When one thinks about the impacts video games can have outside their own game space, their own reality, usually one of the first things to come to mind is the players themselves. But how exactly do these impacts take form? Are they limited or do they expand beyond what the developers intended? And how far can they extend within or beyond the boundaries of play? Perhaps there is not a definite answer to this because just as players and their behaviour are unpredictable during play, so are the cultural impacts of gaming. And as video games are ever growing and becoming more and more popular, so does their influence. So one wonders, is this good or bad? The only way to know this is to analyse the effects of those impacts. In this article, one of the focus of these impacts would be gaming communities and how games are correlated to communities and vice versa. Taking a popular shooter game that has grown to be a highly acclaimed franchise, Halo has been a good example of how games are not limited to just entertainment of players, but also how they can expand beyond the game space in the form of communities and other media that expands their universe and storytelling to the point of becoming a cultural phenomenon and shared social culture. But how can one define these communities, these shared social cultures?
First, let’s begin by trying to define what makes up a community. Is it the gathering of people? Having shared ideals or opinions? Or is it a specific locality? It is not an easy answer, but one can safely say that it involves all of these terms and more. A community involves communication and interaction among other things. Looking at a general definition, a community is “a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage”(Community). But can one apply this definition to what defines a game community? In some ways yes. However to understand better what defines a game community one must look into play practices and take it even further by trying to look more into the workings of them as examined in the article “Game Communities” by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman,
“Players do things they are not supposed to do. They are transgressive. They break rules, cause grief, and often behave very, very badly. But they are also wonderfully inventive and surprisingly generous. They share knowledge with new players. They build tools for each other, create forums, and often compete in fair and honorable ways. Usually, players do all this without rules explicitly demanding that they do so. These collective actions occur because the players are part of a game community, a group of individuals who all buy into a shared desire to play together (Salen and Zimmerman, 2005)”.
And so, from this, one can take two main key points that one must keep in mind when thinking and analysing game communities: players and behavior.
By taking the example mentioned earlier, in this case Halo, one can see how the effort put into it by the developers gave fruit not only to one of the most acclaimed video game franchises, but also a strong community of players along with it. But one can’t help but wonder, what is it that made this game what it is today along with all the cultural impacts that it has made? To answer that question, one must look at the ways in which this game has made those impacts,
“Released in 2001, the original Halo seamlessly blended riveting gameplay with a cinematic narrative — the fight between humans and a murderous alien race was told through plenty of twitchy, white- knuckled combat. When Halo 2 debuted three years later, it again broke new ground by letting gamers square off against their friends on the fledgling Xbox Live online service. Fans went berserk. They debated the intricate plotlines, bought T-shirts and figurines, read Halo novels that Bungie produced, and crawled into work bleary-eyed after all-night death matches. Halo became a cultural touchstone, a Star Wars for the thumbstick generation” (Thompson, 2007) .
From this one can see how one of the main factors in drawing players was the “riveting gameplay with a cinematic narrative” that later became something that would be crucial in the formation of it’s community as many players wanted to see more of the universe not just through the games but other types of media as well such as novels. But also another important factor that was just as crucial was “gamers square off against their friends on the fledgling Xbox Live online service”, which without doubt became one of the main reasons the Halo Community became and still is so passionate about the game.
First, one must look at one major key point that it is crucial for everything that happened: the players. Because it is through the players that everything becomes possible. The player’s behavior, passion, and shared knowledge with one another are some of the things that became the path for that to happen. They always have and will always be the core of what allows games to transcend the game space into the players lives, “Community emerges from relationships between people, places and activities” (Salen & Zimmerman, 41, 2005). And so, understanding the relationship between players to the game and players to players becomes a step to understand more about the relationship between games and game communities.
