Don’t Exclude, Embrace!

I just read an excellent article on author John Scalzi’s blog after being linked to it via a Facebook friend. To preface: one of the things I love about being a geek is my ability to just love what I love without justifying it, and instead, as Scalzi points out, sharing it with others. The sharing is the best part of fandom, and it’s what makes a community out of many otherwise disparate people. The thing I like least is the idea of some hierarchy, which is what Scalzi condemns in his blog post. The idea that someone isn’t worthy for X reason, or having some sort of checklist or application process to be a geek goes against the entire lifestyle. To meet standards for being a geek means you’re creating an elitist community, and the whole great thing about being a geek is that it doesn’t have to be elitist. Sure, there are some groups like that, but so what? Let them do their thing. Let another group do their thing. Share the joy of sharing and not feeling the need to justify.

Here’s the link to Scalzi’s post:

Who Gets To Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be.

And a link to the post to which he’s responding, condescendingly titled Booth Babes Need Not Apply.

Being a geek is about not needing to fit in. In a society that encourages cookie-cutter sameness, having geeky outlets that allow us to display and embrace our differences is refreshing. We should embrace rather than exclude, because that can make all the difference for some people.  Without this attitude of acceptance and sharing and the love of sharing I know I, for one, wouldn’t have met some of the people who are most important in my life–including my best friend and my fiance (oh yeah, Bard and I got engaged!), or the awesome MLHawke.

And that’s just me.  So many other people have found niches and friends and even family through being a geek; to exclude on the basis of “not geek enough” just doesn’t work.

Spam I Am for June 4th, 2012

So initially whenever I got spam I would get annoyed and delete it.  Until one day I was looking it over with Bard and he and I realized some of them were really funny.  So I’ve decided to start occasionally posting some humorous spam and my reaction to it.  Today’s offering:

“I was recommended this web site by my cousin. I am not sure whether this post is written by him as noone else know such detailed about my problem. You are incredible!
Thanks!”

1.  Hey thanks for thinking I’m incredible!  That makes me all warm and fuzzy.

2. But I’m not your cousin.  Or am I?  I DON’T KNOW.

5. Whatever your problem is, that I know such detailed about, I hope it gets better.

Mostly, I think the bad grammar and the effort at sincerity is what makes it humorous to me.  I know I may be the only one who thinks it’s funny, but… well… 30 Days of Video Games is over and I have to amuse myself somehow, right?  No worries, this isn’t an everyday sort of thing.  Mostly a “I feel like updating my blog.  What spam can I analyze?”

Thank goodness E3 starts this week so I’ll have something gaming to think about and write about.

30 Days of Video Games: Day 5, a character you identify with

Characters are probably my favorite part of video games, as I said in the entry on May 2nd. A story is only as good as the characters who make it happen, in most cases at least, and again, just in my personal opinion. But I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book or played a game or seen a movie and thought, “Whoa, that’s so… me!” I see a lot of my personality quirks and foibles in some characters, but no one in particular that I think I definitely identify with.

I considered saying Samus Aran, for the sheer reason that she was kicking arse in a man’s world in the early days of NES gaming, much like I thought I was (hey, I was twelve, cut me some slack). But with the direction her personality and character have taken recently, I don’t feel like I can identify with her much. And besides, many females these days are gamers, and gamers of all varieties.

I could say my main Dragon Age character, Fianna Cousland, but again, she only has some of me in her. Her decisions are decisions I would make, since I’m controlling her through the game and trying to get the outcome I want in the game. In that sense I think it’s very easy to identify with the character, because her choices are my choices. Even Commander Shepard is a lot of me in that sense, so despite the sci-fi setting of Mass Effect, I still have a lot of myself invested into the game.

