Davesto_Brolinga
Posted by Davesto_Brolinga
On Tuesday 31 Aug 2010 3:13 PM
-
I never hide the fact that I'm a gamer to my colleagues and in fact I always tell them I want to develop a game that helps students understand library resources and their classifications. They sometimes think that I'm insane because that's "what not librarians do!" (I'm work at a uni library).

Personally I think approachability is the key to get people involved. Your Wii Tennis example is a great one but then once people got a taste how could we make them understand that starting a new game is as easy as turning a page on a book or starting a DVD in your player?

It is interesting to see how Kinect or Move play out. But also it will be interesting to see a game like Metroid: Other M will play out when trying to please gamers of two different controller schemes.

I think Nintendo has make the slope uphill less steep but it is still an uphill battle
 
 
 
Posted by jub-jub
On Tuesday 31 Aug 2010 3:41 PM
4
The bulk of society doesn't understanding gaming, mainly becuase they are too old to have been brought up with it as kids. Gaming has only been around in reality for the last 20 years or so. It is a massive time soaker so it is generally the young who have the time to fully commit to being gamers. Jobs, kids really get in the way of gaming...

Sub-cultures are never going to be understood by society, but at least you don't think the world hates you like Dene.

I was once told the secret to working life was to make your job your hobby, you have achieved that so be proud.
 
 
 
Maugapaia
Posted by Maugapaia
On Tuesday 31 Aug 2010 4:14 PM
-2
Nice article. I used to be really embarrassed going home early from parties to play games but then I got my friends into it and now it's normal sometimes to not even go out but have a massive LAN. @stupidlikeafox like farmville but stink rofl!!!
 
 
 
ChatterboxZombie
Posted by ChatterboxZombie
On Tuesday 31 Aug 2010 5:25 PM
-4
Awwww...
Insecurities.
 
 
 
luce
Posted by luce
On Tuesday 31 Aug 2010 5:39 PM
6
Donutta - you wait until you meet a REAL 'hipster'. It'll turn your hair white.
 
 
 
Posted by Jaz
On Tuesday 31 Aug 2010 5:45 PM
4
31 August 2010, 01:33 PM Reply to stupidlikeafox
i have put up with the same problem as tristan for a good few years now. my answer to "what do you do?" has now been simplified to, "you know bejeweled and farmville? like that, only stink."
f**king funny.
 
 
 
PotatoLegs
Posted by PotatoLegs
On Tuesday 31 Aug 2010 6:11 PM
-
31 August 2010, 05:39 PM Reply to luce
Donutta - you wait until you meet a REAL 'hipster'. It'll turn your hair white.
hipstaer girls are pretty and way too cool for sc*m bags like me
 
 
 
Ubercuber
Posted by Ubercuber
On Tuesday 31 Aug 2010 6:12 PM
11
Why are there so many articles that basically scream "JUSTIFY MY HOBBY!!"

Seriously, who gives a sh*t what people think about what you do. Especially f**king hairdressers.
 
 
 
MatEPoon
Posted by MatEPoon
On Tuesday 31 Aug 2010 9:48 PM
-2
Interesting read Lucy.
Mary Poppins though! Nooooooo!
 
 
 
Donutta
Posted by Donutta
On Wednesday 1 Sep 2010 11:06 AM
2
31 August 2010, 06:12 PM Reply to Ubercuber
Why are there so many articles that basically scream "JUSTIFY MY HOBBY!!"

Seriously, who gives a sh*t what people think about what you do. Especially f**king hairdressers.
Yeah, can't say I really understand it either. I remember seeing one of Tristan's comments on Facebook about it and thinking: 'You talk to your hairdresser?' I generally try to avoid conversing with them as I always find them so hopelessly vapid.

"So, you heading to town on the weekend?"

I still think it comes down to the beliefs and opinions held by the person, which are influenced by the social scene in which they reside. While finding someone who liked video games in the arts department of Vic was a reason to joyfully band together in shared interest, you'll find that while walking around the science faculty it isn't uncommon to hear: "How far through are you in Starcraft at the moment?" While Aro Valley hipsters probably look down on "nerds", you'll find that those nerds are frequently mocking the arts students and how bleak their eternal future in retail must look.

"Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view."

