[Originally posted on June 16, 2015]
By Jacob Toman
This is a public study on several pillars of culture. Gospel & Gaming is observing these foundational aspects of culture for the purposes of better educating our readers about how & why gamers are a culture unto themselves.
What exactly is a custom? What are some customs of gamer culture? These are two questions being examined in this piece. I don't seek to be exhaustive here, but I will try to summarize some of the pieces of gamer customs our team at Gospel & Gaming has observed and recorded over the course of our mission.
A custom is defined by dictionary.com as the following:
Credit to http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/custom
Studying the traditions of a particular people group requires both research time spent among the people group, and meta analysis of the stories, experiences, and data collected during the time spent. Much of this type of research is conducted by cultural anthropologists. For us at Gospel & Gaming, we started our research of gaming communities in 2013, and continue to learn from our own research community, and from other gathering places for gamers.
Customs in the United States vary, and of course, are differentiated by subcultures. Some of the customs in the United States are as follows:
Credit to: https://www.interexchange.org/american-culture/cultural-customs-us
Not every single one of the above generalized customs is true of every single American. There are exceptions both in individual groups, and among individual people. Not every American likes jokes, or believes being on time is important. Certain subcultures within America value jokes differently, or inquire about your day while actually expecting an answer. These generalizations of patterns within observable behavior help outsiders gain perspective on what to expect when encountering a particular culture.
One of the difficulties in studying gaming culture’s various customs, is the incredible diversity of customs based on the varying subcultures within gaming. For example, customs within Esports looks different from customs within MMORPG communities. At the beginning of a match in a MOBA (League of Legends, Defense of the Ancients, Smite, Heroes of the Storm) you may communicate with teammates or enemies alike by saying "GL & HF" which stands for "Good Luck & Have Fun". (For more on the origins of such phrases, check out the following forum discussion from 2009) In a traditional MMORPG setting, the shared space (the game and/or event) is so different from a MOBA that there is no formalized customary greeting shared at the beginning of an instance. There the protocol calls for a "ready check" of some type, to make sure that all players involved are prepared to start the instance. These subtle distinctions and differences make the study of gamer culture fascinating and tricky.
Some of the observable patterns of behavior and valued traditions in gaming:
3. Social Media
4. Obsessed with new/novel
6. Freedom of Expression
7. Don't like change
Keeping in mind these various parts of culture, and respecting each, we've come up with a few categories for studying the customs of gamers at large, while respecting the unique particulars of various subcommunities. Customs vary based on the space in which gamers gather. There are two primary spaces in which interact: face to face, and online. It's important to note that almost every game can be used by gamers to interact with others through both face to face and on-screen interactions.
When interacting face to face gamers tend to congregate around console gaming and tabletop gaming. These two events are vastly different as one is mediated by a screen, and the other is mediated (generally) via tables & chairs. Human interactions are often dictated and dependent on the mediums mediating the interaction, for gamers communication is no different.
It’s customary for gamers to...”Play”
Gamers value playing. There is no other people group in the world that so highly values playing, both individually and collectively. For the first year of our mission we held 12 "game days" for board gaming. The day would have an arc to it in terms of interactions following something of a bell curve.
One of the more interesting parts of this value of playing together is that gamers would often have conversation between games, prior to games, during games, and after games. But these conversations weren’t the reason (or at least primary reason) why these gamers had gathered. They had gathered to play, and the play was the primary reason and primary event of each of the game days.
Online gathering of gamers centers often around a particular game. Online gaming communities frequently grow their population through one major game title. The game itself becomes the attraction point. Gaming communities often have a difficult time in transitioning in their game/event between one game to multiple games/events. This often is because the thing that attracted the original community is no longer the focal point, which can cause the original community to move on to other communities.
Gamers love to play. If you’ve got a gamer in your family, church, or circle of influence, one of the best ways to get to know them, serve them, or love them, is to get to know what they play, and spend time playing together.
It’s customary for gamers to...”Enjoy Eating”
Gamers value food. Food that is quick to prepare and easy to eat is highly valued. Finger foods, sandwiches, microwavable snacks, frozen pizza, these are just some of the American gamer staples.
On our travels across the country, our family tries to continue our online relationships with friends and gamers into face to face interactions. The best way to do this without playing a game is through having a meal together. One gamer that we got to take out for lunch was celebrating a birthday that day. His parents were at work, & other friends were busy. We got to celebrate his birthday together by eating at his favorite restaurant and praying for his next year and upcoming plans.
Gamers love to eat. Try making some pizza and inviting some gamers over for an evening of fellowship.
