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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