Besides, I don't think there's any real shame in saying you are working, regardless of what you are doing. The real shame comes from when someone asks you what you are doing for a job at the moment and you have to say something like "Oh, I'm in between jobs at the moment," because you are currently unemployed and sitting on the benefit. That's when you feel the real, raw, hot, burning shame.
 
 
 
luce
Posted by luce
On Wednesday 1 Sep 2010 12:34 PM
5
If less people made ridiculous generalizations like 'hairdressers are hopelessly vapid' and 'Aro Valley hipsters look down on nerds', I'm sure we would be living in a more mutually supportive and inspiring society. Instead we sit here tapping away at our computers writing snarky comments. *shrugs*.

Personally I'd like to see more of the general populous understand and accept what I do for a career. I'm a personable person, you see, and I like talking to people, regardless of the simplified boxes you might put them in. This article is by no means a 'wah', more of a curious investigation.

I'm sure there'll be a response to this, but that's all I have to say for the matter. And I'm glad some of you can identify!
 
 
 
Donutta
Posted by Donutta
On Wednesday 1 Sep 2010 1:09 PM
2
I tend to talk to people on levels that they can relate to, that area of common ground. I don't think it makes me less personable to realize that there is an awkward conversation on the horizon if a certain subject is pursued.

I don't think my "Aro Valley hipsters" comment was a dig in itself but was more to highlight that I don't imagine someone who thrills at the idea of heading down San Francisco Bathhouse and checking out So So Modern in concert is going to be too interested in the finer points of the warrior tanking tree in World of Warcraft. That's fine, as long as they are honest about it. Nothing is worse than someone faking an interest.

Contrary to your plea for hugs and rainbows, I think the world would get along better if people realized that we aren't made in a Nissan factory and everyone has different beliefs, opinions, and ethics. Sometimes it's just better not to combine things, like tuna and ice cream.

I was once asked by a work colleague if I liked Little Britain, apparently his favorite show. When I replied that I did not, he was actually offended, as if my not liking the show was somehow a personal insult to him and his taste. I didn't really see why; it's not like whether I liked it or not should have any bearing on whether he enjoyed watching it in his spare time.

If I gave a sh*t about what random people thought about me and what I like and do, I'd never get out of bed in the morning. I guess that explains 2008 and 2009. The key giveaway in your last comment is that you want people to "accept" what you do. It's generally just best to shrug it off and either find common ground or just realize that person probably doesn't matter in the general scheme of life.

"Those that care don't matter, and those that matter don't care." -- Dr Seus.
 
 
 
Donutta
Posted by Donutta
On Wednesday 1 Sep 2010 1:35 PM
2
1 September 2010, 01:09 PM Reply to Donutta
I tend to talk to people on levels that they can relate to, that area of common ground. I don't think it makes me less personable to realize that there is an awkward conversation on the horizon if a certain subject is pursued.

I don't think my "Aro Valley hipsters" comment was a dig in itself but was more to highlight that I don't imagine someone who thrills at the idea of heading down San Francisco Bathhouse and checking out So So Modern in concert is going to be too interested in the finer points of the warrior tanking tree in World of Warcraft. That's fine, as long as they are honest about it. Nothing is worse than someone faking an interest.

Contrary to your plea for hugs and rainbows, I think the world would get along better if people realized that we aren't made in a Nissan factory and everyone has different beliefs, opinions, and ethics. Sometimes it's just better not to combine things, like tuna and ice cream.

I was once asked by a work colleague if I liked Little Britain, apparently his favorite show. When I replied that I did not, he was actually offended, as if my not liking the show was somehow a personal insult to him and his taste. I didn't really see why; it's not like whether I liked it or not should have any bearing on whether he enjoyed watching it in his spare time.

If I gave a sh*t about what random people thought about me and what I like and do, I'd never get out of bed in the morning. I guess that explains 2008 and 2009. The key giveaway in your last comment is that you want people to "accept" what you do. It's generally just best to shrug it off and either find common ground or just realize that person probably doesn't matter in the general scheme of life.

"Those that care don't matter, and those that matter don't care." -- Dr Seus.
As an addendum, I thought I might also point out that same work colleague was extremely shocked that I was going to Video Games Live.

"I'd never go to a concert of video games music!" he said in repulsion.

