Monday, April 7, 2014

A Bit of Interview: I'm Not a Nerd! Common Misconceptions Refuted By The Gaming Community

This was my first foray into nerd journalism and while digging around in my computer for another document that I'd just downloaded, this guy came up. I interviewed 50 nerds, near and far, about common misconceptions in gaming. Read on and enjoy! Maybe you'll find something that you do or don't agree with—if so, let me know!

Hey, I'm Not a Nerd: Misconceptions Refuted by the Gaming Community

The stigma associated with gamers is one that precedes them in social activities. For me, as a girl gamer, it's even worse. I walk into a room wearing a tee-shirt associated with any of the following games: Halo, Halflife, Halflife 2, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, etc, etc, etc and I am instantly castigated as a black sheep. To mention that I know what grinding is, or how many achievement points I have anywhere outside of my friend's mother's basement is to sentence myself to social death. These are the kind of stereotypes refuted by gamers everywhere; we are challenged by social confines to not be what we really are, and on the flipside are challenged to be all that and more.

To be a gamer, one must have knowledge of the varying nuances of gaming life: what soda to drink, what snacks to buy, how many people can LAN on your network, and other complex equations, but one must also maintain a semblance of normalcy by fabricating social bonds between yourself and others (preferably non-gamers). What the fuck? How are we supposed to keep up with all these double standards? I conducted interviews with 45 of my friends of both sexes with varying experience in gaming, and here is what I came up with.

Gamers and Food
The dietary needs of gamers are expansive. Not only do you have to find the perfect containable food that won't get all over your controls/mouse/keyboard/computer, but it also have to be easy enough that during split screens you can quickly go and prepare it. The common misconception is that gamers are all morbidly obese kids who live in their mother's basement. While this may be true for some a majority of the gamers that I spoke with claimed that they ate a relatively healthy diet to try to combat their lack of activity. Tim, from Newport, said: “if eating, I try for not messy things, fruit, crackers, sandwiches.” This, in opposition with the typical foods that are associated with gaming, IE. Cookies, Cheesy Poofs, Funyuns, Doritos, Twizzlers, is a healthy change. Andrea, from Colorado, even said that she eats: “lots of drinks, raw carrots, raisins, that sort of thing” which promotes the healthy style of living that she is accustomed to. Just like real life, if you take care of yourself you will be healthy, if you don't take care of yourself, you will grow fat. The gamers that I have taken the time to speak with seem relatively knowledgeable to this fact. Maggie, from California writes, “A sedentary lifestyle WILL [make you fat], but I'm not the sporty type to begin with. I've always been overweight, videogames just happen to cater to my chosen lifestyle.”

Conversely, some gamers discussed that they would forget to eat due to intense gaming, which actually led to a loss in weight. Some people claim, like Ashley from Los Angeles: “I like snacks, but I hate touching food and then touching the controller, it grosses me out”. Devon, from Washington, said she lost weight “from lack of eating because I was so sucked into gaming I forgot to eat.” similarly Jen, from New Mexico said, “I usually just chain smoke and drink water, my diet is exactly the same as normal, otherwise. I'm really good at healing 5- and 10-man raids while eating pasta.” Many people seem to adhere to the close to liquid diet that Jen mentions. Daniel, from Maine, said, “I just drink. Beer, mostly.” But that's not all, most of the gamers that I spoke with regarding weight gain and gaming claimed to maintain a healthy exercise schedule as well. One of the more outlandish people that I interviewed, Roger, even said that, in between Flight Paths in World of Warcraft, he would do some dumbbell curls, if he hadn't had the chance to work out previous to his set gaming time. This goes directly against the opinion that most people have of gamers as “socially retarded mouth breathers” who are “fat and live in their mother's basement” (as Marty of Australia, a non-gamer, put it). In fact, it would seem that they even have a healthier lifestyle than others with a strong pension for their hobby, whereas wrestlers and sports players impose a starvation rule on themselves, gamers generally eat the same food that they would normally, in smaller, easier to package portions.

