For this post, I’ll be reflecting on the Intersectionality talk that Dr. Helms held with Kishonna Gray, an author and scholar whose work is like an ethnography studying gamers, particularly black users. It was an incredibly interesting talk to listen to and was honestly one of the most laid back and intriguing talks I’ve ever attended at Plymouth.
I’d like to preface this with the fact that I self-identify as a gamer, and that was probably the most significant part of my identity that I held as a kid. I was a “nerd” who hung out with nerds, but we were all united by our love for video games. That was what brought us together, and that was the only real world I knew until I was in my late teens.
The gaming community is quite paradoxical I feel, in that it houses some of the most lovely and compassionate communities that you could imagine, as well as some of the most toxic. I think that speaks to how broad the gaming world is, and it’s something at the core of Dr. Gray’s work. The gaming community is so much more than what a lot of us think of it as. It’s not just the fourteen-year-old white boys grinding on Call of Duty (oh which I used to be) but it’s also older folks playing Animal Crossing and Words with Friends and various mobile games.
There’s this thought in the “hardcore” gaming community that while yeah, things like mobile games and casual games are technically video games, they aren’t “real” games. I remember once when I was like fifteen, I had a spat on Twitter with online content creator Freddie Wong, who was essentially arguing that mobile gamers should be considered in statistics which discuss gamers. I thought that was stupid and argued with him about it for some time. Of course I don’t agree with that kid anymore, but I know plenty of folks who still think that way. Also makes me feel bad that one of my only “celebrity” interactions was an argument I had 7 years ago where I was clearly in the wrong lol.
But yeah, while I think there are clearly different communities of users, all with their different cultures and whatnot, I can say with some confidence that I no longer gatekeep gaming. That didn’t come easy, though. I had to go off and see new things, expand my worldview, and realize that huh, maybe there aren’t only teenager white boys playing video games. Dr. Grays focus is on black folks within gaming, which I found to be super interesting. I think one thing I often think of when I think of gaming, particularly competitive gaming, is racism. The number of slurs I heard being hurled back and forth on online servers as a kid was incredible. I remember that sort of thing bothering me as a kid, before I’d even grappled with the internal biases that I developed growing up in such a super white state. But I can’t even begin to imagine how a person of color would experience that environment. Of course you can always mute general chats and everything, but even that is a compromise. Because you’re generally losing out on a part of the experience at the expense of avoiding hate. It’s just something else, man.
Another, slightly more positive note that Dr. Gray touched on in her talk was how the notion of “hardcore” games (which I even used above) are silly. She used the analogy of talking about someone she knew who wasn’t a traditional gamer, but who would smoke you in Words with Friends (if I recall correctly) and I just loved that analogy. I’ll admit that, while I am pretty open to people who play all sorts of games, that differentiation between what are normally called hardcore gaming and casual games respectively is something that I have believed in for quite some time. But Dr. gray pointed out that casual games are sometimes just as hardcore as “hardcore” games. I know that my own mom was super into Words with Friends for a very long time, and she knew every little trick, every website to go to for tips, and all of that. She played that game like I played Age of Empires, and that is the thing. It’s not the game, it’s how you play it. I know my own girlfriend has at least a thousand hours (not kidding) in Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing respectively, and she exploits every little mechanic and reads the wikis and everything for them. It’s admirable, and it’s wonderful. In that regard, I can now confidently refer to my girlfriend and my mom as hardcore gamers, which is great.
I even notice this difference in myself now. Sure, I grew up playing shooters and highly competitive multiplayer games, but these days I’m more likely to play casual games like Cities: Skylines. Sure, I’m not competing with people any more per se, but I am going just as hardcore building my city as I used to playing MLG Halo.
So yeah, to summarize I really enjoyed Dr. Grays talk, and I honestly wish it was longer. While the conversational style was a breath of fresh air, I do feel like that atmosphere led to a lot of general conversation that may have been a bit off topic, and as a result I feel like I didn’t really get as much of Dr. Gray talking about the details of her work as I would’ve liked. Again, I loved the format, I just wanted more. Great stuff, and I hope a bunch of folks from this class also were able to attend.