Contempt for Your Audience

I like games. Games are good. People should play them. But every once in a while they should put those games back on the shelf and see what else the world has to offer.

This is the closing line from this Paste post about PAX East 2011.

I’m rather angry at the condescension on display here, and it’s an attitude I’ve seen before. It seems to me that some (read: not all, or even most) people in the industry–whether they make games or write about them–just don’t understand what the big deal is about conventions for non-industry fans.

Does the author of this piece really not understand that fans who go to game conventions actually don’t live, eat, and breathe video games? And that this is, in fact, why they go to conventions? The scolding about not being obsessed with games is completely ridiculous. His job is games. Mine? Is not. I spend about eight hours a day doing a job that has nothing to do with video games. When I come home, sometimes I play video games. Sometimes I do other things, like sew or read or write stories or watch TV or go out to dinner or go to concerts or hang out with friends and family. PAX East is the three days out of an entire year that I do nothing but play games, talk about games, drink, and sleep. The fact that people who go to PAX have lives outside of games is also the very reason they can seem so intense: this is their only chance out of the entire year to be immersed in the game industry, to meet other gamers, play tons of games, and maybe even meet some of the people who make the games they love, so yeah, people go overboard with the geekiness. If you are immersed in the game industry 365 days a year–if you make or write about games–I guess it’s hard to see what the big deal is, since there are so many more industry and press events than there are fan conventions (reminder: there are TWO video game fan conventions, PAX and PAX East, on opposite sides of the country from one another).

But that’s not my only problem with this piece. At first, I understood the comment about it not being enough to love games, you have to love the idea of loving games. I had moments at PAX East, both years that I went, where I looked around and thought, damn, I am in NERDLAND. But then I laughed it off and continued to enjoy myself; it certainly didn’t send me spiraling into self-loathing. If just being around a ton of nerds makes you feel disgusted with yourself for even being in the same room as them, that’s your own problem.

The thing about how it’s cool to be a nerd now is a total lie, and it always has been. It’s cool to like Star Wars and video games, and be socially awkward in a cute and endearing sort of way. It’s cool to be a nerd like Zachary Levi’s character on Chuck. It’s not cool to be the sort of nerd who isn’t Hollywood-attractive, who is actually socially awkward in an awkward and uncomfortable way, the sort of nerd who can’t make small talk and takes things too literally and obsesses over things no one but other nerds care about (in case it’s not clear, I am describing myself here). So it makes me pretty angry when someone who perhaps self-identifies as a nerd but is a cool nerd comes into a space with non-cool nerds and tells those nerds to stop being so nerdy, already.

Telling people they should be more reserved and dignified in their interests is puritan and ridiculous. It’s not your job to police other peoples’ enthusiasm. Commenter Peter Stocking put it best: “A convention isn’t about liking everything in the place. It is about having a place for the things you like.” When it comes to conventions, take what you want, leave the rest, and don’t judge other people.

Edit: I enjoyed this response at Gamers With Jobs by Rob Zacny, particularly the last couple paragraphs. I’ve been both judge and judged (I used to the think the days of considering cosplayers losers was behind us, but apparently not…), and neither roles are particularly pleasant. Less judgment of others in general can only make things better.

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10 thoughts on “Contempt for Your Audience

  1. The ending of the article, the part that you quoted, was off base. I mean, it’s PAX, that’s why people are there.

    But I think that this paragraph accurately sums up why I don’t like going to cons:

    “To enjoy PAX you can’t just have an interest in games. You can’t merely be a person who has liked games for thirty years, who likes them enough to write about them for very little money. Genuinely loving games isn’t even enough. You have to love the idea of loving games. You have to listen to music about games and tell jokes about games and dress like characters from games. You must completely obsess over games until you forget how to relate to people in any other way. It’s kind of like being an Evangelical or, worse, a Boston sports fan.”

    And I think that’s largely true: to enjoy three days at PAX, you have to buy into that kind of loving-the-idea-of-loving games. Despite the fact that I love video games and have literally dedicated my life to them, I feel like some kind of alien outsider at PAX. And the article captures that feeling well.

    • My first reaction when I read this piece was to compare my experience at PAX to my experience at, for example, Otakon. I’m not actually very into anime. I like cosplaying video game characters, and I’ve watched a couple of the more popular series. But I go to anime conventions anyway because I like seeing cosplayers and hanging out in the game room playing Japanese games I can’t normally play. All the years I’ve been going to Otakon, I’ve never been to a single panel or signing. I’m not nearly as into anime as the rest of the people there, and I still have a great time because I figure out what I want out of the con and I accomplish that.

