Friday, August 28, 2009

Games People Play

I try to think about it objectively, and I think that my family don't really fit the popular conception of geeks or nerds. My mom, I have some suspicion, was a bit of a Popular Girl; my dad was a scientist, but perhaps far too good looking to be a nerd – and anyway, he conducted his youth during the Eisenhower years; surely, there is some relativism which prevents certain labels for certain socializations ...

Even if we're not quintessential Poindexters – I gravitate to the dork crowd, preferring gamers and propeller-heads over Popular Kids, or alternative/subcultural crowds, sports lovers, or whatever-category-have-you. I do hang with all of these, particularly the Ally Sheedy outliers and (when I was younger) certain elements of a somewhat delinquent population. But I'm a geek groupie at heart, always have been.

The possibly odd thing about this is that I'm not really much a part of any specific geek subgenre. I’m spread too thin, contain too many different elements, to fit fully into any of the usual buckets. My abilities and understanding of technology are limited to my requirements for it, and those are restrictively minimal to most people's mind (this itself may be a topic for a post). I'm not a gamer. I’m not a scholar nor a comic lover/reader/artist. I like a lot of geeky stuff a little, but none of it to the exclusion of the rest, and never enough to truly count myself a part of any tribal geek affiliation. My one most seriousl nerdliness is limited to a deep love of Star Trek - but I've never even gone to a Con. (Which is just sad.) Most telling of all, when people learn I’m a Trek nerd they are generally surprised to *some* degree, no matter the context in which I encounter the discussion. Fortunately, I have enough dork-sheen to fit IN with the bona fides. But like most intensive things in life, I have always been on the sidelines enjoying the real game.

And games would be the topic du post. As a nerdophile, I a nice selection of gamer guys (for some reason I don’t know but one woman enthusiast I can think of off the top of my head). One of the people I know has a blog dedicated to lots of geek-universe stuff, particularly focusing on games. The writing here is good, and brings me "in" just enough that I feel like I can get at least a bit of insight into this kind of person, whom I find so interesting – but, so oddly (and also interestingly, to me), whom I fail to share so many interests *with*.

I was talking with a propeller-head buddy of mine at work, discussing the gamer perspective I seem to be so attracted to, but which is genuinely alien to me. The thing that really struck me is, most gamers I know make it a priority, a real enthusiasm. Work buddy responds, to a comment about the blogger having a library and platform array for his games I can’t even comprehend, "Sounds like a kid at heart." The thing is, what holds my attention about this is the fact that, though we're talking about *games* … "play" is a word with a meaning unlike what the word as used in the context of childhood. Play, to a gamer, is a technical term! It refers to the graphical, physical, style/difficulty experience of a given release, or system, or even the makers of a line of games. Play, in gaming, is about the tactile and mental experience of a release’s music, the tricks of mastering it, the look and feel. Play is an aspect, but it almost doesn’t seem to be the point, quite so much as the progression and completion of levels.

In my exposure to gamers, the word "fun" doesn't actually come up all that often. Of course, I’m outside the “world” here, and my *point* is I’m missing the obvious. Of course too, YMMV (as the kids say) as to Wii games and more mainstream, accessible-to-non-gamers fun – but that’s the point; I’m talking about the specific universe of “gamers” – those people for whom a certain set of genres and expectations create a world apart from those releases pitched

Of course, too – I am not so dumb I don’t understand that fun is presupposed in games. Obviously. And to explain what is fun in one's personal experience probably bypasses the point, to some degree. I could never explain what I get out of the research for a historical novel, but the charge is very real, and I am blessed to have found the outlet. Even so, to the point of gaming and fun … the omission is odd to me. The *apparent* lack of fun, to an outsider (please read this as acknowledging the *existence* of fun, O Ye Insiders) apparently bypasses the "kid at heart" aspect of this particular hobby in another direction. And it's such an interesting direction.

The power of focus gamers have is what sets it apart to us non-initiates. The fulfillment goes well beyond “beating” your game individually, but almost inherently relies on reportage, sharing, discussion, and critique. A game isn’t fully played until EXPERTISE … is not merely gained, but *displayed*. If the game is vanquished in the forest, and nobody’s there to hear or see – then the game had less purpose. The fun derived goes from the hours of actual play, and is deepened and improved in reliving what you learned from the game, in imparting it, in dissecting its pros and cons, in the community experience. In KNOWLEDGE.

With gamers and artists and those who participate in any-given-activity as much for the other people doing the same as for the thing itself, there's a premium on knowing-more-than-the-next-person, scooping competition. Enthusiasms and hobbies of all sorts exist as prestige competitions, and prestige lies in immersive knowledge. Human beings find prestige-play impossibly compelling: the triumph of knowing something other people don't is hard to match.

English majors do this with language snobbery. Artists do it with insufferable pomposity about thematics, materials, and method. We all want to be IN, we all want to be imparters of news and knowledge. We all want to be first to know something. In gaming, this competition is actually built in; programmers construct tricks and secrets, and to play a video game, for some, goes well beyond shooting the right target. The electronic real estate, on Teh Intarwebs, dedicated to fora and discussion of who-knows-what-about-which are passionate, not rarely vitriolic, deeply analytical … and definitely reflective of a *community* dynamic. Elder Gamers have a certain kind of position and voice, newbies – as with any community – are given guidance, discipline, remediation. Relationships exist.

This morning on NPR, I heard a story about the current fear-mongering on healthcare reform. The reason fear is such an effective tool is, it is a survival mechanism. We preserve ourselves by vigilance. For a full CENTURY, this has played out in repeated attempts to block healthcare reform, and been a wildly successful tool.

The opposite of fear, modern humanity has come to believe: knowledge.

If I know more than the other guy, I'm less vulnerable than he is.

The whole point of my posting about this is … This is an area of human experience where I have an impenetrable difference in perspective. That I have this with the very people I find most interesting is the captivating part. I haven’t got a competitive nor coordinated bone in my body. It would be impossible for me to have any less understanding nor interest in video games; they rank, for me, with football for sheer opacity of boredom. There isn’t a foothold I can use to get in; for that matter, there isn’t the largest staircase I would bother to ascend in order to do so.

I have an affinity for relationships to people with interests absolutely unlike mine. Gamers, depressives, loud New Yorkers, hypochondriacs, republicans. I conduct relationships with people who have kids for goodness’ sake (kidding, y’all). It’s not that I’m open-minded, it’s that something attracts me. The deepest relationships in my life are always complicated solely, but almost invariably, by the absolute disparity in expectations.

What is strange is that the strengths in those relationships, also invariably … comes from those values that *form* these variant perspectives. I can see how someone with some experiences like mine, with morality and values I share, can even still arrive at radically different conclusions. My disagreements with the people who mean most to me aren’t the symptom, to me, of our troubles. They are a signifier of our creativity, our intensity, our dynamism, our individuality. My brother and I, my mother and I, my friends, the men I have loved (and lost or not) – we all know those things we share, but we are bound just as much by those things we know we do not.

I think this is what keeps me just on the outside of in-crowds … which, parenthetically, always seem to accept me, even if not as “one of their own”. This is a thing, about myself, I treasure more deeply than anything anyone outside my head and heart might see as my advantages.

I contain multitudes. I am grateful, proud, and joyous.

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