If I was in an anime, my eyes would have popped out of my head.
I was sitting at the table for Thanksgiving dinner, courtesy of my best friend Kyle and his extended family. The usual chatter was going on around us, but when the words “Darius” and “pentakill” reached our ears, we immediately turned to look at who was speaking.
“Wait, what did you say?” my friend asked his 50-year-old aunt. Surely we had misheard her. She couldn’t possibly be talking about League of Legends, an online video game that both Kyle and I played regularly.
“That Darius playing last night. He was amazing!” she repeated.
Kyle and I looked at each other, dumbfounded, and then a grin worthy of Jake Peralta when Captain Holt does something particularly amazing on Brooklyn Nine-Nine spread across my face.Through the shared interest of gaming, I was able to relate to other people as human beings, whatever their life choices.
She continued to explain that she was watching the e-sports 2015 League of Legends World Championships with her nephews because they were into it and she wanted to bond with them. (I believe the match she was referring to was the Flash Wolves vs. Origen quarter final, but I digress.)
Go, Auntie Pam.
Why are her words so shocking and delightful to me, a gamer in my late 20s? Because if there is anyone I would have expected to see a League of Legends match or even know what a pentakill is, it definitely wasn’t the other adults at this Thanksgiving family meal. Because parents, friends, aunts, uncles, pastors, and all those people whose opinions we care about constantly describe video games as, at best, a waste of time and, at worst: something far more harmful
Since their development, video games have been a controversial subject among teachers, parents, politicians, academics, and the general public. In the United States, this overarching interest in gaming goes back to the 1980s when Ronald Reagan made a speech about how the hand, eye, and brain coordination developed from playing video games are preparing children for the Air Force. At the same time, various studies claim the adverse effects of video games, including violent behavior and addiction. The latter assertions are part of an intense cultural debate that often has more to do with the fear of violence in American culture than it does with actual data about video games and real-world evidence linking gaming to violence.
Regardless of how they’re portrayed by scientists and researchers, video games are being played by 155 million Americans, with four out of five U.S. households owning a device used to play them. And it’s not only kids who are playing them. In fact, 74% of gamers are 18 years and older.
I am one of those gamers.
One of the biggest reasons I love gaming is because of the community it provides. Attending LAN parties (those events where you all haul your computers to each other’s houses and play Age of Empires all afternoon) introduced me to new people I could share an interest with. I met some of my best friends by playing League of Legends.
The socially isolated gamer is, in fact, another stereotype that is challenged by research; 56% of the most frequent gamers play with others. Millions of people worldwide participate in massive virtual worlds through games like DOTA, World of Warcraft, Destiny, and Guild Wars 2.
“Millennials are putting (video games) at the center of their entertainment preferences, but it is a new kind of gaming that is more social, interactive, and engaging,” says Neil Howe, president of LifeCourse Associates and leading researcher on Millennials.
Video games are mentally stimulating, challenging, thought-provoking, and fun; they often encourage cooperation and teamwork, and are just as appropriate as, if not more so than, other hobbies like reading, watching movies, drawing, or playing a sport. Parents are willing to go to their kids’ art shows, to cheer them on at a soccer match, to take them to a baseball game, to clap them on the back for their woodworking projects. If your kid is playing League of Legends, why not sit down and watch a championship game with them? Is that so very different?
Technology may change, but people essentially don’t. We use technology to change the way we communicate, but not our need for community and connection.
I remember when I started using MSN Messenger back in high school and my parents panicked because they didn’t understand what it was. “No, Mom, I’m not talking in a chatroom to a 40-year-old man who’s pretending to be a 14-year-old boy, I’m just chatting with my friends from school. Like we do every weekday in person.”
I wasn’t doing anything dangerous. Kind of stupid, yes, but not dangerous. Misunderstanding technology is often easier than taking the time to test it out ourselves to gain an understanding of how it works, and an understanding of what is actually happening with the people who use the technology.
Growing up attending church and a private high school, I didn’t realize the exclusive bubble of like-minded people I was living in until I got my hands on the internet. Learning that there were people who didn’t think the same way I did, who didn’t believe the same things I did—it was shocking, but important to my understanding of the world. I needed to learn those things. Through the shared interest of gaming, I was able to relate to other people as human beings, whatever their life choices. I was able to stay connected with friends who moved away, too; I talk to my distant brother regularly because we game together.
Interacting with others in community is just as important as it has always been, it’s just the method we use to do so that is changing. As with most challenges in life, change requires patience, understanding, and a willingness to learn (not coincidentally, the same characteristics required when playing video games). Since being a gamer has taught me all of this, I’m proud to be a member of the gaming community. And the next time a 50-year-old lady tells me about the pentakill she saw the other night, I will give her a high five and add her as yet another member of my growing–and very real–community. Achievement unlocked.