When thinking about what the audience for a Halo game would be, or usually any FPS game in general, an example of a common idea of it’s average player would be a male between the ages of 18 to 25. However, Halo, as well as other games (not limited to a genre), have communities that are much more diverse which in turn highlight how the impacts a game can have cannot be predicted whether in player behaviour or the members of the communities. So who are the members of these communities? Why do they matter and how are they different or similar to to other communities? One way to approach this is to try and see through the players viewpoint, not only of what the game means to them but also how do they fit into the game and the community. By looking at ‘who plays videogames’ as examined in the article “What Is Video Game Culture? Cultural Studies and Game Studies (Shaw, 2010)”, one can see that “There is a tendency for the newspaper articles to point out that video gamers are not necessarily who we think they are” and that “When articles point out that not all gamers are young U.S. males, it is generally done in a way that reasserts the expectation”. Meaning that while not all players fit the stereotypical “gamer”, some may be more welcome than others, and it’s not just about how casual or hardcore a player may be, but also how they identify themselves within that culture and what it means to them. After all to many gamers, “gaming is more than just a hobby. It’s a lifestyle, an industry, a potential career, and a pastime. In short, a subculture. Video games have inspired music, art, clothing, books, movies, and speaking patterns, just to name a few (Gaming as a Subculture)”. In other words, members of a game community are not limited to a specific group, they are diverse and while not everyone is necessarily as welcome as others to those communities, they still have something that motivates them to be part of that community and is not necessarily restricted to just the game itself.
However one must keep in mind that while different audiences are acknowledged, particularly by marketers and developers, “That is not to say that the ways in which their (players who do not fit the dominant gamer identity) identities differed from the main gamer stereotype had no impact on their consumption of video games (Shaw, 2010)”. This posits the question of how does game culture compare to other types of culture. As Shaw states, “Much as we can study culture in terms of social practices, gaming can be, and has been, studied in terms of play practices”. Furthermore she also states:
“If we are going to study games within a framework of culture, however, we as scholars must draw on the concepts as well as the conflicts of cultural studies. We must be reflexive and critical of both our object of study and our methodologies. Defining gaming culture as something distinct and separate from a constructed mainstream culture encourages us to only study those who identify as gamers, rather than more dispersed gaming. That is, we should look at video games in culture rather than games as culture (Shaw, 2010).”
So while examining those whose identify players help understand more about game culture, it does not take into account the other aspects that also contribute to it or how it relates to mainstream culture. On this point one must also keep in mind that “their reception(video games) in different countries and regions (Asia, Europe, USA, Australia) highlights very different uses and segmentations in relation to audiences and other media” and that “this posits a question regarding the possibility of games to actually entail cultural specificity in regard to their authors and their place of origin, as most of them are transnational titles that apparently replicate similar game mechanics, regardless of their countries and agents of production.”(Video game subcultures). Interesting to note here is that video games reception can be different depending on the audience and consumers and their own culture, but also the debate of whether video games should be seen as their own culture rather than “games in culture” as Shawn stated. The important thing is to be aware of the influence that they can have, and one can agree with Shawn that one should look at games in culture since games have existed for a long time, not just limited to video games, and have been influencing culture where the stakes in a game can go beyond the game space as in the case of National Sports. And so, looking at the other aspects in which games can influence, becomes the next step in studying game communities and shared social culture.
Some questions that may come to mind when trying to determine how games correlate with communities and viceversa are: What drives players to become part of a community? Is it competition, interaction with other players? Discovering more of the world and the universe within the game? As stated earlier, one of the aspects that really helped push forward the success of Halo (and many other games as well) was online play, which is also one of the main drivers in game communities,
“One aspect of Halo 2 did blow everyone away: multiplayer matches over the Internet. No console game had yet mastered online play. And Bungie worked closely with the engineers at Microsoft's Xbox Live service to make signing on point-and-click simple. In minutes, Halo 2 players could join a quick game of "death match" — kill others before they kill you — or assemble teams for rollicking bouts of capture the flag. Better yet, players were automatically paired with others at the same skill level, ensuring that they wouldn't be instantly slaughtered by crazily adept 12-year-olds in Texas.
Fans swarmed online. Halo 2 became a system seller again: Of the 6 million people who have signed up for Xbox Live, fully two-thirds of them joined to play Halo. Redmond was ecstatic. Online gaming had long been considered a vital next step for console makers and, thanks to Bungie, Microsoft got there first”(Thompson,2007).