But for a character who’s been pre-written to behave in a certain way and make certain choices, it’s hard to think about identifying with them. Maybe in this case I identify with Anya Stroud, from Gears of War. In the first two games she’s calm, cool, and collected under pressure, and she has a job to do and gets it done. However, it’s clear that she wants to do more than sit behind a desk or at a com-link. She wants to be on the front lines kicking butt and taking names with the rest of the Gears. She doesn’t feel like she has something to prove, though. From what I’ve seen in the games and read in the novels, people are pretty sure Anya can and will hold her own on the field; but she’s so good at what she does off the field, they keep her there.

She accepts her role with dignity and does her job extremely well… but when the opportunity comes to rise to the occasion, she definitely does just that.

In that sense I think I identify with Anya. I have my job that I do, and do to the best of my ability. But at the same time, if opportunities to seize the moment arise, I’m all for it. I like to push myself and challenge myself and rise to the occasion, and not just in my teaching, but also when it comes to the other things I do: whether it be writing or singing. In my voice lessons I’m constantly pushing myself to learn technically difficult songs, and when my teacher gives me something difficult, her confidence in me inspires me to work that much harder. Much the same way the confidence of the other Gears inspires Anya to work hard. She works for them, so they work for her.

It’s not who I would expect to identify with, which is a nice surprise.

Tomorrow: Day 6, most annoying character. Good thing it says “most”. There are so many of them!

Where I Belong: A Harry Potter Quiz

I totally took this from MLHawke’s Blog. It’s interesting to me because so many fantasies deal with the concept of what home is. Often the hero is taken, sometimes violently, from his or her comfort zone and thrust into a new situation he or she must cope with. Sometimes the change is necessary, and the hero thrives. Other times it’s rocky and difficult and it takes time and growth to become comfortable with it, or at least accept that this is the way it’s going to be.

It’s not too unlike life: when we’re taken from our comfort zones it can be painful. We’re put into a situation where we can thrive, or we can fight it, and it’s not until acceptance occurs that we begin to grow.

All this philosophical babble to say:

The sorting hat says that I belong in Ravenclaw!

<

Said Ravenclaw, "We’ll teach those whose intelligence is surest."

Ravenclaw students tend to be clever, witty, intelligent, and knowledgeable.
Notable residents include Cho Chang and Padma Patil (objects of Harry and Ron’s affections), and Luna Lovegood (daughter of The Quibbler magazine’s editor).

Take the most scientific Harry Potter
Quiz
ever created.

Get Sorted Now!

Definitely not a bad thing. My next closest matches were Hufflepuff with 79, and Gryffindor with 78. Slytherin was chilling at the bottom with 55.

How about you? Where do/would you belong?

Women Gamers, Women in Games: Statistic vs. Stereotype

I just read a list on Cracked.com about being a gamer.  Some of the things it had to say were right on, and some things tended to pertain to a small portion of the gamer demographic.  But it had some interesting things to say about female gamers.  I know this issue is talked to death, and I know I’ll probably offend some people, and probably miss some points of discussion.  But 1.)it’s my blog and I haven’t talked it to death, 2.)if you’re offended at least you think about things (and give me the opportunity to learn more about others’ perspectives) and 3.)this is such a huge topic that I’m bound to miss things, and accept that.  So: what does it mean for me pesonally to be a female gamer, and what do I think about women in games?

Interestingly enough, current statistics show that nearly 2/3 of online gamers are women.  Normally I like to defy the statistics in my ongoing quest for individuality.  However, this is one case where I’m proud to be part of the statistics, and a member of the majority.  I’ve been gaming in earnest since I was young, and owe much of that to Samus Aran of Metroid fame.  Growing up I was used to the idea that the Princess was in another castle.  So imagine my delight when the end of Metroid revealed that the badass bounty hunter I’d taken all over Zebes was a woman!

I’ve never been one of those female gamers that complains much about the portrayal of women in games.  I’m happy to see more and more female characters taking the lead and going out to kick arse and take names, and when I play online (mostly Halo: Reach) I play as my female Spartan.  But what was troubling to me was that I recently read that many women prefer to play online as males.  Granted the study is nearly four years old, but conversely, I was having a conversation with a friend once about males and females online and he said that sometimes he intentionally plays as a female character because people underestimate him.