      This is what Peter Stocking was getting at in his comment on Paste, and why I quoted him. No one is forcing you to listen to any music or relate to people in a certain way. Here are a bunch of things, now pick what you want to do: that is how cons work.

      And really, it’s totally possible to have talked about the feeling of alienation without all the judgmental shit.

      • I guess I don’t find the “I don’t fit in at the nerd convention because I’m too cool” perspective to be particularly sympathetic, especially not when I’ve heard so many stories about people who experience alienation in their everyday lives. That, too, was my point about how game developers and writers don’t understand why fan cons are important–not everyone gets to engage with people who share their interests every day. So maybe have a bit of understanding why people go all-out?

      • I don’t know if you’re the exception or the majority at conventions, but there is an almost scary lack of cultural breadth at play in a lot dedicated game spaces (cons, gaming websites). Perhaps it’s too easy to forget that the very vocal minority that is present on websites or that does freak people out at cons does not accurately represent the gaming public? I know that I, personally, stay away from dedicated cons, perhaps as a defense mechanism, because I don’t want my world dominated by one aspect of my self. One hopes that the majority of the audience is more like you, but it’s tough to tell sometimes.

  2. I know that I, personally, stay away from dedicated cons, perhaps as a defense mechanism, because I don’t want my world dominated by one aspect of my self.

    This sentence makes no sense unless you think nerdery is contagious. The way other people conduct their lives has zero effect on you. (And, like, if cons just aren’t your thing then no problem, it’s the judgment of people who do go that I take issue with.)

    Where is this assumption that the other people at PAX/PAX East have no lives and define themselves based on video games coming from? Because of how they look? Because of the fact that they are at a video game convention? I have no doubt there are some people who go to cons who are into games to a frightening degree, but I guarantee that isn’t most people there.

    I’m starting to wonder if this is a gamer thing because video game fan conventions begin and end with PAX/PAX East. I have literally never heard anyone express this sort of embarrassment-by-association about people at an anime convention or even ComicCon.

    And to be clear, I do experience alienation at PAX, myself, but that mostly has to do with my gender. I guess being alienated in geek circles is the norm for me so I already know how to carve out my own space? I don’t know.

    • What I mean when I say I don’t want my world dominated by one aspect of myself isn’t that I’m afraid of being infected by video game fandom, I mean that I already spend too much time playing video games and to go and immerse myself further into just video game culture and fandom would be at the exclusion of other culture. If I’m spending all my time and energy focused on something I already spend too much time with then I don’t have time to go to concerts and baseball games or read books or be out with my friends. It’s almost like an addiction thing for me, hence the defense mechanism. It has everything to do with how I conduct my life.

      I do also feel the same about anime cons and ComicCon. I think that the obsession on display and the obsession culture that has sprung out of the internet is harmful and damaging. Like I said earlier, I could easily be wrong, but when you’re looking at forums, blogs, or cons, you’re only experiencing the most dedicated folk who seem to be frothing at the mouth, not the casual fan.

      • And what I’m saying is that referring to con-goers as “frothing at the mouth” is ridiculous and judgmental. You’re making an assumption about con-goers based on the mere fact that they are at a con. You have no idea what the lives of every one of the approx. 60,000 people who went to PAX East are like.

      • You’re right, I’m making poor assumptions based on the data I have available to me (garbage in, garbage out) and I really shouldn’t. My main point remains that I choose not to attend cons because I fear I will be that guy who I’m complaining about. I lack the self-control to not be and I’m too egocentric to realize that not all people react to stimuli the same way I do.

        There’s nothing wrong with going to cons and nothing wrong with the people who do. The only thing that is wrong is having your entire life dominated by one thing. Moderation in all things, including moderation, right?

  3. I do agree that people are very much judgmental and it’s a real shame. I find it also amusing that gamers often hate on one another, even in the games they are playing… We have trolling, raging, flaming, whatever. And often one of the biggest comebacks or used “insults” is… you’re a nerd lol.

    Sadly, I don’t go to any conventions at all, but that’s for other reasons entirely. I would like to go at some point, but I don’t live near one so who knows when that will happen… ;/

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