When I was a wee lad, my folks used to take me to the mall so they could shop. They saw the importance of the arcade and knew it could hold the interest of children while they did whatever needed doing. They would hand me a five dollar bill and tell me they’d pick me up in about an hour. After a quick journey to the coin or token machine, I was ready for an hour of gaming with my new family of strangers. I had to be careful not to go through all of my coins too quickly or else I would have to watch others play the arcades instead of enjoying them for myself. The desire to practice and get better not only led to me having money left over when I’d get picked up, but it also let me feel like I wasn’t letting other players down when playing cooperative games. Strangers would share tips and secrets with me as well, so we could better defend the world from the many bad guys doing their bad guy things. My family praised the usefulness of those “kids’ machines” in the arcade, and I got to meet and play with several interesting people united in our cause.
I remember how important those other people were to me, even as a child. Playing the games on my own would be fun, but being able to save the world with other like-minded heroes made the experiences so much more tangible and engaging. From the alluring sights and sounds in the arcades to the lines formed at stores to pick up Pitfall!, gamers would show up and enjoy the experience together. I remember feeling like I belonged around those crowds, no matter who they were or what they looked like. They were simply people who enjoyed playing video games, just like me.
It didn’t hurt that most gamers in those days were kids and teens, so I felt closer in age as well. The adults in lines to buy games were usually the parents of a child that would play the game, and though adults would show up in arcades to play, they weren’t nearly as prevalent as the teens and children. Video games were seen as children’s toys, and parents bought them as such. They weren’t buying something akin to a new movie, or even a book. They were buying something that their children would play with, just like all of their other toys. Parents assumed their children would eventually grow out of playing them, and as the years passed they wondered when that time would come.
That attitude, one of a few through the history of video games that we must examine to understand the importance games have on today’s society, may have been a catalyst to the video game crash that occurred in 1983. Granted, many other factors contributed as well, such as saturation and quality issues, but the view of video games being for children caused kids to hide their love for playing games. It wasn’t cool to play video games, since they were for children, so many gamers told their schoolyard friends that they were done with those toys. Video games were played in secret, but gaming communities were forming.
The internet was little more than a concept during the early days of video games, but arcades were booming. By going to arcades, children and teens didn’t have to hide their love for playing games. They were entering a room filled with others who wanted to hang out, talk, and play games with others who wanted to do the same. Gamers could gather together and not feel judged for enjoying their hobby. They would meet new people and share their time, problems, and accomplishments with each other. Friendships were formed, and communities were established. Gamers began to see each other as a family, bonded by their love of playing together.
Though gamers often hid their love for games with others at school, the communities forming in the arcades usually included fellow school members, including those same gamers that were hiding their passion for games from each other. Schoolyards began to include a sort of “black market” of gamers, with groups forming to exchange secrets and accomplishments in the latest games. Some of the “cool kids” began to slowly lean in, hoping to hear some tips and share in the gaming fun. Phone numbers and addresses were exchanged, and suddenly people that would never have given each other a chance at friendship before were hosting sleepovers for each other so they could game the night away.
As the years passed, video games became more accepted. Parents started to tolerate the fact that their children were still playing video games, and schools became an entirely new sort of monster. Video game systems competed with each other, and so did the players. While there were certainly “system wars” before, nothing quite epitomized the birth of the “fanboy” like the battle between Nintendo and Sega. Starting with the Nintendo vs. the Master System, the war really caught fire with the Super Nintendo vs. the Genesis. Since many gamers had one system or the other in their household, they fiercely explained the merits of their respective system with each other. As such, the wars were on, and the lines of friendship could be severed depending on one’s allegiance. Not only was playing video games more accepted, it was almost necessary to declare which side held one’s loyalty. Fanboys, and certainly fangirls, became an impactful reality in gaming, adding a nuance to the social spectrum of video games and helping to keep the gaming conversation going as it moved ahead in technology and in scope.
