Friday, December 25, 2015

Gamer, I am

Every now and then, I ask myself the question what exactly makes me a gamer, and if I even am one. If I should consider myself one. If I should continue being one. Why it's important for me to refer to myself as a gamer, or perhaps not refer to myself as one, but to still feel like I am one in the sense of having stakes in the gaming community and the gamer identity. I mean I cried when the trailer for Shenmue 3 came out, even though I don't care much the continuaton of Shenmue 2. But, you know, what a day for gamers it was1! Because being a gamer makes me value games more than other forms of media. Being a gamer directs my attention toward games more than other forms of entertainment, and it makes me consider whether something should be considered a (video) game at all less than someone else who doesn't give two shits if a walking simulator should be considered a game at all, or someone who doesn't even consider considering it being a game because obviously it isn't and so it shouldn't be a part of any gaming spaces. And when it comes to the definition of what a game is I have all these thoughts about formalism, deconstruction, Wittgenstein, accessibility to space, privilege, identity, distribution forms and whatnot, but part of the truth is that I just live much of my life through the lens of my being a gamer and my playing video games. I want Dear Esther to be considered a video game because if it wasn't, it wouldn't be on my "Favorite Video Games of 2012"-list and it wouldn't appear on any other list either because I don't make lists as comprehensive as those of other things – I'm a gamer and quite frankly that takes a lot of effort and time. I prioritize being a gamer.
That's another important aspect of my considering myself a gamer – effort. I try to keep up with the world of video games in a way I don't with foreign or internal affairs, comics, movies, etc. I even try to keep up with "the industry", and not just as a consumer, but as, you got it – a gamer. I do usually skim over most of the industry/big business side of video games though, in favor of exploring more hidden indie gems and the analysis of these. Often I even don't get into something new in favor of reading yet another article about one of my favorite video games series, just for purposes of my own personal history and nostalgia, seeing as I'm too busy playing new games to go back and play those time-consuming behemoths of my childhood. That too makes me a gamer (and a nerd of certain franchises). But I put in effort and determination even into that aspect of my gaming by using my expanded view of my favorite series and bringing it into other aspects of my life where I explore ideas of all kinds – philosophically, psychologically, spiritually. I am a gamer because I put more value into games and the exploration of them than I would say a movie or a play, whether that be by playing or reading and writing. This is not due to some explicit judgment of mine, it's simply a consequence of my being – my being a gamer.

A consequence of my valuing games a lot is that I become more patient with them, because I am willing to cut them some slack for failures in one area or another if there is a silver lining of any sort, anything of interest which it attempts or if it's part of some sort of video game canon which I deem myself invested in and therefore should explore. This means I might be patient with a game even if it doesn't appear to have any silver lining if I've heard something good about a game from a peer of gamers with similar ideas to mine concerning gaming, or just a similar enough taste. But due to my valuing games more, sometimes I can also be more impatient than someone else would be – I don't want to put up with bullshit when I know that there is so much more potential and so much more out there. I give games more, and in turn I expect more. I construct my own meaning in the game on top of the meaning presented as face-value, and I am a gamer because this type of relationship makes me more of a player and less of a spectator than I would be if I would be just along for the ride and play the part of the missing cog that is the machinery of start-continue-you win/the end. Among other things, this over-the-top meaning construction entails a mindset of interpreting things charitably, and expecting games to be well enough thought-out so that I can be expected to draw conclusions from a wide array of its elements and not only those that are usually considered when reviewing a game.

I am an old gamer, but not because I believe things used to be better (they are in fact getting better still), but because I am frustrated with games and gamers. I am tired of gaming in many ways, and my tastes have changed to accommodate my tiredness. I am most definitely not a power gamer anymore and often get frustrated when the gameplay mechanics bog down the flow of the “game proper”. I much rather prefer roleplaying and the sense of playing something well in the sense of having had a dialogue with the game that resulted in my feeling that what I did was meaningful and satisfying as a narrative. I am an old gamer because I give up two hours after booting up Batman: Arkham City, tired of feeling inadequate and confused about the controls and everything it throws at me. I am an old gamer when I realize that the first Metal Gear Solid had the most fun stealth elements for me because it had gameplay resembling 2D/top-down games of an era that is mostly gone. I am both an old gamer and an Old Snake when I hang in and continue playing the Metal Gear Solid franchise until the very end even when large chunks of the gameplay elements don't cater to my needs and preferences anymore.

