Has Gaming Become Socially Acceptable?

“Video games are ingrained in our culture. Driven by some of the most innovative minds in the tech sector, our industry’s unprecedented leaps in software and hardware engages and inspires our diverse global audience. Our artists and creators continue to push the entertainment envelope, ensuring that our industry will maintain its upward trajectory for years to come.”

– Michael D. Gallagher

In my lifetime, gamers have always been stereotyped into these sweaty, neck-bearded, Mountain Dew-drinking, Doritos-eating, fedora-wearing losers who dwelled in their moms’ basements at the age of 40 and never left the house because they were so glued to the computer screen all day. They were overweight men who experienced difficulty in finding romantic partners, and possessed no reputable skills other than playing video games. But has this stereotype more or less dissipated?

A study found in 2015 that as many as 155 million Americans play video games, and four out of five American households own a console (“Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry”, 2015). These numbers are unprecedented compared to thirty years ago, when gaming was first making it into the public eye. Thirty years ago, fairly rudimentary video games such as Pong and Pac Man were only accessible through arcades, and even then you had to wait your turn before you could play them. Today, video games are accessible everywhere and to everyone, and have evolved to a point where you can literally explore entire worlds from the comfort of your own living room. The current trajectory could lead to full blown virtual reality that engages all of your senses, including, God forbid, pain.

Technological advances have obviously accounted for the recent explosion in video game popularity, but what about cultural advances? As I’ve stated, it used to be that if you played video games, you simply didn’t have a life. It didn’t matter how much or how often you played them—you were always defaulted to this basement dweller who was “below” everyone else on the social hierarchy. But we know that the hierarchy has become more accommodating in recent years. If you play video games, you’re now seen as no different from somebody who watches movies or reads books.

The increased social-cultural acceptance of gamers could be reflected in mediums such as television shows and YouTube videos.

Take the widely beloved sitcom The Big Bang Theory for example, which will be going into its twelfth season in 2018. This show follows the antics of four socially awkward close friends, Leonard, Sheldon, Rajesh, and Howard, as well as Leonard’s way-out-of-his-league neighbor, Penny. The cast has expanded to include more female characters.

The Big Bang Theory has received critical appraise for its humorous depiction of nerd dynamics. Typically, characters will have conversations about how Indiana Jones has no effect on the plot of Raiders of the Lost Ark, or in what order the Star Wars movies should be watched.

However, The Big Bang Theory’s greatest strength is equally its greatest weakness. A common qualm with the show is that while it promotes social acceptance of nerds, it perpetuates false perceptions of who nerds really are. I define a nerd as anyone who exemplifies extreme enthusiasm for his or her hobby of choice, but in The Big Bang Theory, nerds are presented as socially compromised. In the beginning of the series, for instance, Leonard is a chronic loner, Raj is unable to speak to women, Howard is a creep, Stuart is cripplingly depressed and routinely embarrasses himself in public, and Sheldon cannot connect with anyone on a human level. But hey! At least they all love to play Dungeons & Dragons and go to the movies together, right? Nonetheless, The Big Bang Theory has turned out to be one of the highest-rated, longest-running, and most profitable American sitcoms of all time.

Take PewDiePie, the most subscribed user on YouTube, as another example. In 2011, Felix Kjellberg attended college for a degree in industrial economics and technology management, but dropped out to instead pursue a passion in making videos. What began as a hobby would then evolve into an enterprise in its own right, with Felix rapidly rising to prominence by taking advantage of the YouTube algorithms, uploading consistently, and maintaining but refining the fundamental format of his content. As of November 2017, PewDiePie has amassed up to 57.7 million subscribers, and in effect defined the gaming genre on YouTube and inspired countless others to create their own gaming content.

What about my opinion? I am by no means a fan of PewDiePie. I’ve got nothing against the guy personally, but I don’t find any of his videos funny. I don’t see where the appeal comes from—is it just immature children who find amusement in watching a Swedish man incessantly shout into a microphone while playing a horror game?