Gamers and Sex
I got varying answers when it came to asking if gaming had ever led to a decrease in libido. All of the men (except for two, thank you Akim and Marc) said that nothing could ever decrease their desire for sex, not even gaming. I'm not certain whether this is machismo speaking through, or if all the men that I know are just incredibly sexual, horny individuals, but it seems like the former is the more likely. For example, Richard from Rhode Island, said, “sex is really the one thing that can trump gaming in a heartbeat.” Daniel, from New York, wrote: “I have played video-games with a girl for sexual purposes, so I have a desire for sex indeed.” The women that I asked were much more honest with their answers, claiming that yes, sometimes they had been sucked into games so much that they couldn't be asked to pull away and come to bed. Devon merely wrote “Yes, I was surely distracted enough to forget about It.” in answer to my question,

What I found most interesting as the answers to these questions, as I know myself that my libido has been effected by intense gaming, was how many people answered that they weren't effected, but their partner was, which effected them in turn. Such as Andrea, from Rhode Island, who said “yea when my boyfriend won’t stop playing them and I want sex, that affects my libido for sure”, which provides and interesting spin on the question. Some of the gamers also said that, similarly to Devon, it wasn't a lack of libido that caused them to not have sex, it was merely the lack of time, as Marc puts it there's “nothing like gettin' the 25 kill streak then screwin' like its your first time.  Now, the question is, has playing videogames led to a decrease because of time?” And this, truly, seems like the best question. Does videogames lead to a lack of sex because of time, rather than a lack of desire? As Akim says, “strangely, yes.”

I can only assume that people from outside the gaming world have always just presumed that gamers' libidos would be effected because of lack of physical activity, or potentially lack of contact with the opposite sex. Judging from some of the common misconceptions about gamers (which have been previously touched on), it wouldn't be such a stretch. Thankfully, after pulling some research, it can be said that, although gamers are prone to have less sex than normal couples, it is not due to lack of libido, merely lack of time.

Gamers and Parties
The kinds of parties that people outside the gaming world go to may not be immediately suited to those that play video games. Keggers, house parties, and “ragers” which most people would consider a normal part of their lives may not always factor in to the life of a gamer, depending on how long they have been gaming for, and how serious they are about gaming. Many of the gamers that I asked about parties and socialization instantly assumed that I meant LAN parties, or video game parties. There were a few who noted that, no, gaming hadn't cut into their social life, or their ability to make friends, but many indicated that they were more likely to make friends in-game, or with other gamers than to go out to a kegger where they didn't know anyone.

The common misconception here is, again, that gamers are nerds stuck within the confines of their basement in front of a glowing screen without connection to anyone outside of the NPCs in game (granted, most people who don't game would never know what an NPC is, and would thus not be able to form such a well-crafted insult, but I digress). This, is not necessarily the case; just because gamers aren't comfortable being jostled, man-handled, and potentially molested at parties does not mean that they are cave-dwelling trolls without the skills necessary to command a conversation.

As Andrea says, “modern RPG's and MMORPG's are inherently social activities”, and many gamers enjoy their ability to play through an avatar, and also converse with their friends via Ventrilo, Steam, or In-game chat functions. Similarly, Devon speaks about a party that she attended saying “ a few months ago I was into Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 in which there were 2 Xboxes and 2 TVs and the boys and girls would switch off teams. Best way to pass the night away while drinking.” So, whereas at normal college parties, people would be doing keg stands for entertainment or playing girls vs. boys teams at beer pong, gamers are taking these activities and modifying them for their own use.

Others, similar to Devon, said that they would choose hanging out with friends over gaming any day, because as Walt from New Jersey puts it “having a +100 strength sword is far inferior to being out actually doing things.” And, although gaming is an important hobby to many of these people, maintaining an active social life takes priority, some even go the extra step and make friends through gaming that they continue to hang out with in real life, out of game. An example of this from popular culture would be the internet broadcasted television show The Guild. After the first episode, the guild from a modern MMO (remains unnamed, but can be assumed as WoW) meets up, from then on could tentatively be called “friends” for the remainders of the season. Although most of their real-life conversations are involved with the MMO, they still talk about things such as their personal lives, and goals. They even end up going to a LAN together to battle against an opposing guild, The Axis of Anarchy.