Now that got me thinking.  Around this time last year, Halo: Reach launched the weekly challenge of 77 online matches in seven days.  Luckily we had two snow days and one delay that week, because I spent my time playing online Halo matches.  I played as my female Spartan, but I kept my mic off mostly because I find in-game chatting distracting for me.  Normally it isn’t an issue, but during one match I got a kill, but then fell and my character made a noise.  The chat got very quiet, and then I heard one person say to the other, “I think there’s a girl playing.”  I had to ask myself, “Why does it matter?”  I can guarantee that if I was playing as a male Spartan it wouldn’t have been an issue; with my mic off, I would just be an anonymous male Spartan trying to kill everyone while they all tried to kill me.  But because I played as a female it started question and discussion.

Usually statistics go hand in hand with developing stereotypes.  However, the Female Gamer is not one such case.  66% of online gamers are women, and yet people are surprised to learn that they’re playing in a match with a female.  Is it because the stereotypical female gamer plays a different sort of game?  Or behaves in a different sort of way?  For me, when I go into a match as an openly female character, I don’t expect to be treated any differently, and I don’t behave any differently.  For me, we’re all gamers and we all have an objective, and it usually involves killing everyone else.  Why should gender matter in that objective?

It also seems to me that the perception is that stereotypical female gamers also will spend time complaining about the oversexualization and objectification of women in games.  I went to a panel at PAX East last year about female characters, and the focus wasn’t on the necessarily overly sexualized characters, but the ones that were portrayed either as realistic in terms of build or personality (Morrigan from Dragon Age stood out, which I remember because I picked up Dragon Age for the first time about a week later); or the ones who were portrayed not as overly sexual, but as helpless.  The princess in another castle, if you will.

For me, I’m less worried about female characters being objectified sexually, and more concerned about them being written as more passive, damsel-in-distress types of characters.  People may voice opinions about Lara Croft’s bust size, but at least she’s out there being proactive.  Kat, in Reach, would kick your arse if you suggested she was attractive in any way.  The stereotye of a female character as overly sexual overshadows the reality of passive DiD sorts of characters.  And since the focus is more on how women are objectified sexually, there’s no real look at how they’re objectified through being passive.

Princess Toadstool was always in another castle; theobjectof Super Mario Bros. was to save her.  Thank the gaming gods for Samus, coming along and blasting her way through Zebes!  Even after she was revealed as a female, she was still blowing up planets like it was her job.  Then in 2002, Metroid: Fusion came out.  Samus was stalked around a deserted space station by an over-powered clone of herself, and had to rely on the guidance of a computer AI, who reminded her of her dead Commanding Officer if she were to survive.  It was a different sort of game, and it portrayed Samus as slightly more vulnerable than in the past.  Coming at it from my perspective, where I enjoy character depth and whatnot, it was very interesting to see a new side to her. 

The Metroid formula changed some as the technology did, and with it, Samus changed.  The lone bounty hunter got teammates in Metroid Prime: Hunters for the DS, and in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption for the Wii.  In Corruption, Samus wound up having to kill her team when they attacked her; while it followed the boss fight formula, it was interesting because Samus had worked with these people earlier in the game, and become more of a character defined by those around her as a result.  And then came Metroid: Other M.  I don’t have a Wii, but even if I did, and even as much as I love Metroid, I wouldn’t play it because of this article.  As someone who’s been in an emotionally abusive relationship, these things resonate with me to begin with; but then seeing Samus, who started out so strong and competent and capable and unapologetic reduced to that?  To see her written as a lost little girl, when she left that behind with the Chozo long ago?  Her strength was something that defined her and made her different.  To take that away demeans her not as a woman, but as a character in general.

Not all characters have gone that way.  Zelda went from the kidnapped prisoner in Ganon’s dungeon to Shiek, a highly trained fighter.  And Dragon Age: Origins has Queen Anora, who will even stand up to her father in spite of the fact that he’s one of Ferelden’s most celebrated generals.  She knows what she wants and what she has to do to get it.  And most of all, she’ll do that if it means achieving her endgame.

