By Josué Cardona
There is such a thing as Gamer Culture. Perhaps what legitimizes the existence of this culture more than anything else is all of the prejudice there is towards it. Gamers are seen a group with shared experiences and values. As with any culture, the members of the group are not all identical but they do share many experiences and characteristics as a group. While some stereotypes are insulting, such as "all gamers live in their parents' basements," others are dangerous, such as claiming that gamers are violent people. Here are a few recent examples of prejudice against gamers.
Grand Theft Auto V has a character named Jimmy De Santa who encompasses a lot of gamer stereotypes. Jimmy is lazy, jobless, and smokes pot. He loves to play violent video games online and insult other players. While I'm sure there are people exactly like Jimmy out there, it's obvious that GTA is just trying to make us laugh by combining so many stereotypes into one character. Jimmy is a parody of today's gamer and it's funny because GTA is good at parodying everything and everyone. And of course, the person playing is by definition a gamer.
Is Joel McHale laughing at me?
Not so funny was the way gamers were referred to during last week's VGX video game award show. During the show comedian Joel McHale essentially made jokes at the expense of its target audience: gamers. He looked straight at the camera and commented on his audience's Cheetos-crusted fingers and their need for adult diapers, among other jabs, throughout the show.
While GTAV points its finger at something and asks you to laugh along, or maybe even asks you to look at a parody of yourself, it's not trying to insult the person playing. Joel McHale hosted a show designed to celebrate our passion for video games and the video game industry while using gamer stereotypes to directly make fun of the viewer. That's like having a birthday party that turns into a Comedy Central roast; You were expecting cake and presents, not having jokes made about you all night. Maybe Joel wasn't trying to insult anyone and was just trying to be funny. Maybe a lot of people enjoyed it and his jokes just didn't make me laugh.
At least GTA and VGX were trying to be funny.
Batman/Superman vs. Gamers
In DC Comics' Batman/Superman #6 , Mongul has this great plan to (stay with me...) plant golden fury blossoms in the most gamer-populated cities in the world, which will release spores that increase humans' "already impressive appetite for unbridled violence." So the bad guys want to take advantage of the appetite for violence in humans and there is no better group to target than gamers?! This is something that actually happened in a comic book starring the two most famous superheroes of all-time.
Comic books and video games don't necessarily have anything to do with each other but I like to think that many Geeks appreciate both and that fans of both are kind of on the same team. Video game and comic book nerds have been the target of a lot of prejudice so it surprised me to see this type of thing in a mainstream comic book.
Superman/Batman is one of my favorite comic book series pre-New 52 and I really liked Batman/Superman's first arc but this Mongul and gaming stuff was already tough for me to enjoy before they relied on the most dangerous gamer stereotype as a plot point. Oh, and if saying that gamers are violent isn't bad enough, gamers are apparently full of hate too.
This is an ongoing comic book so in issue #7 gamers may surprise us and turn out to not be so violent and hateful after all. They may even save the day. But in this one issue they've made gamers look really bad.
Prejudice is Prejudice
I don't know of any other cultural group that is so associated with violent behavior but what if you replaced gamers in this comic with any other group? If you said Hispanics, Whites, Blacks, Muslims, Gays, Teachers, etc. It's not only a broad generalization, it highlights one of the most negative stereotypes about people who play video games. Would it be acceptable to do the same with another cultural group?
GTA and VGX walk the line of using stereotypes as comedy. That can go very wrong but it's often a lot of fun to laugh at ourselves and it seems to be ok when someone from your own group is telling the joke.
The Violent Gamer Stereotype is Dangerous
I did not find Batman/Superman #6 to be offensive, I found it to be irresponsible. Believe it or not, there are people who are influenced by what other people are saying about video games making people violent. Most people don't read the research and many have never played the violent video games everyone is talking about like the latest Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto.
Everyone who is impressionable worries me but some more than others. There are small children and people with developmental delays who may start to ask themselves if they are going to be violent people when they grow up or if they will eventually kill someone because they also like to play games. This is an effect that most people don't consider about all of this stereotyping.
How many times do you have to tell someone that they are worthless before they start to believe it? This is a question that we bring up when we talk about people being bullied or neglected. So what about constantly telling gamers that they are or will be violent and that if they keep playing they will eventually commit a violent act? How many times will we tell this group of people, who identify as gamers because of their love of playing games, that what they do will lead to violence and aggression? How many times does it take before people, not just gamers, start believing it? What effect will that have on people's behavior?
Ironically, all of the media bias is already making gamers defensive, which may affect research findings. Actually, there is so much bias in this debate from all sides that it makes it really hard to make sense of the constant flow of research.
So how might all this prejudice affecting people? Are parents and teachers treating kids differently once they become aware that they play and enjoy video games? Are people making assumptions about adults who play video games? Has anyone ever not wanted to date or hang out with someone once they found out they played video games? Is there anyone who is afraid to play video games because it will make them violent if they do?
Is it ever OK to be prejudiced against gamers?
Is it ever ok to be prejudiced, period? Gamers will continue to deal with prejudice from people outside their cultural group. We know that. I just hope that in the future we are more responsible about propagating stereotypes from within. It's hard enough without our own award shows and favorite comic books attacking us too.