There are, unfortunately, the people who fit the mold assumed by popular thought, the gamers that lose themselves so far into game that they lose the understanding of a social life, and begin to think solely in-game. As Richard writes “Yes, I tend to be anti social a lot and when choosing between playing alone and going out I used to pick the former a lot. I'm getting better now that I have gotten more friends IRL, but for a while I was just really nervous and antsy about going out.” Ashleigh, a self-professed “intermediate gamer” expresses concern and sadness about gamers' tendencies to forget real life “I think that it unfortunately does become a sole means to socialize for some people.” As true as this may be, many gamers are content to, rather than sit alone in their room playing Call Of Duty, attend LAN parties, videogame parties, or foster a social life through other means. Contrary to popular belief, gamers can have normal fun too.

Gamers and Addiction
As you can see from some of the quotes above, a problem that many gamers are afraid of, and actively combat (hopefully) is gaming addiction. Unanimously, people agreed that gaming addiction was a real, and frightening prospect. This is one thing that the outside world, and the gaming community can agree upon. 

It is a difficult line to tread between enjoying something, and growing addicted to something, and, as Andrea puts it “MMOs are like crack!” Maggie from Boston even goes so far as to call her quitting World Of Warcraft “quitting cold turkey”. Many of the people that I spoke to that were afraid of addiction, or had already been addicted were people who played MMORPGs, like World of Warcraft, Everquest, Eve Online, Ragnarok, etc. Devon put it best when she said, “gaming is and can be an addiction, and should be moderated. As the type that is a social butterfly and loves to talk to people constantly, gaming can become an addiction when most people you play with are as bored and lonely as you are. It is easy to get lost in a virtual world.” This is what is most important to consider; the probably of gaming addiction in a game like Call of Duty, or Assassin’s Creed (although still high, because those are fucking awesome games) is much less likely than in MMOs just because the communication between players is greatly diminished and not much emphasis is placed on working together. One cannot play through WoW without at least once having been in a group. This can lead to delusions of leading a “real life” much as it did with Scott's friend who, when Scott was trying to get him to go out would say “'Yeah hold on, just let me finish this raid with my guild.' An hour later, 'I know dude I'm sorry, I only have like 2 things left to do and then we can leave.' Two hours later, 'Dude I'm so sorry, you can just go without me I still have to like, run across the map to turn in my quest."'

It's evidence like this that makes the claim of gaming addiction irrefutable. Many of the individuals that I spoke with claimed to have either been effected by it by losing friends with gaming addictions, etc or having been effected by it by having one themselves. As Andrea writes, “I was addicted to Ragnarok, for about 8 months and I didn’t have a social life and I was completely fine with it.” However, in favor of gaming addiction, Walt said, “I figure video games are the least dangerous of the things kids could get involved in. Drugs, gangs, violence, thievery...things that don't normally amount to much in the end, are a lot worse of a problem than a kid that plays an MMO for 6 hours after school each day.”

Gamers and Relationships
A misconception that many people have is that gamers don't date, or if they do, they only date gamers. I decided to test this by asking my friends “When looking for a relationship, is a partner who plays games important? If not now, was it ever? If so, to what degree?” The response was a unanimous “well, meh, kind of, not really. I guess it's important, but...” with an explanation tacked on the end. It's obvious to me that, through the answers I received, most of the people that I know that game would also appreciate a gamer-partner over a non-gamer partner for varying reasons that follow.

First, many gamers are afraid to be made fun of due to their passion; it is frightening to put yourself out there, and get it thrown back in your face with laughter. Andrea writes, “It's more fear of being rejected for my gaming habit than a desire to find a gamer boyfriend... if he plays, I know he'll be cool with the fact that I do.” It's important to people to be understood by their lover, just like if a concert pianist was dating a football player, there may be some difficulties in cross-passion comprehension. As Robert puts it “if they don't play, they need to have the ability to at least sit through the occasional nerdy conversation.”

Second, many gamers enjoy playing multi-player games on a single console, having a partner that could play with you would give you both something you could enjoy, and would make it easier to form teams and play the game. For example, when I played World of Warcraft with my ex-boyfriend, he made a Prot Paladin, and I made a Resto Druid which, loosely translated, means he could be the tank, and I could be the healer. This made it easier for us to get into groups for dungeons, and get through the game, especially with grinding.