And that’s where I feel I am now as a woman who is a gamer.  I’m sure I’ll raise some hackles with all I’ve said, and that’s okay.  This is a difficult issue, where even people on the same side will have different reasons for why they’re on the same side.  But one thing is clear: the statistic and the stereotype don’t always match up, either in the case of the games’ characters, or the gamers themselves.  I may fit a statistic, but I’m not steretypical.  And you shouldn’t be, either.

Screw Your Arrow!

I would start this out by saying “In the gaming world…” but the fact is the “Arrow to the Knee” phrase has fast become a cliche even among non-gamers.  In Skyrim, just about every other NPC guard or soldier you pass by tells you, “I used to be an adventurer like you.  Then I took an arrow to the knee.”  It’s become a joke, but with my recent disappointment in the Dragon Age fanfiction contest, I realized that the arrow to the knee is a pathetic excuse.

It started when I publicly announced my disappointment on my facebook, and friends were super-encouraging and told me to keep going; write for its own sake, follow my dreams, that sort of thing.  The fact that I have such friends makes me feel truly blessed, and I know that they don’t just say those things because it’s the ‘nice’ thing to say.  I replied to one, “Oh, I’ll keep writing, no doubt about that. This isn’t an arrow to my knee by any means. Right now it just kind of stings because I’d had such hopes for this.”  I confess that on my way home from work I had a fair share of sniffles in the car.  I moped about my apartment until now, and I’m still not feeling all that great.  Even though I worked hard to write a well-crafted story, I felt almost ashamed of it for not making it.  I briefly entertained thoughts of deleting my Dragon Age fanfiction and crawling into a black hole of shame and self-loathing and whiny blogging.

And then I realized that’s what the Skyrim soldiers did.

As an adventurer throughout the land of Skyrim I’ve been burned, frozen, and shocked, and those are just the magic attacks.  I’ve been skewered with swords and hacked with axes and nommed by dragons.  I’ve taken arrows to my FACE.  And I keep adventuring.  I keep fulfilling Dark Brotherhood contracts and doing numbers jobs for the Thieves’ Guild.  I keep seeking out dragons to kill and words of power to learn.  I chug healing potions and hide from enemies and sneak for miles after targets.  If I gave up after one arrow to the knee, things would be boring, nothing would get done, and the world wouldn’t get saved.

Okay, so my writing, fan or otherwise, isn’t world-changing or on the level of saving the world.  If I don’t write again, it’s not like the world’s doing to collapse.  But my world might.  Another friend who’d entered and fared the same as me said she was trying to remember that she wrote for the sake of writing, which is what I’m trying to remember.  Who am I?  I am a writer, pure and simple.  Writing is an art, and appreciation of art is subjective in the end, even if there are objective aspects to what makes it ‘good’ or ‘contest winning worthy’.  If I were to let one lost contest cripple me and take me down for the count, what sort of writer would I be? 

So Skyrim soldiers?  Screw your arrow.  If one arrow to the knee is going to make you complain about how you can’t be an adventurer anymore, maybe you never deserved to be an adventurer in the first place.

Nerved Up… and up… and up…

I’m an MFA who writes fanfiction; that sounds like the opening to a support-group/twelve-step introduction, but it’s who I am.  It’s something I’ve come to identify with and accept.  Mostly I write my fanfiction for fun; the reviews are nice, but my big thing is writing the best story I can about an existing world I love.  My current fanfiction obsession?  BioWare’s Dragon Age.

Dragon Age got me back into fanfiction after a four-year hiatus, two years of which were my creative writing grad program.  In March it’ll be a year since discovering and playing it, and in that time I’ve done a lot of writing about Dragon Age.  I’ve played all the games multiple times, and I’ve read the novels.  I’ve read the wiki.  I research and write articles for GreyWardens.com.  And at the beginning of January, I entered a Dragon Age fanfiction writing contest, sponsored by BioWare.

