Friday, December 15, 2017

Breaking isolation: Victoria’s gaming community is no longer hiding

March 18, 2015 by Jayden Grieve, contributing writer

Walking into the recent GottaCon gamer convention held at the Victoria Conference Center, I’m immediately shocked by the severe volume and variety of people. Moms and dads with tiny babies, women in full body armour, teens, tweens, adults, seniors, children, a woman dressed as Sailor Moon… and everybody has a gaming device of some kind in their hands.

Across the street in the vendor section, booths are set up selling every game-related item imaginable. It’s a true paradise for those with a gamey disposition. It’s like an entirely new culture, and I begin to wonder what it’s all about.

Let’s get together

“The Magic Club is one of my pet projects on the Camosun campus,” says Andy Chen, who is the campus club’s president. “It started out as an initiative to create some safe spaces on campus and to have some social drop-in activities for students from different backgrounds.”

Chen says that he focused on gaming because he feels it’s a subculture at Camosun that people aren’t very aware of, and board games and tabletop games provide great opportunities to meet and get to know people.

Magic has around 12,000,000 players worldwide and new people are always learning, so it’s an excellent avenue to interact with others.

Grab a copy of our March 18, 2015 issue to see photos taken at GottaCon 2015 in Victoria!

Grab a copy of our March 18, 2015 issue to see photos taken at GottaCon 2015 in Victoria!

“By creating something like the Magic Club or Dungeons & Dragons Club, we’re breaking isolation,” says Chen. “We don’t want people to be playing games in dark rooms at home; we want it to be more acceptable in common culture and we want people to be aware of it.”

This breaking of isolation was a long time coming for members of the gaming culture, whose early years were spent in smaller groups or all alone. The appearance of clubs and conferences has helped to bring the culture some much-needed exposure and increased membership.

In western Canada, Victoria’s own GottaCon stands out as one of the most prominent examples of these events.

“About nine years ago, we were kind of disappointed in the conventions in town,” says Carson Upton, one of the partners at GottaCon Conventions. “They weren’t up to the international events that we had attended, and we wanted to see if we could put on something of a higher calibre.”

This is, arguably, what GottaCon has done. Over 600 people attended the first GottaCon back in 2008, but that number has multiplied drastically over the past few years.

Upton attributes their success to simple word of mouth and says that although they have had a few media partners in recent years, without attendees telling their friends how much they enjoyed the event, they would never have become as successful as they have.

Though “gamers” is a term that covers people with many different interests, GottaCon manages to be all-inclusive and provides something for all of the subcultures. For example, those who like to get physical.

“You have people who go out and do the physical live action role playing (LARP), and they go out on the weekends with LARPer weapons and run through the woods and are totally physical and active,” says Upton.

Evan Hatch, the other half of the GottaCon partnership, continues Upton’s train of thought. “Then you have board gamers who play board games all weekend, or the trading card game players, or the videogamers who play videogames all weekend and bring their own computers to compete in tournaments.”

Upton finishes the thought: “You have casual people who come to play everything, and you have people who fly in from all over the world for this specific tournament. They are all looking for a common experience: to play games and have a good time.”

Over the GottaCon weekend people dressed up in heavy character armor, some lugged huge personal computers around, and others spent over $300 on just four or five Magic: The Gathering cards.

For some people these activities might seem strange, but these are things that the gaming community has come to consider as ordinary. Someone who plays sports or collects sports cards might do similar things without a second thought.

And although people may be confused by some of the antics of gaming culture, it’s generally looked on in a positive light. But this has not always been the case.

Give it time

“When Nintendo first came out, it was a toy. If you spent all day as a teenager playing with a toy there would be some derogatory stuff from your peers,” says Hatch. “Now everyone plays videogames, and there’s basically no social view of it being wrong anymore.”

Although Hatch says that people from his parents’ generation may still look at gaming as silly or a waste of time, the general consensus seems to be that the movement has been mostly assimilated into the culture of today.

With the popularization of sports games, shooter games, and other new genres in the videogame industry, as well as the explosion of the mobile gaming platform, it would be hard to find someone who couldn’t be called a gamer in one way or another. Almost everyone from every walk of life appreciates a good videogame.

“I’ve worked with a lot of professionals in government and there’s absolutely no, ‘Oh, really? That’s so weird,’ or anything like that,” says Hatch, “compared to other things in society which have been points of contention, gaming and being titled as a ‘gamer’ or a ‘nerd’ or a ‘geek’ is not really an issue anymore.”

Even the word “geek,” which was unarguably derogatory at one point, has been reclaimed by the community and is now worn as a badge of pride.

“Originally geek culture was the suppressed minority,” says Upton. “In high school, I kind of felt that way a little bit. If you found another nerd or geek it didn’t matter if they were a different type of nerd or geek, you kind of bonded together. Now there are so many nerds and geeks that they’re starting to go, ‘I’m this sort of geek,’ or ‘I’m this sort of geek.’“

The pair also calls out to those who are still secretive about their geekiness, saying that there’s no reason to hide anymore. Even though this is painfully obvious, it can still be hard to overcome those personal hurdles. Camosun’s Chen echoes this feeling.