PewDiePie’s gargantuan fan base cannot solely consist of immature children. He appeals to a wide audience unbound by age, race, or sex—an audience that derives entertainment value from watching their preferred personality play games as opposed to playing games themselves. And, it’s this new entertainment value that has contributed to the popularization of alternatives to PewDiePie like VanossGaming, Markiplier, and RoosterTeeth. Even Smosh, one of the top channels on the website that previously did not produce gaming content, has branched out to appeal to a more gaming-centric audience.

Overall, through clever exposure to their way-of-life, shows like The Big Bang Theory and content creators like PewDiePie have incrementally lifted the stigma off gamers, and proved that they are not just basement dwellers who can’t find girlfriends. They’re people, too.

Angry Joe Versus His Audience: A Response

Angry Joe is a YouTube content creator who has amassed over 2.8 million subscribers. He is best known for his Angry Reviews: 30 to 40 minute long video game reviews of high production value consisting of skits, special effects, angry rants, and in-depth critical analyses. Joe gained popularity from his propensity to call game developers out on their greed and hypocrisy, especially with respect to overpriced DLC and microtransactions.

Recently, Angry Joe announced that he would suspend production on Angry Reviews until at least September so that he could take a much needed 2 month long vacation. This resulted in a massive backlash that would be marked by persistent hatred and criticism and a net reduction in Joe’s subscriber count. Fans of the esteemed game reviewer were notably and understandably upset, complaining that Joe was already on vacation and didn’t need to take any more time off. Joe responded by disabling comments and ratings on subsequent videos, and ranting on Twitter about how he has been producing quality free content for the past 9 years and has thus earned himself a break.

I’m ashamed to admit this, but I, too, was a part of the criticism that beset Joe’s vacation announcement. I wrote a comment saying that we fans need to band together and dislike every piece of content that isn’t an Angry Review to send the message that Joe’s behavior isn’t acceptable. It received up to 55 likes, and shortly afterward, Joe in fact disabled comments and ratings on his Game of Thrones review.

Joe then addressed the censorship of his fan base on the 27th, reasoning that he wanted to prevent the more negative side of his community needlessly attacking fans of his Let’s Plays, trailer reactions, and movie reviews in the comment sections. Joe also illustrated that the current content drought isn’t anything new to his channel—there simply aren’t any games right now that he is interested in reviewing, so he took time off until the triple A titles come out.

As upset that I am with Joe for turning a blind eye on his own audience and leaving it in the dust, I can’t help but feel sorry for him. I forgot about the emotional toll that the Internet can take on someone, and overlooked just how much work goes into a single video game review of Joe’s caliber. To put things into perspective, my Halo 5: Guardians review was 32 minutes long, but it took over THREE months to produce with the constant interference from work, school, and other responsibilities. That’s about 100 hours in real time to create a half hour YouTube video, but because this is the Internet—the cesspool of ignorance and entitlement—people somehow think that a 30 minute review equates to 30 minutes of work, which isn’t true. The argument that “Joe doesn’t have a real job” is therefore invalid.

I hope Joe takes as much time as he needs to recuperate both mentally and emotionally from this debacle, but I also expect him to come back with some kickass reviews in the fall. Until then, I’ll see you guys on the next… Angry Joe Show!

Skyrim: Why it’s Still the Best Open World RPG

“Let me guess. Someone stole your sweetroll!”

 – Guard, Skyrim

No other game has been able to live up to the same heights as Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011), with its deep immersion, customization, and exploration elements that even today’s open world RPGs have trouble emulating with complete accuracy. To be clear, Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015) comes close—very close. I commended Witcher 3 for its cutting edge approach to storytelling, impressive graphical fidelity, multifaceted characters, dynamic world, and overall wealth of content. Hearts of Stone (2015) and Blood and Wine (2016), the two expansions to Witcher 3, actually added new meaning to the term “videogame expansion,” setting the bar high for story-based DLC and adding on to what was already a gigantic game. And yet, even 5 years later, Skyrim still outcompetes CD Projekt Red’s masterpiece.

