Culture Smash - Why There Is No Such Thing As Video Game Culture

TIME :2022-07-03

Recently I have found myself wondering, gamers, gaming culture, all of that, where did it come from? And more specifically, where did it all go so terribly wrong? Gaming culture as it is today, dominated by bro-tastic, fratboyish manchildren, flinging slurs against everyone like monkeys flinging poop. Is that gamer culture? I came to the conclusion, no. It is not—simply because there is no such thing as a gamer culture. 

It is certainly true that video games have been with me for most of my life. Back in the day, the dawn of the 90s, my parents gave me a GameBoy for Christmas. Ever since then, gaming has been with me in one form or the other. It took awhile though for this thing people call ‘gamer culture’ to catch up with my country, or with me by extension. This was before the internet became an everyday occurrence after all, so the only way there could be something like a community that could inform ‘gamer culture’ was through letters to the editor of video game magazines. That and the TV-shows.

In the mid nineties, video games had become big in Germany too. Big enough to warrant the creation of a dedicated video game TV show on the saturday morning kids’ TV programme. I barely remember the details, can’t even recall the name, all I recall is that it was truly wretched and horrible and cringe inducing blur of neon colors and idiots dressed in a way that adults in the mid 90s thought kids would think was super cool. The show was led by a group of young men, instructed by the producers to act out strange man-child personas. Strangely apt, on the longer run. But awfully, horribly artificial. 

Some of my friends occasionally watched that show. All us kids, living in a quaint West-German suburbia had our gaming systems back then. GameBoys, Game Gears, the lucky ones even a Super Nintendo or a PlayStation. But playing video games was something we just did. A pastime. Like riding our bikes through the woods or building elaborate dams in the local brook. That thing, this gaming culture that TV shows and gaming mags tried conjuring up, that was never us. 

A few years passed, gaming was still somehow a part of my life, but only ever became something bigger with the arrival of my first PC that could actually play any of the contemporary games. Still there was no such thing as gaming culture around me. The internet slowly made its first appearance, only a few kids in class had access. With the PC of course came pirated games. Ripped games. Someone knew someone who had a broadband connection, and then someone knew someone who had a CD writer. But that kind of piracy had been around for at least one generation already. Our big brothers had done the same with their C64 games. And just like those big brothers, gaming was still something everyone just did. Like reading a book or watching a movie.

Some time later came the first LAN parties, and at that time there was the first time that people started focusing more and more of their free time on video games in one way or another. But not all of the people playing games became what we today would call gamers. Hardcore gamers. Core gamers. Those folks.

At the turn of the century some things had changed. People who played games excessively were slowly emerging. Word of Warcraft was still a few years away, but its predecessors were already laying waste to some social lives around me. Video games had received their own TV channel, a German offshoot of NBC had produced a long running, successful video game themed show with an adjacent, vibrant online community, which eventually got turned into a bespoke TV channel. It was the early 2000s, the age of the “online community”. Internet forums exploded, as broadband prices had hit a sweet spot. 

With the internet taking off, with the dawn of MMOs and online gaming in general becoming an ever bigger  thing, there were now games that developed their own, respective niche communities and ‘cultures.’ But I wouldn’t agree that there ever was anything like gaming culture as a whole. Some people played games. Some people started defining themselves through the games they played, some people started defining themselves through playing games, period. But most people just played games the way they always did. Once in a while, like reading a book.

There never was and even now there is not really an all encompassing gamer culture. What there is, is a made up PR fantasy. That fantasy is catering to manchildren, just like those from the TV shows of the mid 90s that were presented to us as cool role models. The cycle seems to complete itself in that regard. Some of us seem to have heeded the call, aspiring to become creatures as artificial and wilfully offensive as those moderators populating video game themed kids’ shows in the 1990s were. But gaming culture as in something that all people who play games can and should identify with does not exist.

I admit there are all the myriad gaming media outlets that cater to video game culture, but what is video game culture? Can such a thing even exist? Sure there are enthusiasts, just as there are enthusiasts for every other kind of media. Video game communities are no more or less indicative and formative of video game culture than movie enthusiast communities are. Is there such a thing as a “movie enthusiast culture?” 

One thing all those “cultures” and “communities” have in common though is the medium of the internet. I would say there is an all encompassing internet culture (which has a problem with tone through and through, it’s not just gaming) that gaming culture is a part of, and within that we find a myriad of different communities, niches and just as many different kinds of people playing games. The gamer, as in the gamer doesn’t exist. Some are enthusiasts. But as such, gamers are just as much of a made up PR term to easily market towards a mostly made up audience as gaming culture is a fleeting, illusionary concept. 

Playing video games is many different things to many different people. There are so many so vastly different types of games, that it is simply impossible to say that all people playing any kind of games are part of the same hobby or ‘culture.’ Mobile gaming, online gaming, first person shooters, war games, dating games, console games, computer games, indie games - all those things are playable, sure, but they are too different from each other to safely lump all people - more or less - enthusiastically playing into one big group. 

Besides, who are we, the people that play games? If I do not play a game for a week, for a month, for a year, do I have to turn in my badge? If I play a game five minutes a day, can I still call myself a gamer? Does it matter? Who will judge me on that? The gamer police? There are a lot of horrible people on the internet that play games and say horrible things to other people on the internet, some of which also play games. But because horrible people play games, some games, some specific games that not everyone else plays, does not mean that all of the people that play any games are horrible, immature manchildren. And more importantly it does not mean that I as someone who plays video games share the same hobby with those people. There is no such thing as an all encompassing gamer culture. And gaming is the wrong, much too broad term for this hobby.