Friends grew up playing games together, and those bonds solidified as they grew older. Gamers were growing up, and so were video games. New genres of gaming led to new players. New friends were encountered as well as new loves. Video games were finally being played over the internet, and they became more social, with many games requiring cooperation to explore vast worlds and thwart overwhelming baddies. Overcoming challenges together in video games helped gamers learn more about themselves as well as those playing alongside them. In addition to making many new friends of every sort, some gamers were even tying the knot, saying, “I do,” to the person they learned they couldn’t live without, sometimes in the very game that brought them together.
Video games were booming. No longer relegated to the kids’ corner, they were taking over the entire entertainment industry! Supplanting every other form of entertainment, video games became the largest and most profitable entertainment medium. Where some friends used to get together to play cards, they more often logged on together for a round of the latest gaming craze. While bars and clubs have long been hot spots to meet potential mates, many people were finding fulfilling companionship and love from playing their favorite games. Since so many people were playing them, there were so many different kinds of people to meet.
No matter where someone lived, and no matter their upbringing, playing video games online introduced gamers to people of all sorts. Holding no discriminators, video game servers filled themselves with all shapes, sizes, cultures, colors, sexes, and hair styles. Players engaged in conversations with each other and learned the importance of the “golden rule” as they worked together to accomplish whatever end in their shared video game experiences. Gamers tended to realize that being selfish, elitist, or an actor of segregation of any sort would often find them alone with no one desiring to play with them. Meanwhile, those that learned to work together, accept each other, and selflessly give to others found themselves with more friends than they could ever hope for.
Video games have always brought people together, but it is true that they have also been an accomplice to acts that have encouraged hate and discrimination. From those that call others every sort of name imaginable to others that proudly proclaim that their race or sex is better than someone else’s, video games can truly be a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Though these voices can seem like a boisterous, prevailing majority when encountered, they tend to be the minority overall. Some games do have a higher occurrence of such individuals, and we do have to be careful when playing any game because, unfortunately, some players just want to watch the world burn. As games matured, they have included more effort to combat the intolerable acts that some ascribe to, but more research and effort is certainly needed to combat it when it does occur.
The vast majority of gamers, however, genuinely want to play with others in a positive way, and they are excited to play with and learn about other gamers, no matter who they are, what they believe, or whatever background they may have. Most gamers realize that other players are human beings; the same people they played with in the arcades, chatted with on the schoolyard, and bonded with throughout their many years of gaming. Games tend to show the true character of others, good or bad, and it’s tough to hide from our actions in them in either case. The “bad seeds” tend to get exposed quite well in the realm of video games, and players learn to avoid those pitfalls. To truly succeed in games, we must come together to make a difference. We need only look at the exploits of good ol’ Leeroy Jenkins to realize the truth of this. While he was left with his chicken, the majority of gamers realize they must treat each other well and play well together in order to keep the good times coming.
That’s really what it’s all about: those good times that we get to spend with others. Solo games are fantastic as well, but even they present social opportunities since we talk about those experiences and offer tips and perspectives with others. In the world of video games, we rely on each other. As such, we learn about each other, we give to each other, and we grow together. Regardless of how we look, what we believe, our political views, our religious beliefs, our upbringing, sex, race, country, shoe size, capabilities, or favorite ice cream, video games have grown throughout the years to bring us together in a way no other medium can. We need each other to thrive, and that desire to succeed with everyone else tends to bring out the best, and sometimes worst, in us. We grow through it, understanding that, while no one is perfect, we are all better together.
Video games are not only important, but necessary for so many people, helping us to appreciate each other, come together, and have fun during the most difficult of times. We learn the golden rule to succeed in gaming, and in life. We learn to take care of each other, and we are there for each other, even in the competition. With every virtual K.O. or headshot, a new friendship is formed and a new bond is cemented. Whether fanboy, casual, or anything in between, and whomever the player may be, games have endured to bring us together as gamers, and there is not much more important than that.