The premise is simple: write a short story of no more than 2500 words from the perspective of a mage or templar.  The deadline was January 10th; I submitted January 2nd to get it out of the way, and have been on relative pins and needles since then.  It’s strange because I submitted some query letters and samples of my MFA thesis to some agents and publishers this time last year, and yet I wasn’t nearly as nerved up waiting to hear back.  And when I did get the polite rejection that my novel “wasn’t what they were looking for at this time”, I shrugged and went back to whatever I was doing.  I feel like I should have been more disappointed; after all, I spent two years of my life sweating over that manuscript.  It’s my original work; it’s my metaphorical baby.  And when it didn’t go anywhere I wasn’t bothered.

However, waiting on this contest has me really nervous.  The winners were chosen Sunday night (as per a Tweet from the lead writer of the DA series).  He forwarded the names to his community people Monday.  I spent Monday checking my email until I got home and saw another Tweet that they wouldn’t be formally announced until Wednesday on the BioWare Blog.  And here I am on Wednesday morning: it’s 3AM BioWare’s time, and yet I checked.  And was summarily disappointed when nothing was posted, even though to expect it is a little unrealistic.

So why could I shrug off my nerves with my original novel, and not even feel much disappointment when it was rejected, and yet with this I’m almost sick to my stomach?

I do value my original work.  I put a lot of effort into it, people who’ve read it generally like it, and I think it could go somewhere.  But I think I also value my fanfiction as well, and I value my love of Dragon Age pretty highly.  Also, the top 20 entries were read by David Gaider, the lead writer of Dragon Age.  Maybe because I enjoy the game so much, and know he read the entries, it makes me even more nervous.  Maybe because I value my role as a Dragon Age fanfiction writer, I feel like this would give me more credibility in the fandom (and then I wonder why such things matter so much to me).  Perhaps I just want to have the waiting over with and know for sure.

I’m not sure; I know I shouldn’t base my self-worth and worth as an author or fan on this one thing, but I can’t help it.  Will I be disappointed if things don’t turn out well?  You’d better believe it.  Will I move on? You’d better believe that, too.  But that doesn’t stop me from hoping, and I think it’s the hoping that keeps me nerved up… and up… and up…

The Nerdom Hierarchy

As with most things I’m writing about lately, this is something that’s been on my mind but only recently have I decided I should write about it.  Today’s musings come courtesy of an experience I had yesterday that made me start rethinking the ideas of the Nerd Hierarchy.

We nerds/geeks/dorks pride ourselves on our individuality.  It’s our hallmark.  We are different and darn it, we own it.  No nerves or self-consciousness here, baby.  But it gets complicated when we go walk among others like us.  We’d think that because we place so much emphasis on our individuality that we’d be accepting of all who are individuals.  And yet we’re not.  Put a bunch of nerds together, and we’re as petty and clique-y as anyone else.  It’s disappointing, because I’d love to think that nerds would happily embrace other nerds as kindred spirits, and yet like any other person or group of people that acceptance is conditional.

To start off, I don’t really, personally, differentiate between nerds, geeks, and dorks.  However, I might be alone there.  A google search for Nerd vs. Geek turns up a veritable feast of images.  The general consensus is that geeks like technology, t-shirts, gaming, and movies.  Nerds are more academic, and into sci-fi and role-playing.  Further examination shows that geeks can assimilate into society better than nerds, but neither really cares if they do or don’t.  So what happens if you fit both profiles?  What do you then call yourself?  For a person who prides herself on not sticking into on category, when society tries to categorize me, it’s frustrating.  It’s even more frustrating when geek/nerd/dork society tries to do it.