I am a tired gamer because I always check before venturing into a game world, and often check out a let's play to see how much of the content is mindless filler or mindful puzzling – either of which I don't care for very much. I am the type of gamer that couldn't be bothered less by yet another fetch quest or yet another door which can't be opened until you find two keys, mold them into one, and then insert them into said door. I value thematic consistency and depth, a developed tone, juxtaposed motifs, hard-hitting symbolism and artistic imagination and integrity over saving the world or turning levers. I am pretentious that way, but not because I try but because otherwise I wouldn't be able to be a gamer anymore, and I would have to move on to something else – something way more pretentious. But even if the content is interesting in one way or another, I do feel the urge to move on quite quickly. Sure, I take notes and I'm patient in other ways, but I
hurry on to the next project due to my desire to experience as much as possible. Sometimes I think I take notes due to my impatience, simply because I feel I need more stimuli and writing starts up some thinking processes which would otherwise be hijacked by a more visceral aspect of the game I'm playing. Then again, I am an old gamer, and I often take notes just to keep track of the names of the dramatis personae...
I love not-games, art games, avant garde games, experimental games, newsgames, biographical games, personal games, lived games, virtual exhibition games, walking simulators, transmedia, games which exlore algorithms/systems for the design and implementation of dynamic story techniques which can lead to games that are emergent yet still about people
and characters. I read books about some of these type of games, and countless articles and forum posts. I engage much less with these communities other than through voting systems and playing games than I often wish to, simply because there are too many of these communities and too little time. I have a hard time settling on one over the other – I am after all a gamer, and I want it all. But sure, I've taken a more active role on some smaller forums, the smallest of which was some subdivision of a Bioware forum where people discussed Baldur's Gate exclusively. But that was way back, when I was a younger gamer...

I love niche communities with worlds of their own which I can explore; Inform 7 Interactive Fictions, Adenture Games Studios point-and-clicks, queer Twines, RPG Maker horror adventures, japanese indie shmups, and so on. I check up on some of these from time to time, and move on from others. And move on I need to indeed, sometimes even from things which would seem to be very important and thus in need of my attention. But move on I do indeed, because sometimes I'm just really tired of gamers and their gamergates, sexism, boneheadedness and immaturity and rather play games than read yet another article discussing the dark sides of gaming. I do not feel pride about being a gamer those days, in fact, I barely consider myself a gamer at all. And yet, I am a gamer be
cause I care where the industry is going. I care because I want there to be games which I enjoy and dream about AAA titles which cater to my preferences. I am gamer because I care about what games others get to play, and I wish that others might see what I see, play what I play, and not what the general media wants them to believe and play. I want non-gamers to be able to play games and not being accused of ruining it for “real gamers”. I even want to be a curator of some sorts for gamers and non-gamers alike, because I care about my tastes and believe them to be refined enough to recognize good games. I believe in my ability in doing a good job and being able to recommend these good games to others after having considered their tastes. I am both gamer and curator of sorts when I don't delete obscure little games from my hard drives because I'm thinking that there just might be a slight chance that the world will forget about these games completely if I remove them. What if somebody points at some game from one of my lists and tells me that it's nowhere to be found? What is nobody ever does? Ah, well then at least the game still exists and thus... is important somehow?

I write this text in the capacity of being a gamer, and I do so as part of something larger. I do it not because it makes me happy per se, but because I find value in it. The hedonistic treadmill is the great equalizer of things and one could always ask oneself if doing a thing would make one more happy. I don't think that is always the proper question to ask, and believe that there are things which would make oneself more true or authentic rather than happy, and that there is value in that too. It's a tightrope walk, balancing that which cannot be measured with that which can. And it's a hard line to draw between what is productive even though it doesn't lead to happiness, and what's just destructive and part of a negative pattern. Because let's be honest – oftentimes I do get the distinct feeling that my time would be better spent reading a book rather than playing whatever videogame I'm currently playing. So what am I doing playing the videogame? I'm a tired gamer, and for me gaming isn't relaxing – if I wanted to relax I'd just watch a television series. It comes back to value. But it also comes down to identity – is there a better argument for my being a gamer than that I rationalize my time spent on video games with my identity as a gamer?

But this isn't an argument and I'm not trying to convince you that I'm a gamer or what a gamer is. I hope that's perfectly clear by now. What I also hope is perfectly clear is that I don't
give up on video games (although I understand people who do). I do take games seriously, I do mind them, and I do believe that they affect us – gamers and non-gamers alike. My believing games to be a powerful force for individuals and in society means that I have to value them and their future. I have to care. And I have to believe in a better future.

So I do not play Fallout 4 as all gamers seem to be doing these days. I haven't played most of the usual big contestants for game of the year awards. I do not look forward to many AAA titles, and I spend more time thinking about games and deciding what games to actually finish, play at all, watch a playthrough of, listen to a podcast about or don't give a fuck about. Sometimes I even read articles about games I haven't played, when they provide interesting perspectives on video games/the industry as a whole, or even are just a lens through which something other than video games is explored. Because the danger of considering oneself a gamer is that one excludes things, and that in the end it may be too great a cost to bear. But the question of access is also why I consider myself a gamer, because the label “gamer” shouldn't be left to only a select few who are considered to have the credentials to be labeled such. It is not through playing certain (male) games that one becomes a gamer. It is not through gaining achievements or recognition within a community, or at least not exclusively. In reality, we are all gamers – reality is broken and the whole world is a game. All those who claim that they are gamers should be heard on their terms, and those who do not claim the title should at least be given encouragement to realize that they too might claim the label, make up a new one, take part of the/a community or spin off of an existing one. I am a gamer precisely because I realize that labels are a play of words and a play between human beings – gamers.
I am gamer because of all of the above, and more. How are you?


Then of course the whole aftermath of the Shenmue 3 kickstarter became something to follow for gamers all over the world due to the ways in which some gamers felt letdown due to Shenmue 3 effectively alreadying having been "kickstarted" by a big game publisher – Sony.

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