It’s no secret that I have strong feelings for Skyrim (that makes it sound like I’m romantically attracted to the game). I invested about 300 hours into the Xbox 360 version, which might not seem like a lot in the context of how massive the game truly is, and purchased Skyrim Special Edition on a Black Friday sale. Essentially, Skyrim is so special to me because I keep crawling back to it after all these years. It possesses an intrinsic charm that the Witcher series, GTA V, and Fallout 4 ostensibly cannot recreate. The all-important question is, what does it get right?

The first and perhaps most important thing that Skyrim gets right is its novelty factor. Part of the reason that I was disappointed by Fallout 4 so much is that I was always pitted against the other factions when I didn’t want to be. If you sided with the Minute Men, then you couldn’t play through the Brotherhood of Steel quests, and you would miss out on all of that content. In Skyrim, on the other hand, you are able to play through all faction questlines at your discretion, and you don’t have to worry about making enemies. Furthermore, there is an insane amount of caves and dungeons to explore, as well as quests that you just accidentally stumble upon while straying off the beaten path. There are even quests that, to this day, I haven’t played.

The second thing that Skyrim gets right is its level of customization and personalization.

Customization wise, the game gives me the freedom to play whoever and whatever I want, a trademark of Bethesda’s approach to immersion. I typically enjoy playing as an anti-hero in Skyrim; I can murder an entire town of innocent NPCs yet at the same time not have to feel guilty about it since I’ve just saved the world from total annihilation. I am also free to traverse the map as a vampire-werewolf hybrid, and later return home to my dog and two kids after a long day of questing, looting, and exploring.

Personalization wise, many experiences in the game feel non-scripted, as though they were designed for me and no one else. For instance, I can slaughter all the guards in Whiterun, and if I’m feeling regretful afterwards, I can reload the save and pretend like it never happened. I can drag around battered corpses and toss them into the nearby river to watch them drift away. I can pickpocket lords and jarls and hope they won’t notice. I can defy the laws of gravity by riding my horse down an incredibly steep mountain. I can assassinate the High King of Skyrim and then parade around with his clothes in public. I can stick a bucket onto the Riverwood Trader’s head and steal everything in his shop. Then, if I become over-encumbered, I can drop dozens of pounds of useless junk in the middle of the road. I can do all of those things because the game simply lets me, and it always ends up feeling like an experience that was handcrafted for my personal enjoyment.

The third thing that Skyrim gets right is its MUSIC. Skyrim simply wouldn’t be the game that it is without Jeremy Soule’s epic, emotionally charged score. Every piece not only complements the game’s atmosphere, it enhances the atmosphere altogether, making you feel like this is your story that you are writing as you go along. The music also tells a story in itself. For instance, The Streets of Whiterun communicates the quiescence of the town of Whiterun, while the heart-pounding Watch the Skies communicates the fast-paced nature of a dragon attack. My favorite pieces are The Jerall Mountains, Distant Horizons, Dawn, and Aurora. Soule really knows how to compose an unforgettable soundtrack.

I could go on forever about how amazing The Elder Scrolls V is, continuing with its superb leveling system, well-written quests (sometimes), and satisfying combat mechanics. However, I’d have to admit to a bias with respect to the game’s actual quality. It is not without its faults; some quests, at least back in the day, were bugged and thus could not be turned in. Also, companions annoyingly block your path, the same six or seven voice actors are used for virtually every NPC on the map, and the game can generally become repetitive after enough playthroughs. Nonetheless, Skyrim remains at the top of my list, and it may be awhile before it loses its spot. You could argue that my fondness for the game is a function of my nostalgia, since a lot of media always seems better than at the time I first consumed it.

What it all comes down to is the view. Even though Skyrim is a virtual world with no physical basis in reality, it brings out the nature lover in me. Sometimes, the best parts of the game are emerging from a cave that I’ve been stuck in for hours, and taking in the awe-inspiring view of the vast, snowy landscape (and then getting attacked by a dragon to ruin the moment). It truly makes me glad to be alive to experience such profound beauty, even if it is, at the end of the day, just a video game.

Sadly, Skyrim will never be as special as when I first played it—I know that. However, it will always have a special place in my heart for opening me up to a world with so many things to discover and memories to make.