Picture the scene – you're at a family gathering, or maybe you're meeting your significant other's friends and family for the first time, and the conversation turns interrogative. Questions are asked about your hobbies; what you do to relax and how you spend your spare time.
What do you do? When put on the spot like that, it's natural for gamers to feel trapped, to feel like admitting to playing MMOs would be tantamount to admitting to a rather kinky fetish or confessing that you've got a rather embarrassing disease – it might not be catching, but there's a chance that you'll get some funny looks, and you may just lose some credibility points.
What about job interviews and applications? These invariably have a point where questions are asked about you hobbies and leisure time. While there are good arguments that putting down strong examples of guild leadership might work in your favour – owning up to the fact that you play an MMO upwards of 15 hours a week might not be the smartest thing career-wise.
Don't get me wrong – I am proud and happy to be a geek and a gamer, and I've never wanted to be anything else; the wall above my desk sports a rare Akira poster I picked up on holiday France a while back; I own the complete boxed set of the original Transformers series; and much of my wardrobe consists of t-shirts from ThinkGeek and the Penny Arcade store. People ask me what I do in my spare time, and I look them straight in the eye and tell them that I'm a gamer, and while I'm not ashamed of it, I can't help but wince a little when I see most people's reaction to it.
I guess one of the problems here lies with people like Jack Thompson, Leland Yee and Keith Vaz, people who appear to have convinced media outlets like Fox News and the Daily Mail that computer games in general are little more than 'murder simulators' – a claim that millions of healthy, well-balanced gamers around the world can attest to being ridiculous.
For every example and argument that people like this put forward about how bad games are and how they do nothing but corrupt young people and destroy the foundations of society by ruining our ability to communicate and associate with 'real people', there are arguments and examples we can present to counter them; times you've shared jokes with people from the other side of the world; times when a complete stranger helped you for no reason other than the kindness of their heart; times where a few choice words from you raised the spirits of your friends just enough to make the final successful attempt at a boss they thought you'd never beat; times where you found yourself stepping up to the plate to organise 20 or 40 people to come together as a cohesive team for the first time; times where you stay up far too late not because you're addicted and can't leave the keyboard, but because you've just made 4 new friends, and you're simply having too much fun to feel tired.
With all this, we are still looked down on by so many people. Images of sweaty, overweight nerds nurturing their snow-white tans in front of a brightly-shining monitor, whacking giant rats and pretending to be Elves, immediately spring to mind when you mention to people that you're an MMO gamer. You might have to explain to them exactly what an MMO game is, but as soon as they grasp the concept, you can see the images forming in their mind.
Think about how many times you've had to defend your time spent online. I don't mean trying to justify it to your parents when you're supposed to be studying – I'm too scared to argue with my own mother, let alone yours – I mean defending it to people who have just found out what you do with your spare time, people who barely know you or the games you play – people who form their opinions based on what they've been told instead of what they've found out for themselves.
I think that part of the solution to this lies in education. If we could only educate our parents, our loved ones, and the doubters and hysterics who refuse to see gaming as anything but a child's pastime and a sad refusal to deal with reality, then I think we would see a change. Unfortunately, saying that and accomplishing it are two rather different things.
How does one go about changing the attitudes of society? By demonstrating, campaigning, and educating? Are our guild leaders supposed to hand out homework to us now, instructing us to bring a friend or relative to the next raid, to show them what really happens when we're sitting at the computer for hours on end? Will we be taking to the streets to show our solidarity the next time an ambulance chaser blames an atrocity on computer games?
Fat chance, what if you've got a raid scheduled that night? We'll make do with flaming the critics on our guild's forum. One of the reasons that gamers have a bad reputation is that we're an easy target – we don't have a collective voice, an individual or even a collection of individuals who speak on our behalf. If you're taking nominations, I can think of a few names that would get my vote.
Hell, even hackers have a manifesto, but what do we have? To accomplish a change in people's perception of gamers, we need to come together as a community and present a united face to the people who would spread lies and misinformation about our chosen pastime.
I wonder – how long until playing computer games, and MMO games in particular, won't be looked down on by the world at large? The people who dropped coin after coin into Space Invaders and Pacman machines years ago have grown up and given birth to a generation of gamers for whom MMO games are going to be a staple of their gaming diet – but does that mean that we're going to have to wait another 10 years before they grow up and their attitudes towards MMOs start to dictate how they're viewed?
We, as gamers, are legion, and it's about time the rest of the world caught up with us, and stopped trying to make us embarrassed and ashamed about doing something we love.
Behind the Curtain: Don't be ashamed
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