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Snealiv avatar 12:25 PM on 12.03.2012  (server time)
The Gamer Stereotype

I have this big secret in my life that, up until recently, I’ve never really felt comfortable sharing with others.

I say ‘secret’, but there were definite signs. Glimpses of my lifestyle occasionally slipped through the cracks in everyday conversation, but to the general public my big secret remained intact.

Sure my closest friends knew, and anyone else who picked up on the pieces, but I have always been afraid to share my lifestyle with my friends and co-workers. Afraid that they would judge me and look at my in a different way if they knew what I was hiding.

But today I no longer care. I’m tired of holding this in, so here it goes:

I play a lot of video games.

I know, shocking right? Most of you probably figured this out already (if not then I really don’t want to know what you meant to look up Google that led you here). My radiance probably set off the gamedar of every gamer within a five-mile radius; yet I still felt self-conscious about my hobby. Maybe I am alone in this, and maybe not, but it is something every gamer has to face at some point in their lives.

I remember my high school years during which I constantly repressed this bit of information. If I discussed my hobbies with friends, it was in hushed tones constantly checking over my shoulder for bypassing eavesdroppers that could out me on my dirty little secret.

I mean, sure, you could talk about Halo, Call of Duty, or even Assassin’s Creed to little consequence; but anything further is to commit social suicide.

See, I played RuneScape religiously for the first two years of my high school life. And for those of you unfamiliar with either RuneScape or the emotional state of high schoolers, if other students found out a person played Runescape, they may as well have had smallpox (if you don’t understand the reference, just replace every instance of RuneScape with World of Warcraft).

By nature, RuneScape encouraged discussion with your friends about obtaining items and boss strategies. Such conversations often included scary phrases such as “What level are you?”, “Buy rune armor” and “by killing moss giants”. Phrases that any teenager can pick up on from 70 feet away. To have these conversations with other people you had to first drop small hints in casual conversation that you played RuneScape, then find a way to talk about sneakily.

Personally, I switched all nerdy-sounding names and items to basketball terms. I know, not the best strategy when you still say that that you “made a few three-pointers in my game last night, but then I died and lost all of my basketballs”, but it avoided setting off any buzz-word nerd alarms.

When a person goes public with the fact that they enjoy video games, all other aspects of their life disappear in the eyes of the general public. The person is no longer “on the tennis team” or “the funny guy at the lunch table”; he is simply “that little kid who spends all his time playing video games”.

I would like to say the world changed as I got older, and attribute this judgmental attitude to the simple fact that most high school kids are dumb. But this isn’t the case.

Unless you work in the games industry or chose a field of study largely populated by gamers, these same social constraints still apply. Even a socially active person will be labeled as a basement-dweller the second they come out of the World of Warcraft closet. If you want to get invited to another company party ever again, be careful who you tell about that raid boss you defeated last night.

Because everyone knows that video games are for children right? It’s common knowledge that the largest portion of the largest worldwide entertainment industry only produces products that appeal to immature kids and people with no career aspirations.

Or so the general public believes.

I recently overheard someone say this exact phrase while talking to his friend on the bus, “…or the kind of people who play video games who, let’s face it, have never even touched a girl.”

Ignoring the fact that 38 percent of gamers are female, this man seems to have met enough of these poor terrified creatures to make a widespread claim about the social abilities of 70 percent of the world’s population.

Somewhere along the line, society developed the archaic notion that gamers are an anti-social breed whose very existence revolves around their hobby. These very same people who mock you for knowing the class benefits of rolling an elf mage can tell you the passer rating, workout plan, and favorite colors of every starting QB in the NFL. But they are not nerds, or geeks, or losers; they’re just really into football. Which in case you haven’t heard, is clearly productive to their life and will benefit them in the long run; unlike wasting your life playing video games.

These old dinosaurs make me sick. Video games are a unique medium that can constantly challenge its consumers and expand their minds in ways that no other form of expression can even remotely accomplish. Games challenge political actions, push social boundaries, expand people’s horizons and force players to confront issues and, as a result, grow as people.

But no, society is too afraid to admit these things. Gamers only love violence and chaos; didn’t you hear about the guy who murdered his wife because he played World of Warcraft?

And I say again, these people make me physically ill.

Can we ever change this terrible stereotype? Probably not, since we would have to break a stereotype firmly implanted in the minds of many over a vast span of years, but damn it we can try.

For those of you still doing so, stop hiding in the gaming closet. Don’t be afraid to shout your love for video games from the rooftops (you get bonus points if you record a video of yourself actually shouting your love for video games from the rooftops). Let the world know that you love video games and aren’t ashamed by this fact. It sounds ridiculous, but gamers have to be proud about their hobby. If we own it, then they can’t take that away from us.

So go post about your WoW character on Facebook, show your friends how video games tell engaging stories with compelling themes, and show the world that gamers are not some strange form of second-class citizen.

I’m Sam Neal, and I play video games.

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