Gamers and our relationships: Go mid!
Welcome to an introspective post on a complex topic: gamers’ relationships with other people. For the purposes of this post, I’ll call non-gamers “muggles” – Jacob has used this term in our conversations, and it always makes me smile.
Way, way back in December, when Jacob and I had just started this thing called tl-dr, Jacob wrote a post on gaming with friends and family. When he posted it, it was the holiday season, the time of year when we’re supposed to be eating too much sugar with people we love. And playing games with them.
Conceivably, even the most hardcore video gamers are willing to put down their keyboards to spend face-to-face time with other people. But the time comes when we want to stop the idle, slow-paced Chatty Cathy kitchen table stuff and run some battlegrounds (or whatever). What does this do to our interpersonal relationships? I want to explore this issue from the two perspectives I can provide: our research and anecdotes.
The research that Caroline Whippey and I have started about MMO gamers’ thoughts about games and well-being showed us that the social aspect of games like World of Warcraft is very important to our participants. They discussed relying on guildies for escape, for grouping in game, and for sharing RL problems. They talked about playing with our RL friends and family when those relationships exist. Because in-game relationships feel so real, and because in-game relationships sometimes eventually extend out of game, Caroline and I have discussed where the line between virtual and real exists. Can any MMO player really say that in-game relationships don’t feel real – whether the relationship is a close friendship that develops, or anger toward another player for dropping the flag in a battleground?
From an anecdotal perspective, I’ve spoken with other gamers who struggle to figure out how to fit gaming into their lives and out-of-game relationships. I think the most frequent concern I hear is from gamers whose partners do not game. Just two nights ago, I was running dungeons with someone who had to stop; he said something to the group like “Gotta go. Wife is pissed.” I’m sure that from the muggle partner’s point of view, games pull their gamer partners too far away from the relationship… but they don’t understand that sometimes, when you’re on a battleground winning streak and you’re attempting to power level, you don’t want to stop. This concern also extends to parents. I don’t have children, but I know from conversations with other people that the conflicts between parenting and gaming are extremely real. How do you get the game time you want as an individual without missing out on precious time with your children? And I won’t even go far into the reactions that games cause for parents of all ages… I’m a 30-something professor with a PhD, but I still get looks of disapproval from my mom when she sees me playing games.
A recent Gamasutra article on shorter and/or mobile games attempts to address the time crunch issue for grownup gamers with busy lives. Are games that can be started and finished in a single afternoon a viable alternative to games that take that hours and hours to win, or to games like WoW that really never end? Many hardcore gamers (including Jacob and I) reject less complex games outright… I mean, seriously… what self-respecting hardcore gamer would choose Angry Birds over Guild Wars 2?
It is such an interesting paradox to me. Games make gamers feel included in a significant social realm, but they can isolate gamers from muggles. Gamer culture is also substantially different enough from the worldviews of muggles that it can make us feel misunderstood. I have an Epic Purple Shirt, and I always wonder what the rest of the world thinks when I wear it. Not that I have the luxury of worrying too much about what the rest of the world thinks, because that would make me feel quite lonely.
The topic of gamers and relationships is important not only for reflecting on our lives as gamers, but also for considering how games are accepted in society. Does the stigma surrounding video games cause certain muggles to look down upon us when we need some game time, or vice versa? I don’t think less of anyone for their interests… I mean, I don’t knit or scrapbook or watch bad TV, but I don’t give funny looks to people I know who do those things. (That said, I will never quit teasing Jacob for his love of exceedingly bad music).
There are points in our lives when gaming takes up more time; maybe we need more escape due to substantial RL issues, or maybe we just have more free time at that point. Sometimes we have to take a break from it, whether that break is chosen or forced. From a broader vantage point, is gamer culture any more differentiating than soccer mom culture or motorcycle culture or Belieber (Justin Bieber lover) culture or any other social group that is formed around life choices or interests?
Being a gamer has always given me a sense of identity that makes me feel like I have the privilege of accessing some sort of secret society, which I know is strange when I consider how many millions of people play video games. In some settings, my gaming isolates me; in other settings, it makes me feel at home. It doesn’t make me care about people in my life any more or less regardless of their gamer status. In the end, I think it all comes down to finding a balance that works for each of us.
I run WoW battlegrounds with another player who likes to say (sometimes several times) in almost every battleground, “go mid.” It’s become an inside joke with us. Of course, the idea of “going mid” doesn’t make sense in every battleground, but we all know what it means. If we’re in a BG without a mid, some players accuse him of trolling, while others laugh and play along. The key is that we all know what he’s talking about. If he were to randomly say “go mid” at Christmas dinner, there is a chance that his aunt would be a little more hesitant to pass him the green bean casserole, and he might lose a little Aunt XP for it if he said it multiple times. That is perhaps a life truism: you’ve always gotta watch what you say and who you say it to. Unless you are in game, in which case anything happily fits in. Now excuse me while I log in and talk to my mom on the phone at the same time.
Games and relationships with gamers and muggles alike lead to interesting dynamics in the life of a gamer. My advice: when in doubt, go mid.
Ding! You’ve leveled up! Please see your local librarian for training.
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