“Growing up, you can be selective about the hobbies you share with others because there’s always that risk of being ostracized for being different,” says Chen. “It’s now more acceptable to be different, and there’s definitely more acceptance of game culture.”

The acceptance of gaming culture is great. But what about acceptance within the culture? There have been many accusations that the industry is misogynistic and inherently sexist. Is there any truth to these allegations? Some think so.

A few bad men

“That’s one of the problems with game culture,” says Chen, “there’s an internalized misogyny and sexism that kind of runs throughout, because a lot of the gamers are men and, unfortunately, some don’t have the same intercultural competencies when it comes to other groups within the game culture.”

Chen says that though the misogyny is there, it’s only a small portion of the population, and one that is looked down upon by the rest, as was recently the case with the Gamergate controversy.

Gamergate was a scandal that involved the sexual harassment of and threats of violence towards several prominent female players in the gaming community. Extending from August of last year into the beginning of 2015, there seems to be a million opinions on the true nature of #gamergate. Some claim it’s about ethics in journalism, and others claim it’s about the oppression of women in the gaming industry.

Interestingly, few of the gamers we talked to seemed to have that strong of an opinion on the matter.

Most gamers agree that they hope the fallout from Gamergate will be an impetus for positive change.

“I don’t like to think that they are the majority at all, because that gives a totally bad reputation to everyone else who’s a part of that community,” says Ellen Young, a Camosun business student whose interest in gaming has spanned almost a decade. “I do think that sort of attitude is very toxic in the community, especially if it’s a community with impressionable children or youth. I don’t want people to think that the kind of language that they use, or the attitude they have towards other demographics, is in any way healthy, or normal, or accepted.”

Young says the best way to combat discriminatory language in online gaming communities is by gamers “calling each other out.”

“That was how I started educating myself on these issues; someone actually called me out on some of the things I said online,” she says. “I hadn’t even realized how what I was saying could affect people, but I had no bad intentions.”

Chen agrees and suggests that just the awareness of how someone’s words are affecting others can often be enough to start the dialogue and work towards ending misogyny.

Unfortunately the members of the gaming community aren’t the only sexist component; there is one that runs even deeper, according to Camosun Sociology instructor Peter Ove.

“There’s two kinds of sexism, or two ways of viewing sexism. There’s the way we typically view sexism in our culture and there’s a more sociological view of sexism,” explains Ove. “The first way is when you get people who are idiots, basically; misogynous people who don’t like women. However, there’s a broader element of sexism that involves simply defining men and women as different. You see this kind of sexism in some videogames where you get a company that will produce a violent videogame with all-male leads and the only women in there are subservient or secondary. That’s sexist.”

Ove also says that one of the interesting things about gaming culture is that the videogame market worldwide was at one time about 10 times the size of the movie market. And while he says that it’s a bit of an old statistic, it’s still relatively true. That would suggest that a profoundly large number of people are influenced by this medium. Luckily, both forms of sexism seem to be heading the same direction and the days of women only playing Sims and men only playing Call of Duty is dying out.

Ove suggests that games like The Last of Us, with strong female characters, are helping to boost the trend of equality and contribute to a bright future for gamers everywhere.

Future 2.0

Overall, the people at GottaCon were some of the nicest, most accepting people I’ve ever met. Hatch comments that they get all ages at the event: from people who just learned to walk all the way up to people using walking sticks, and more people show up every year.

Victoria has a huge Magic: The Gathering scene, almost 20 different videogame studios, several board game authors, and many more things coming up on the horizon.

Ed Bittner, owner of Yellowjacket Comics & Toys, says that every continent in the world (except Antarctica) is represented by people who play the Magic card game on the pro circuit, and that games, in general, are here to say.

“It’s nice to have something that brings people together,” says Bittner. “It’s nice to have a place where when people are interested in the game, you can help them out, laugh, and joke with them sometimes, and it’s also to have something where you’re always seeing new faces.”


On The Big Bang Theory

With each passing second of speaking to someone about nerdy culture, the probability of The Big Bang Theory television show being brought up increases exponentially.

“Shows like The Big Bang Theory sort of buff the trend,” says Andy Chen. “No one should feel like they have to hide a part of themselves and putting game culture out there, letting people know it exists, in a lot of ways, creates a new culture where it becomes more acceptable.”

“I’ll use the example of The Big Bang Theory; I actually have an issue with that show,” says GottaCon attendee Darren Kumka, “because it’s not portraying nerd culture and making jokes about it; it’s more making jokes at it. A group of socially awkward male nerds, and the jokes are kind of, ‘Ha, look at this nerd!’”

In reference to the word “nerd” becoming less derogatory, GottaCon attendee Amelia Hendrickson says the popular TV show could have mixed results for the gaming community.

“Things that people who might identify as a nerd usually don’t like, like The Big Bang Theory, are making it more mainstream and washing out the term,” she says.

Camosun’s Ove also brings up the show when talking about the representation of gamers in popular culture.

“Now that it’s no longer bad to be called a gamer, shows like The Big Bang Theory have become popular in the sense that these ‘nerds’ are an object of popular culture, rather than an object of ridicule,” says Ove.

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