Third, many gamers take their dedication to the game very seriously, and were afraid that, if they were to date someone who didn't understand their passion there would be fights, fall-outs, and other problems. This seemed to be the most important to people similarly to a regular relationship, having passions in common is important, and if your two juxtapose, there will be friction. As Jen writes it's important to have a gaming boyfriend to her because “then there will definitely be time when I can go play my game and he can go play his without having some non-gaming boyfriend lying around whining that he's not getting my undivided attention for an hour or two.”

Websites such as www.datecraft.com have been cropping up more and more over the past few years as the legions of gamers grows, and their desire for partners understanding of their habit grows as well. It is becoming easier and easier to find, not only a gamer, but also a gamer who plays the same game as you to date.

Gamers and their Reps
Gamers are more concerned with their reputation as a gamer than any other section of culture that I have seen. Although it may not mean much to outsiders what your gamer score is, or what title is attached to your name, or how many consoles you have, to a gamer these are the dictations of social ranking. If I were to go to a keg party, and say “Oh, Hi, I'm a level 80 Druid, and I beat Lost Odyssey in 72 hours, and I have [[x amount]] of achievement points,” people would look at me like I had four (or five, or six) heads. But if I were at a LAN party, or was socializing with other nerds, this would earn me the equivalent of credibility that having tear drops tattooed on your face would get you in prison. With the growth of achievement points on Xbox and the trophies function on PS3, and already competition driven hobby grows even more intense. As Maggie puts it “Gamers are competitive to the bitter end. I've seen Korean championship Starcraft matches that were so intense the guys could've killed each other with looks. And with huge cash prizes at stake, it’s no wonder. This isn't even like sports or other athletics where competition is only part of the fun, when you're playing soccer you're outside getting fresh air and sunshine and exercising as well. Some games are ALL about eliminating competition.” This is the important distinction and difference between gaming and other hobbies, although many of the gamers that I spoke with claimed that gaming was just an effective use of time as reading, sewing, watching TV, or other hobbies, gaming is different in the aspect that it is solely based on being better than others. On a daily basis we take a page from Ash Ketchem from Pok√©mon’s book by saying we “gotta be the best, and catch'em all!”

Richard writes “I’m a hardcore gamer and a completist. I have to finish it first and then I have to get all the items and secrets”, this is even moreso on the rise with Achievement points. Previous to APs, you could be less attentive to detail (unless you were playing games like Monkey Island), but if you want to get to the elusive 2000 points, you have to put x amount of hours into the game, and find all of the listed items, and complete a bunch of tasks which could prove to be inordinately difficult.

Not only has the aggression surrounding being the best grown on a console level, but with PCs it grows more everyday as well. Players in World of Warcraft constantly upgrade their gear, and rearrange their talent trees in an attempt to personalize the game, and ultimately make themselves the best. Jen writes “To be truly good at a video game, especially one like World of Warcraft or Everquest II, it takes more than time and luck. It takes skill, and a lot of people forget that. I'm a healer and there is a definite artistry to what I do that not everyone has. Respect that.” So, it's not only that you play videogames that gets you in with this crowd; you actually have to be good at them.

Every time that I start dating someone, the topic of gaming always comes up, and the topic of “girl gaming” always comes up. Men will instantly assume that all women play games like Cooking Mama, or Animal Crossing, and will shirk the possibility that their new girl could be better at FPSs than they are. Girl gamers are gamers as well, and the problem of reputation precedes them. Because gamer-girls are most known for playing “girly-games”, when entering into the male populated gaming realm, they have to work that much harder to prove themselves than they usually would have. I mean, granted, no one gets off easy after claiming themselves as a gamer, but women have it way tougher. Not only do we have to first get over the general ogling and attention that we receive from being a girl, but then we have to get over the hurdle of proving our own reputation as a gamer, which is ultimately more difficult because they can't get over the fact that we have tits.


Either way, reputation is just as important to gamers as it is to anyone else, the most testosterone driven sports star would have a hard time keeping up with a hardcore gamer.

So there you have it! Which ones did you agree or disagree with?

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