Online gaming became key as it provided a new way that has become a standard for players to interact with each other in ways which were hard to do before. Not only did it made it possible to play with others despite not being on the same location, but it also served as a way of meeting new people with whom one never played before. This in turn paved the path for game communities to form more easily and in new ways too:
“With the emergence of digital networks, whole new varieties of adult play communities have begun to appear, enabled by desktop computers and pervasive global networks whose advanced graphical and transmission capabilities were once confined to university research labs. Some of these are extensions of nondigital forms of play, while others offer entirely new experiences and playscapes. Networks amplify the scale, progression, and geographical reach of play communities, allowing them to grow much larger much faster than their offline counterparts. These phenomena give rise to new creative playgrounds, not only within discrete networked play spaces,but also through real-world interventions, such as “alternate reality” and “big games,”which take place across multiple media and in the physical world; “smart mobs,” large group interactions enabled by mobile technologies; and other emerging forms of play that blur the boundaries between real and virtual, everyday life and imagination, work and play”(Pearce and Artemesia, 2009).
Further expanding on the impact of online gaming with a popular term amongst pro-players which is eSports, in which Halo is part of, and that also demonstrates just how big of an impact and significance video games can have to be considered as a serious competition that many watch as other professional sports, as “it even has its own version of the olympics, which is the World Cyber Games” (Dizikes, 2013). Looking further in its reception,
“The term ‘eSports’ often conjures a picture of an unhygienic, overweight, pasty-faced boy sitting in the dark in front of a computer screen. However, this stereotype is often far from the truth, and eSports have evolved into a highly social, highly publicised activity. Global contests such as the ‘Major League Gaming’ series in the United States feature thousands of people coming together from all over the world to socialise, observe and play professional games.
Particularly in Korea, eSports have been enormously successful, and an online gaming culture has developed over the past 20 years. Dedicated TV channels, epic stadium-style competitions and devoted gaming clans are but several of the latest innovations, and whether the success of eSports in Korea is a unique phenomenon or a precursor for worldwide changes remains to be seen”(Khoo, 2012).
However one must not forget that while game communities have benefited from internet and online play, they are not dependent on them, “Play communities are neither new nor unique to the Internet. They surround us in many forms, from chess and bridge clubs to sports leagues to golf buddies to summer camps; from Dungeons & Dragons role-playing on tabletops to outdoor historical re-enactments of renaissance faires or famous Civil War battles”(Pearce and Artemesia, 2009). One can say that internet and online activities are one of different ways in which members a community interact with each other, which is also to say that they are not the only ways in which games have influenced culture.
Another impact that Halo also made was a popular machinima series Red vs Blue. Which also brings another example which is conventions in which players attend to express and interact with others personally rather than just online or through the game, and this also demonstrates how games can expand through the lives of gamers. A demonstration of this would be ‘HaloFest’ which is a popular event for Halo players in which they get to discuss more than just the games, including lore about the universe, communities, cosplay, fan creations and so much more.
The significance of these impacts as examined by Johann Huizinga in his article “Nature and Significance of Play as a Cultural Phenomenon” is that while many worry about whether this increasing popularity of games and their influence is good or bad, one must keep in mind is that “Play lies outside the antithesis of wisdom and folly, and equally outside those of truth and falsehood, good and evil. Although it is a non-material activity it has no moral function. The valuations of vice versa and virtue do not apply here” (Johann, 2005). Meaning that at its core one cannot categorize it either good or bad. There is no denying that they can be highly influential and sometimes in ways not desirable, however it depends and varies according to how it is received in the audience and the culture it is part of. Gamers can be seen as heroes or model figures as in the case of South Korea or they could also be seen as people wasting their time in other countries (Shaw, 2010). One could argue that it can have good and bad effects, but by looking at the aspects examined in this article one can see that the effects have encouraged positive interactions and correlations between players and the game, game and communities, and communities and players.
(There can be worse effects than this)
In Conclusion, games can expand beyond their game space trough players and their behavior and communities begin to form from the interactions of the players, shared interests as well as places whether online or in the real world. Their influence can be seen as a form of culture in its own right, however to understand them and their impacts one must study games within culture for they have influenced it for a long time and they can vary not only from individual to individual but also community to community. And those impacts and influences can take many forms even in other forms of media. So while some may be wary of them, it is encouraged to embrace the positive effects they may have as their meaning differs to each individual whether it is a hobby, a passion, or something more serious, it is up to each and everyone to find out what. One thing known for certain is that games as part of culture continue to grow, sometimes in ways we may not think about.
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•Khoo, A. (2012). ESocial Networking and eSports. Retrieved April 26, 2015, from http://www.futureleaders.com.au/book_chapters/pdf/More-or-Less/Anthony_Khoo.pdf