Is Gaming a Culture?

Today at Champlain College, there is a cultural awareness event in which 13 cultures represented on the campus are celebrated. The 13 are:

  • 3rd culture
  • Palestine
  • Vermont
  • Ireland
  • Women/Gender
  • Game Developers
  • Kenya
  • Military/Veterans
  • Jewish/Israeli
  • Afghanistan
  • Liberia
  • Caribbean
  • Haiti

I realize that it is too late to do anything about it and that it might seem like I am making a mountain out of a mole hill, however, I do wish to voice my concerns about an aspect of today’s cultural fair. Unfortunately, I have to teach from 12:30-3:15 today, so I’ll be unable to attend the presentation and so I do not know yet if my concerns are justified.

With that said, while it is “cute”, I am uneasy about labeling “game developers” as a “culture”, especially in the context of true cultural diversity and understanding within an institution of higher learning.

I do not deny that there is a shared experience and identity that some might call a “game culture”. I also understand that this identity can be as powerful in building bonds as other cultural identities. However I worry that labeling and then advertising it within this context may have a few negative effects.

  1. It solidifies the excuse that, “I am (they are) a gamer” and do not need to be socially aware and or responsible because that’s just who I am (they are).
  2. It may serve to further divide the campus into gamers and non-gamers.
  3. It may serve to trivialize and divert attention from true culture awareness and understanding.

Further, I dislike using the term “game developers” within this context. The bonding identity (mentioned above) is among the broad category of gamers, not game developers. Game developers just happen to be the architects. For every “game developer”, there are thousands of gamers. This is specifically the clear distinction we wish to make when ensuring that admissions uses the term “game development” instead of “gaming”. It is not meant as a chest-puffing clarification between two labels like Trekker is to Trekkie as it seems some have taken it, but instead it is a true distinction between the game player and the professional field of game development.

In the list of the 12 other cultures that are participating in this event, there is no other culture that fits into this same category. While I’m not a sociologist, perhaps a more appropriate term might be to describe the individuals as participating in a “game subculture”. Although even then, the military/veteran category represented at today’s event is a true example of subculture with shared working, living, sacrificing, dying, and grieving that occurs within the context of a more broadly defined American/Western cultural identity.

In this sense, “gaming” is an activity, with no more or less significance than comic books, movies, television, or other forms of modern media. Game developers must be aware of both modern genres, as well as history, culture, and the human experience.

Unfortunately, it is through the use of terms like “game culture” that individuals have defended racist, sexist, and misogynistic behavior. “It’s no big deal, it’s just the gaming culture”

While I understand why it has occurred (perhaps mostly as an offshoot of what some might call the the “geek subculture”) , from my view it is unfortunate that games have reached a point where they would be considered to be included as part of such an event. Games should be for everyone, about everyone. Since they are not, it is a failure of the industry and something that we (and many are) should work to overcome.

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