Now, I could have taken this to heart, been sad about it, and cried into my tea. Instead, I ignored him and went and had a truly enjoyable and memorable time.

Actually, that raises another point: I've got a few video game t-shirts, and it's interesting to see some of the unexpected reactions you get from people. My Horde t-shirt often gets a few "Heh, for the Horde!" comments, and I while working as an RA I was once able to lure a drunk and belligerent guest out of the building when others had failed simply because I was wearing a Half-Life 2 t-shirt and he had respect for my taste in games.

It's even cooler when it does happen with something like the Half-Life 2 tee, because the small logo is actually quite inconspicuous and ambivalent if you don't know what it means. My Dad saw it and asked me "What's lambda squared?" :D
 
 
 
leopardsqueezy
Posted by leopardsqueezy
On Wednesday 1 Sep 2010 7:25 PM
3
Aro Valley hipsters can cram their So So Modern up their collective arse. Whether or not something is "cool" is a completely different thing to whether it is "fun". Cool comes and goes with the wishywashy trend slaves, but Fun is constant.

This was a good read, but somehow it seems at odds with data like NZ having the highest (or near highest) rate of PlayStation ownership in the world, and one in three households having a game console of some sort - if the stats are to be believed.

Also, apps on iPhones and such like are not games. Period.
 
 
 
PotatoLegs
Posted by PotatoLegs
On Thursday 2 Sep 2010 7:24 AM
2
the discrepency is when you're willing to consider someone a 'gamer'

just because someone owns a console, doesn't mean i'd categorise them as a gamer.

the closest people i know who play games wouldn't fit that mould as they involve themselves in other activities and play games only when it doesn't interfere with these things. the people i know who DO fit the gamer stereotype really center their lives over the acquisition and playing of games.
 
 
 
luce
Posted by luce
On Thursday 2 Sep 2010 8:12 AM
7
I know I said I wasn't going to comment again, but I felt compelled to clarify something, as a longtime Aro Vallien myself.

Aro Valley is the home of HIPPIES. Hippies and crazy people.

The hipsters live above bars in town and only leave to drink coffee, go to alt folk gigs and rent Jim Jarmusch movies.
And sometimes even play videogames, but only ever on Ataris and Super Nintendos, for the sweet sweet irony.
 
 
 
Posted by stupidlikeafox
On Thursday 2 Sep 2010 9:21 AM
4
bloody aro. i lived there, walked around wearing shoes and they looked at me like *i* was the weirdo!!

"dude, why aren't you juggling or riding a unicycle?" ...bloody smelly carnies.
 
 
 
SmurfWorks
Posted by SmurfWorks
On Thursday 2 Sep 2010 7:37 PM
-1
This reminds me of that other article. "Gamers vs the World". It didn't really expand on it either. Why is this the hot topic at the moment?
 
 
 
Moneyshot
Posted by Moneyshot
On Friday 3 Sep 2010 10:42 AM
1
I think we are bulk of the "general populous" its just most non gamers cant get their thick heads around the part were you make a living from "Video Games". Its an outdated term I think now, its more of a entertainment media than movies are.
 
 
 
Jess
Posted by Jess
On Sunday 5 Sep 2010 11:27 AM
2
Meh. The sooner everyone realises gaming is just one facet of a complex person's life the sooner this whole conversation becomes a waste of time. If your friends don't accept your quirks and foibles, or if you really care so much what near-strangers think, then being a gamer is really the least of your problems.

And Aro Valley may have once been home to kooky hippies but now all I see are naive students being charged exorbitant rates by slumlords, or 'urbane' fiftysomethings who swan around cafes complaining that city noise is too loud (or smelly) for their liking.

Yes, I used to live there.
 
 
 
Jess
Posted by Jess
On Sunday 5 Sep 2010 11:32 AM
1
</grump>
 
 
 
luce
Posted by luce
On Sunday 5 Sep 2010 2:06 PM
3
I think this argument and these comments have strayed pretty far from the intention behind my original article.

I'd like to state for the record, my friends and family are incredibly supportive of my job, despite not always understanding what my job is!
 
 
 
Jess
Posted by Jess
On Sunday 5 Sep 2010 5:44 PM
2
For my comment - I offer my apologies. I should have carried on my merry way rather than taking the bait and responding. Sorry guys.