By Jacob Toman
As the ranked match of Overwatch ended, I sat back and read the message sent by my teammate. The words were written in caps, as if the contents of the message were not clear enough.
“YOU SUCK, YOU’RE JUST A FILTHY CASUAL”
In that moment, it became clear that gamers are like Onions.
Gaming has layers
Many cultures have societal structures that differentiate echelons of people. Gamers are no exception. These various stratas are cultures within a culture. Subcultures are groups of people that are held together by their own particular common language, beliefs, values, and experiences that vary from the overarching language, beliefs, values and experiences of the macro culture. And all of us belong to multiple different subcultures in society.
When we have disagreements, misunderstandings, miscommunications, or differences in the values, beliefs, and experiences we cherish, we’re revealing the tension between the subcultures in which we hold membership. Don’t believe me? Here are a couple examples of subcultures:
For our Canadian Readers: the Liberal Party, and the Conservative Party
For our soccer fans: Arsenal, and Chelsea
For our Music Fans: The Grateful Dead, and the Village People
For our American Football Fans: UofM, and THE Ohio State,
For our USA Voters: Democrat Party, and Republican Party
For our Baby Boomers: Malcom X, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
For our Console gamers: Xbox, and Playstation.
Subcultures aren’t just a fun conversational word or topic, subcultures are an integral part of life that impact our world.
This past week I was having a conversation with a gamer online who was sharing some of her interests in music. She said she was a “skater” and identified with other terms like “punk”, but utterly rejected words like “goth” or “emo”. While you may not have familiarity with the meanings of those various words and the subcultures that go along with them, you are a member of several subcultures yourself!
While all members of a single culture share a common language, subcultures may have different dialects, accents, or keywords that are known and understood only by fellow members of the larger macro culture and micro subculture.
The layers of culture in gaming are vast, and while I cannot complete an exhaustive list, here are a few of the subcultures (layers in the Onion) I’ve bumped into:
Members of the “Console” subculture believe that there is no better gaming experience than sitting on a couch with a controller in hand. When you think of the combination of words “Lock-in” you’re thinking of Mountain Dew, Pizza, and the Console gamer’s paradise.
Members of the “Tabletop” subculture value gaming when games are played face to face, with dice and cardboard. Most of the Tabletop gamers I’ve met are older than 30, and hold steady employment outside the gaming industry.
Members of the PC subculture (sometimes jokingly referred to as the “PC Master Race”) think that the best gaming comes from customization and upgrades. A PC Master Race gamer will quickly reveal themselves by asking you for the specifications on your home computer.
Members of the “Winners” subculture pursue victory in every game no matter the cost. These are the most competitive gamers you’ll play with; I bet there are some in your family!
Members of the “Sharer” subculture believe that sharing a gaming experience with friends is the best way to play. Sharers almost never play alone and are the hallmark members of online communities.
Members of the “Artist” subculture value unique experiences in their gaming. Regardless of the platform, Artists want a new experience, new strategy, or a new way to play every game.
“YOU SUCK, YOU’RE JUST A FILTHY CASUAL”
The words still stand out in my mind. To this person, I didn’t belong in their culture, their group, or their team. I wasn’t competitive. I wasn’t trying hard enough. I wasn’t good enough. Beyond the initial insult of degradation, there lies the directed insult that cuts to the heart of someone who is competitive: Casual.
As employees, we all take a certain level of pride in our work. Imagine walking into your work environment, and a fellow employee told you they thought you don’t take your job seriously; you’re just a casual employee. Imagine the same words used to describe how you care for your family, your spouse, your children, your friends, or your pet.
The insult that was thrown from one person’s heart, onto their keyboards, and into my gaming experience was meant to cut to the bone. In the midst of the culture of gaming, where the general critique from external observers is one of apathy, narcissism, and sloth, the truth is that personal pride is something even the most apathetic, laissez-faire online gamer possesses.
In the flash of a moment and a few strokes on a keyboard, built-up tension of clashing subcultures met on the field of expectations known as conflict.
“YOU SUCK, YOU’RE JUST A FILTHY CASUAL”
When our cultural identity comes into question, it’s only natural to get defensive. Someone is telling us we don’t belong, we’re unwelcome, we’re unwanted, and we don’t fit in. As gaming has become more popular among various types of gamers, and as subcultures have been born out of the ever expanding and growing macro culture of gaming, divisions have been made between the core gaming culture and “filthy casuals”.
Battlelines have been drawn, often knowingly, between “hardcore” gamers and “casual” gamers (every gamer who isn’t deemed “hardcore” based on whatever arbitrary elements of membership a “hardcore” gamer might emphasize, such as age, the types of games played, or the hours played). This traditional “hardcore” subculture sees new gamers as a stain, an obstacle, and a parasite in gaming. Some hardcore gamers criticize game developers for abandoning deep gameplay mechanics in favor of “wowing” the casual audience with flashy graphics, while others consider peak graphical technology to be a hallmark of hardcore gaming!