Thus is born a hierarchy in our world.  My first experience with the hierarcy was going to ICON on Long Island, a large convention at Stonybrook University catering to fans of fantasy, sci-fi, anime, gaming, costuming, and the like.  I was fortunate that my best friend and her now-husband were part of the staff, so I got to be, as well.  I learned a lot of backstage information and con shop-talk.  But it was also my first exposure to the concept of the hierarchy that exists in our subculture.  ICON has an Anthropomorphic track, colloquially referred to as “Furries”.  And I learned that in general at these sorts of things, people who like large animals that act like humans are generally at the bottom of the barrel.  Most other con-goers would avoid them and though the con provided programming for them, it was limited and there was no desire to expand it.

As I reestablished my love of gaming, I became aware of more prejudice within the community.  One could not simply be a gamer.  How one gamed had to be taken into consideration.  PC vs. console gaming was a big factor.  Generally because you can do more on a PC, it’s considered superior.  But console gaming definitely has its place.  Why does it matter if I’m shooting my way through zombies in Left 4 Dead with a controlleror a keyboard?  And then there’s other gaming: card, tabletop, and the like.  I was just learning to play Magic, when I picked up the subtle cues that Magic is sometimes considered a “lesser” game, and those who play it may be subjected to head shakes, face palms, and general pity.

The big question with both scenarios is why.  If people like big humanoid animals (or like being big humanoid animals), why does that automatically grant them the short end of the stick in terms of programming at a con?  If people prefer consoles over PCs, why should that make them any less of a gamer?  And why should people who play card games face scrutiny based on the type of card game they’re playing?  Isn’t the entire point of being unabashed nerds/geeks/dorks to embrace our individuality and appreciate it for what it is?

Sadly, that’s the ideal, and we know full well in our world that the ideal is one achievement we’ll never add to our gamer score.  The reality is that we’re human, and as humans we look at things that are different and that we don’t understand, and we automatically categorize them and assign a value of good or bad based on either our preferences or our understanding of those things.  If I prefer PC gaming, consoles must be bad.  If I don’t understand Furries, they must be bad.  I think Magic is silly, so it’s bad.  Nevermind that the people who are engaging in those things are people like us, and more importantly, are peole who have decided to embrace their individuality and own it.  Just like us.

I saw this in action yesterday when I went to Birka.  It’s a large-scale market put on by the Society for Creative Anachronism.  It is an “Organisation dedicated to researching and recreating pre-17th century European history”.  Yesterday I saw a lot of peasants, nobles, and knights.  There were people in full armor walking around like it was completely normal (because there, it was).  I watched fencing and melee battles.  The hotel where it was held even had a roasted pig as part of the luncheon you could purchase.  Birka is primarily a market, but the SCA does all sorts of things where you can camp out and engage in non-modern activity for a day or even a week or two.

Now, I’m used to going to cons where your garb is a costume, but there are SCA members whose attendance at these things is an entirely different persona that exists in pre-17th century Europe.  It’s awesome, and I’d probably get in trouble from the hierarchy by calling it another form of roleplaying, but that’s how I look at it.  Now me, I have ‘garb’.  I love wearing it, but when I do, I’m still 21st century JayRain in a Medieval/Renaissance dress.  So naturally I brought my camera.  I’d read the rules on the Birka website and the only one I’d seen was that we had to be dressed appropriately, which I was.  There was a lot to take in, and I’d seen something interesting in the lobby and decided to take a picture of it.  In doing so I committed a major SCA faux-pas.

The woman at the table (who wasn’t in the picture) said, “Ma’am you need to ask before taking pictures.”  I was incredibly chagrined, because in my mind it was a compliment to her that I thought her display was cool enough to warrant a photo.  So I asked if she’d like me to delete it.  She said “Yes.”  And that was it.  No please, no thank you.  When I brought it up to two of my friends who do these events on a regular basis, one said she probably should have told me in advance that it’s proper form to ask before photographing anything or anyone (and her husband helpfully added in that yes, some people here can be real jerks about stuff).  And the reasoning wasn’t artistic license or anything like that, but the fact that even though we were in a hotel, watching the news while waiting for our burgers and fries to arrive, some members look down upon technology being present at events.  Capturing the memories of the events photographically is a no-no, and cell phones are bad.  Some people take these things so seriously that they become ‘garb nazis’, who are attentive to every detail: if your gown is 13th century but your cloak design is 15th century, and your knickers are briefs made of cotton and elastic (aka 21st century), you don’t belong.