3. Social Media
It’s customary for gamers to...”use Social Media”
Gamers enjoy using all forms of social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, Snapchat, WeeChat, etc.
If it’s a method of communication that can incorporate multiple users, gamers are interested. Often during face to face events gamers will be caught checking their phones between turns to stay up to date on what’s happening via reddit, twitter, facebook, or instant messaging apps. Online gamers can use these various online methods of communication to confirm and further friendships that begin during an event or in a game space.
While gamers are often critical of social media, they aren’t leaving. Sometimes there is a particular dip in a particular brand or type of social media, but by and large, gamers want to be in the know about games, and what other gamers are up to. Social media is, for the present generation of gamers, the best way to go about accomplishing that goal.
It's customary for gamers to..."obsess over new"
Gamers are intrigued by new technology, new strategies, and of course, new games! The level of interest gamers take to new things is fascinating considering how much of gaming culture revolves around classic games and childhood experiences. The average age of the gamer in the United States (not globally) has ranged from 31-37 over the last decade (see ESRB data from 2004-2014). This puts the average gamer in the States with an appreciation for where gaming has come from since the 80’s and 90’s, while keeping an open eye and ear on where gaming is going in the 20’s and 30’s.
In this regard gaming and online mediated gaming have almost perfect overlap. Gamers lineup, and sign up for kickstarter campaigns, giving money to games that haven’t even been made yet, both digitally and for tables. Getting into alpha and beta test stages for games is now a highly desirable method of early digital access. Several games market themselves as available via early access, meaning the game isn’t completed yet but people can purchase the ability to play early even with bugs and incomplete features.
Gamers are willing to put up with a lot, as long as they get to try something new. The whole gaming convention scene is dominated by new games, new expansions, new features, new consoles, new platforms, new genres, and new opportunities to gain early entrance into what may just be the next hot game.
It’s customary for gamers to...”be critical”
Gamers are incredibly critical. This can sometimes lead to a toxic attitude when combined with anonymity and an audience. I want to stress that gamers nature to be critical doesn’t always lead to a critical “hard-hearted” attitude. Some gamers are critical in their writing, and thinking, to better improve their craft, culture, and company. I’ve been privileged to get to know several of these gamers through Gospel & Gaming’s research community, which has “Critical Thinking” as a core principle. While some gamers seek to improve their community through giving and receiving critique, others seek to use social media, gaming events, and gathering spaces to provoke, and pervert gaming culture.
There is a term for those who hide behind anonymity to further their own goals rather than contribute to a community in a positive way: Trolls. One researcher has titled this with the term “Online Disinhibition Effect”.
6. Freedom of Expression
It’s customary for gamers to...”express themselves freely”
Gamer culture is made up of gamers, who often turn to games as a means of escapism, relaxation, and recreation. For many gamers, gaming is the comforting activity that is run to in times of pain. This makes gaming culture a culture of healing, where members are looking for affirmation in gaming about themselves or their beliefs, when they otherwise wouldn’t have it elsewhere. This is often why so many gamers manifest deviant or taboo beliefs and practices. Gamer culture isn’t built around a religion, or socio economic strata, or a particular political alignment. Game space provides an opportunity for people to gather regardless of distinctives, age, race, sex, class, belief, affiliation, or pain. For this reason, when gaming you will meet both face to face and online gamers from every walk of life.
When gaming expect to meet a gamer, interested in being who they are, bold, shy, religious, not religious. The gaming table is a great gathering space that allows for those who are hurting, feel judged, or just want to have fun to engage, collaborate, and compete.
It’s customary for gamers to...”Not like Change”
While gamers like new, they don’t like change. Change is hard to do, for any of us, but especially for gamers. Specific logistic instructions are very helpful for gamers; gamers like concrete specific realities, terms, rules, and schedules. Change brings on an element of potential confusion. Countless times at the game table, or between games online, the questions is posed “what now” or “what’s next”. I’ve found gamers are receptive to a plan of action or guiding course. Specific games take specific coordination to gather people in a place, whether that place is face to face or online.
This dislike for change isn’t just logistical confusion during a particular event; it carries over when gamers move to new places, start new jobs, make new friends, or begin a new adventure. Change within a gamer’s life comes at a price and most often, that price is reflected in attitude. While gamers enjoy new things, they don’t like it when something established transforms and requires a re-education process.
The customs of gamer culture go far beyond the seven listed here. In this piece I’ve only briefly discussed a few observable customs within gaming. Hopefully our team at Gospel & Gaming has taught you something new today about gamers that will better allow you to understand who gamers are, and what makes them distinctive as a people group.