In addition, the attitude of someone who just wants to have fun playing a game is often shunned and mocked through various keywords and slang to deride and chide the light-hearted casual gamer and further distinguish the elite “hardcore” gamer from the “filthy casual”.
I’ll never forget one of our first community meetings in World of Warcraft; we were using an online chat program, and there were about 10 of us in the room discussing goals for our community in this game. One member who said he was “going to be the brave one” opened his microphone and said:
“Ok, one rule we have to have is no girls or women are allowed in this [group]. Not because they are women or anything, but because they are filthy casuals”.
You might expect this sort of language from a hormonal “boys club only” sort of pre-teen. However, this was a full time, salaried employee, with a 2 year old, a wife, and a degree!
Subcultures can be a natural and wonderful expression of God’s unique creation in humanity. Our ability to build community and support one another through common language, values, and beliefs is beautiful! However, when sin takes hold in the heart, a different subculture becomes a reason for prejudice and self-righteousness.
So what’s the solution?
If subcultures in conflict bring out the worst in people, could we simply assimilate and ignore one another’s unique language, beliefs, and values? Early 20th century communism attempted this, and it led to the murder of millions in Russia, eastern Europe, and across Asia. Perhaps dissolving subcultures and forming one ultimate culture be an alternative? Middle 20th century Nazism tried this and saw eliminating differing cultures as the most efficient way to dissolve culture. What about embracing subcultures and encouraging education of all cultures? The present day western world encourages a form of education of each culture, but we’re finite creatures and some group is bound to be left out and marginalized. Each of these solutions bring us back to square one. We’re humans, and we congregate together around language, beliefs, and values; how do we resist damaging other subcultures when differences occur? How do we empower the subcultures we hold membership in to further grow our own culture and human experience?
I’ll offer two of my own suggestions, and would love to read yours:
Subcultures are neighbors to one another
When Jesus taught the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, he used examples of clashing subcultures to highlight how we ought to treat one another. The people who passed over the wounded traveler shared a Macro culture - language, geographic borders, similar scriptures, and ancestry - with the wounded traveler, but they belonged to different subcultures. For the people who passed by, they regarded their own micro-cultural identity and expectations as more important than their shared macro-cultural identity as ancient Israelites, and beyond that their creational identity as humans, image bearers of God. Their choice to ignore the plight of another human based on subcultural conflict leaves them as tragic examples. Jesus taught this parable in response to the question “who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Subcultures share a common overarching language, value system, and often variations of the same beliefs! Love your neighbor, love the subcultures around you....which means....
Christians! Love your fellow Christians! Not just your brothers and sisters in your same church service (the early service or the late), but also your brothers and sisters who share the same Lord but have varying secondary beliefs that are not essential to the gospel truth of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection! Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, Independent, love your brothers and sisters in the faith! You are a subculture of the kingdom that Christ has built on the shoulders of those who went before, is building through you, and will continue to build long after he calls us home! We ought to be ashamed at the gossip, quarrels, and blood that has been split over our own subcultural conflicts.
Be accountable for your words
Are you inviting conflict with others through your use of language? In your discussions with others from various subcultures, are you asking questions, seeking to learn, and using your ears to listen for the distinctions AND the similarities betwixt your own subculture and a neighbor’s subculture? When we use language such as pronouns describing “them”, “those”, or “they”, we are inviting hostility as it creates an “us” vs “them” dynamic within the very words we use. Live accountable to your own words. Do not assume those around you will hold themselves accountable for their language, if you refuse to be accountable for your own.
Do you have slang or keywords for others that are in a neighborhood of cultures? Not just those vastly different from you, but also those similar but different enough to warrant distinction? Is your slang or keyword a helpful differentiating term to denote the particular unique aspects of your own subculture and others? If someone used the same slang or keyword to describe your subculture, how would you react? Would you take joy in the term, or find sorrow? A local pastor friend recently said “I’ve been called Negro, Black, and African American, I’m so confused I don’t even know what to call myself!” Rather than assigning slang, a keyword, or a name to a subculture of people who are your neighbors, start with asking “what do you go by”!
“YOU SUCK, YOU’RE JUST A FILTHY CASUAL”
The truth is, I played terrible, I didn’t contribute to the team as much as I could have, and was still enjoying myself through the experience of playing Overwatch. The game determined this caps lock using player and I should be on the same team. We shared a culture, gaming, a subculture, PC gaming, a smaller microculture, Overwatch players, and then shared a team with mutual goals. I couldn’t control this person’s words or actions, but I could love them and my other teammates by admitting my role in the loss and wishing my teammates well in their next match.
After the game, another player who had been on the same team sent me a friend request and messaged me:
“Want to group up? I think we played well together”
Sometimes our witness is to the loud mouth “hardcore” member of our subculture. And sometimes our witness is to other fellow “filthy casuals”.