I totally understand the desire to recreate something and be a part of a large-scale event surrounded by others who share that same love.  But when the hierarchy kicks in and it comes down to who’s “serious” about it versus who’s merely “having fun with it” it’s… well…not fun to be a part of it for some people.  I know that the purpose of the SCA is to research and recreate that era of European history, and I don’t fault them for their mission or those who strictly adhere to it.  But I know myself, and know that while I’ll go to Birka again to see all the awesome stuff, I’ll go with different expectations, and I won’t be joining the SCA anytime soon.  Or ever.  And because I constantly feel the need to clarify myself and apologize, I know I was in the wrong, and I know now that the SCA operates completely differently from a con; I know that my expectations were wrong.  I think what they do is wonderful, and it’s very important when it comes to keeping history alive.  And I also know that it’s just not for me.

What is for me, however, is PAX East.  I went for the first time last year, and I saw what is, in my mind, what nerd culture is meant to be.  For one weekend thousands of gamers of all sorts descended upon Boston and just loved gaming.  Our swag bags had mini playable decks of Magic cards so we could play Magic with strangers while waiting in line.  One huge room had consoles from the past that could be played, while another was a Call of Duty and Halo Reach tournament room.  The Classic Arcade Museum brought their retro arcade machines and let us play for free as long as we wanted.  For one weekend PC, console, card, and tabletop gamers came together and just loved gaming and one another.

Yes, there were people in epic full costumes, but they didn’t look down on those without costumes.  We could talk about shooters and RPGs without worrying if one was better than the other.  We platform to our hearts’ content, go get lunch, listen to a talk about how games are assisting the disabled, and then go down on the floor and try the demos that various developers were showing.  There wasn’t any of the segregation or snobbery I’d seen at other cons, where the anime loves stick together and the gamers go somewhere else… no PC gamers avoiding console or card gamers here!  For 48 hours I experienced the ideal in nerd culture.  And interestingly enough, PAX is the Latin word for peace.

Now I’m sure people who’ve been to PAX East or PAX Prime will tell me that it does exist, and I will accept that as truth.  Just because one experience contradicts my own doesn’t make it false, after all.  But what would the nerd world be like if instead of our differences we just accepted our similarities, even if our only similarity is the fact that we are proud do be individuals that don’t conform to the norm?  Even if we can’t forget the labels of geek or nerd or dork, could we stop trying to force one another into those categories, and just be?

Am I Really A Gamer?

There are a lot of things that keep me awake at night.  I worry about the next day: do I need to make copies before class, will I have a chance to grade a set of essays, do I have the answer key to the vocab sheet.  Stuff like that.  I think about my Dragon Age rogue armor: can I pull it off?  Can I get it made before PAX East?  Is my new design idea viable?  I think about finances and bills and how a relationship might be nice if only to have someone helping with the bills.  I think of a lot of things.  Usually my identity isn’t one of them, but today I got to thinking about my identity as a gamer.

I’m a high school English teacher, so the fact that I game instantly gives me +50 approval with a lot of students.  Suddenly I’m not so alien.  My interests are the same as their interests, and there’s suddenly common ground for us to talk about.  For a few moments I don’t hold their grade in the palm of my hand, and they aren’t expected to learn about literature and writing and vocab.  For a few moments we’re just people.

