Content of the article: "Immersion, Agency, Customization, and the Uniquely Bad “Gamer” Stereotype"
Spitballing here off some ideas I've heard discussed by Matt Christman. Will link further reading/listening at the end of this post. Hope this post isn't rejected just for offering some critical points about games/gaming. I myself play games super frequently and have no intention to stop playing, but I do think Christman hit something that is very insightful and worth examining.
We're all familiar with the stereotypical "antisocial gamer." The bad one. The one who utterly neglects hygiene, social life, romantic life, education, career ambitions, etc. and instead fully dedicates themselves to gaming. The basement-dwelling neckbeard stereotype portrayed in the South Park Warcraft episode, for example.
Further, we're all familiar with the stereotypical "toxic gamer." The ones who turned up the toxicity for Gamergate, who rage over minority representation in games, the ones who write shockingly vitriolic comments on Chan imageboards.
Christman's question is — why are these types of people so much more common in gaming than in any other lifestyle/hobby? Where is this sort of stereotype for "the reader" who spends all their time in books? Even if one can imagine an antisocial bookworm, one must concede that a) there seems to be less "bookworm culture" than "gamer culture," and b) "toxic bookworm" culture doesn't really seem to be so much of a thing as toxic gamers. And the same can be said for virtually every other form of media consumption besides gaming — TV/movie-consuming culture doesn't seem to track as significantly more antisocial, let alone toxic, than society at large, as gaming tends to.
So why is this? What is it about gaming that creates an atmosphere where such a large, and visible segment of the culture develops toxic and/or negative traits?
Christman, as I recall, posits 3 main answers as to why gaming is more likely to create toxic subgroups: 1) The higher level of immersion in gaming; 2) the illusion of agency in gaming; 3) the relatively high level of customization in gaming.
Taken all together, these 3 factors create a world that could almost be seen as a substitute for real life. If your real life sucks, you might be pretty eager to dedicate your time to a substitute instead. And while one can escape to some degree in a book or movie, no doubt the immersion is higher in gaming. Like a book, a game takes place at the consumer's chosen pace. But further, the gamer can focus on whichever details they please to a degree the reader cannot. Ie, a reader can choose to keep re-reading the passage describing the bedroom and skim past the passage describing the kitchen, but the gamer can "actually spend" all of their time in bedroom and fully ignore the bathroom. That's just more immersive, and it also goes into the second point — the illusion of agency.
The illusion of agency could arguably be folded into point 1 about immersion, but it's so unique to gaming that I think it deserves to be highlighted on its own. Gaming has a neat trick that even the longest, most detail-oriented book or movie cannot match. And not only does the illusion of agency in gaming deeply enhance immersion, it also creates a precious mini-world where the player cares enough to stay invested, but not so much as to mirror the pains of real life. With uniquely deep immersion, we can already see how gaming is uniquely prone to churning out the "antisocial" negative stereotype gamer that I described — when the game is that engaging and immersive, it is increasingly easy to choose to focus on the game over other daily tasks and functions.
But the illusion of agency also creates a sort of entitlement in players. Games, like life, give you choices to make. However, while you may choose devastatingly wrongly in life, that isn't really an option in games. It's not possible nor desirable for an in-game decision to set you back years/a lifetime, like a bad decision in real life. However, in this way gamers may subconsciously become used to being "catered to" or "pampered." Gamers, the sort who come to reject hyenine and even basic life ambitions, seem to be rejecting challenges that are failable, choosing instead to only engage with a world that not only "can" but will reward them for their efforts.
Again, this desire to be catered to interacts with the next factor, the relatively high level of customization in games. This enhances both immersion and the illusion of agency. Unlike a novel or TV show, the protagonist is suited to consumer pretty precisely. Again, this reinforces the view that the world that they engage with should cater to them.
Now zoom back out and imagine one of those antisocial, toxic gamers. This is perhaps a person with no education or employment, no social/romantic life, and no prospects for that to change in the future. How could one possibly choose to neglect their life that badly? Well, perhaps because they're instead investing their energy into something much closer to life than any book or movie; something that allows them to feel like they're making real choices, but without the sharp-edged risk of making real choices in real life.
And what happens when something takes this person out of their "world?" What happens when someone reminds them that the world isn't actually catered to them specifically, built around their preferences and demands, perhaps by featuring a gay woman protagonist? The response is viscerally defensive, borderline rabid at worst.
What I wrote about does not apply to the vast majority of video game players. However, one must wonder how it applies to so many more video game players than it does to consumers of any other particular media. I've probably warped and bastardized Christman's arguments, but they're available in his words here:
-Best link: 30 minute debate on this topic with Christman and Virgil Texas:
-~7 minute video of Christman and Texas having a similar debate:
-Article covering some of the same grounds https://www.kotaku.com.au/2018/07/the-lefts-most-notorious-podcasters-are-divided-on-video-games/
- The Paradoxical Nature of VR Immersion. Is it Uncanny Valley or Lack of Established Tropes?
- Do you consider people who only play a few games and mainly just one “real” gamers or casuals
- Need help for Research-creation project on the social culture of gaming
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