In a way, I think that’s what I’ve always liked about games and gaming: they bring people together.  There’s no gender or age discrepancy.  Growing up, there weren’t any girls my age in my neighborhood.  They were all just a few years too old to be bothered with me, or just a few years too young.  My best friend lived across town.  So what did I do?  I hung out with my brother, my two male cousins, and their male friends.  I remember the year one of my cousins got the first Nintendo console… and everything changed.  It didn’t matter that I was a girl, or that I wasn’t a fast runner or didn’t like sports.  When we played Mario and tried to get to the Minus World we were all the same.  When we struggled through dungeons in Zelda, or tried to figure out the mysteries of Metroid, we were all on the same level.  Beating a game?  Was a big deal.  We started a club: the Nintendo Nuts.  That was the year I got a Nintendo calendar from the Scholastic book order, and we all chose characters to be our code names, and diligently wrote our meetings into the calendar.

If I can recall all those details so clearly, then it’s evident gaming always has been a big part of my life.  I’ve had my hiatuses from it: high school and college and summer jobs and homework and everything else made me drift away.  But now that I’m an adult, living on my own, I’m back into it, and it’s a major hobby of mine.

But am I really a gamer?

I have consoles: my most current is an xBox 360, which I purchased in 2010 just before Kinect came out, so I don’t have Kinect.  I have a Nintendo GameCube, and an N64 I got a couple years back at Game Stop.  I have a DS, but it’s a first-generation one from 2005-2006.  I could have traded it up for a DS Lite when they came out, but since I got it in Belfast, Northern Ireland, it has some sentimental value.  I have a GBA-SP, which I keep so I can play my ancient, ancient Gameboy cartridges.  I do not have a PS3, a 3DS, or a Wii.  My gaming library consists of 22 titles,  quite a few of which I bought with the system (it was a good tax return that year).

We’re now in the dawn of 2012, and so far the only game I want is Mass Effect 3, which is coming out in just under two months.  I’ve never played Portal or Portal 2; never played Assassin’s Creed or any of the Final Fantasy games, and ironically, I know a great deal about Call of Duty Black Ops without ever having played it.  My gamerscore isn’t in the tens of thousands; heck, I was just happy to break four digits!  By some standards I have large gaps in my gaming background.  And of course, when talking about games with my students the question comes up: “JayRain, are you going to get insertepicnewgamehere when it comes out??”

Usually the answer is no.  Most of the times it is financial; I am a public school teacher with grad school loans, after all.  But the real reason is I’m just not interested.  I subscribe to Game Informer, so I am informed about what games are coming out, but I’m just not that interested in purchasing most of them.  If a game really intrigues me or is another installation in a franchise I like, I’ll find a way to shell out for it.  With Gears of War 3 I used my tax refund and paid in its entirety when I pre-ordered, for example.  I pre-ordered Mass Effect 3 today, and used some gift cards.  For Halo: Reach I put down $10 a month for the Special Edition.

But I didn’t get Battlefield 3.  I didn’t get the Halo Anniversary edition, much as I love Halo, and while Homefront and Bulletstorm looked cool I couldn’t bring myself to shell out around $60 for them.  Even Dante’s Inferno, based on a work of literature I love, didn’t sear my wallet begging to be bought.

This all begs the question then: what is a gamer?  And with this I think I’m referring just to videogaming– I know there’s card and tabletop gaming, as well as roleplaying, all of which were included with video games at PAX.  But as for what makes a video gamer: Is it someone for whom gaming is life, regardless of price or time commitment?  Is it someone who just enjoys picking up a game and playing for a few minutes to relax, and then moving on?  Is it someone who engages in social gaming on Facebook or with iPad/iPhone apps?  I don’t know.  But I do know that when I think about it, I think I really am a gamer.  I don’t have a wide range of games, but the franchises I do enjoy I am loyal to and I play them frequently.  I read through my Game Informers every month for the insider news and information as much as for the previews and reviews of games.

But most of all, I love game culture.  I like analyzing the storytelling elements and the characters.  I love puzzles.  I love becoming someone else even if it’s just for a few hours, and I love exploring new worlds or new versions of our own.  I don’t have a lot of games, or the newest consoles.  But what I do have I enjoy and it’s big part of who I am.  So when I shut down Skyrim tonight after joining the Bard’s college, I may have other worries that keep me up.  But my identity as a gamer will not be one of them.