“Bro Games” and the Gamer Divide
In addition to having sunlight, croissants and puppies, the real world plays host to a number of less-than-awesome monsters. Attempt to stifle your shock when you read: discrimination, sexism, bullying and overt hostility exist from high school hallways and leisurely park strolls to interactions with coworkers and doors to career opportunities. Could a gaming community exist as a safe space, free from hierarchy, judgment, or prejudice?
Enter the video game universe and experience a surge of power and possibility. Your controller becomes your sword, its your buttons your mouthpiece. Any user can make friends, conquer enemies, romance paramours and save realms/cities/galaxies. The groundwork for a community with inclusion and opportunities for equality is present. Of course, following the historical trajectory of world domination, the privileged have found a way to hijack the “Gamer” title, making the same games that embrace some alienate others.
The long-standing stigma against gaming has not gone away—simply shifted direction. A shift that, one could argue, has its benefits. The public at large is less inclined to dismiss gamers with stereotypically negative attributes, which is a nice way of saying that your coworker or yoga class acquaintance probably won’t deem you “nerdy” or “reclusive” when you disclose your interests. Judgments are however passed within the community based on what is being played.
Video game genres have become a new mode for those with social capital (read: the straight white male archetype) to categorize and effectively “other” fellow gamers, or classify a subsect of gamers as “not one of us”. In plain terms, video game genres are being used to separate the “bros” from the “no’s”
Gamers and the Sense of Community
The opposing parties in the gamer divide begin to form before we’re even conscious of this nebulous Gaming Civil War. While a pre-pubescent role player secretly logs hours in a basement den, umbilical chord to console, a parallel group of players comes into form, separate, louder, and adamant in their identity.
The first category of gamers (G1) is a broad-spectrum term for role-players and those who prefer the long-plot format. The community they experience is one of common interest, discussion, and with potential for observation more so than conjoined participation. Members of this community may discuss plot points in online forums, form connections with others through arguing the in-game specifics—To Cure the Krogan Genophage, or Not To Cure, that is the question. Or munching on popcorn on the adjacent couch, theatre style, while your little brother plays through the BioShock franchise for the first time. Role Players/Role Playing Gamers may benefit from shared experience despite the actual game play occurring alone. While Role Playing can hinge on a social experience (Warhammer; Dungeons and Dragons; LARP) the genre as a whole is unfazed by the absence of multiplayer opportunities, maintaining its stability when comprised of solo gamers.
Among teens and tweens, the opposing party (G2, the “Confederates” in this analogy, probably) has been known to take shape as a throng of socially content, cis-male classmates, whose Facebook blasts involved invitations to other classmates for Halo parties: BYO television, controller and Xbox, congregate under one roof, eat melted Velveeta from a crockpot and assault ones’ teeth with Mountain Dew in the company of your favorite 10th-grade chums. Encyclopedia of Education contributors M. E. Doyle and M. K. Smith argue strongly in favor of the social and psychological need for this sense of real-world community.
Introverts and extroverts, RPG’ers and mutli-player addicts, Yankees and Confederates: separate groups, both touting the Gamer banner. Both benefit from the cognitive, motivational, and emotional perks of gaming, as delineated in psychologist Isabela Granic’s “Benefits of Playing Video Games“. Both cultivating a virtual, as well as real-world identify.
Add a few years to the equation and see the games and individuals change, but whether they manifest as the hockey team congregating for Madden or club members sitting in their individual basements, hooked up to headsets, shooting each other through the magical connection of Xbox Live, the social bonds of Group 2 are strong. Geography is negligible for these hang outs, fortifying the friendships and experiences of pre-existing groupings.
The superficial rundown of the second group, along with any socially-mobile group, is a stamp of popular approval. The cultural green light is granted to these community-based cool kids. This prominent, approved group is one that considers itself to be comprised of Gamers. The entire gaming community benefits directly from their exposure. It’s the secondary confrontation, not from society-to-gamer, but of gamer-to-gamer exchange that prompts exploration.
If you’re a relatively antisocial female fantasy/sci-fi addict rather than an athletic, gregarious first person shooter, and the conventionally social G2 members have already taken the gamer title, what does that make you?
A sample Role Player v. Bro-Gamer interaction might go something like this:
Bro: “I hear you game? That’s so rad!” (+1)
RP: “Yeah I’ve logged a lot of time on the ‘ole xbox.” (+1)
Bro: “Your boyfriend must have played a lot of COD I take it.”
RP: “Oh, no, nothing like that. I got into video games on my own. I was 12 when someone bought me Zelda for Christmas, no looking back, [laughs].” (-1)
RP: “Come on, you know Ocarina of Time. It’s an RPG, I mostly play RPGs?” (-1)
RP: “…today it might be more like Mass Effect?” (-1)
RP: “It’s, uh, you play as Commander Shepard, with a team of aliens, in rapid transit through space as you fight the Reapers and …. Oh you have an appointment you forgot about? It’s right this second? Okay well it was nice talking to you.” (-20)
Bring on the Bros
Call of Duty, FIFA, Halo and the like, fall under the broad umbrella categorized here as “Bro Games”, named trifold for their general camaraderie, their often gender-specific appeal, and for a very dry sense of “let’s call a spade a spade”. Games of this category tend to be low-plot, multi-player, often first-person-shooter franchises with a heavy emphasis on real-world connectivity and community. While options are made available to play with non-human computer players, or with randomized online pairings, these games serve foremost as a social lubricant for those who are already social.
Initial thesis included, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, as they say—and why do they say it?— This violent, feline-unfriendly idiom nods at both the variety uses of those games and the number of ways in which we socially connect. No one statement can truly categorize or speak for all gamers, their motives, their social environments, or their overall experience. That being said, let’s plough forward with conclusions based on our experiential generalizations.
Contrasted against the real-world Bro Game atmospheres, and even the real-world discussion communities throughout G1, long-plot RPGs boast the opportunity to create new social realms with supporting characters, inventing meaningful pseudo-social interactions through choice-filled plot points and a plethora of outcomes, some canon, some merely the illusion of out-of-canon effect—a discussion for a different time.
Perception Meets Reality
G1 might feel isolated at worst and disinterested at best when playing a Bro Game, but it isn’t solely the inter-group game play that creates division. Conversations like the one above between G1 and G2 often deepen the chasm and create additional alienation.
Is the perception of these interactions representative of real-world feelings? Conversations with both bros, and some decidedly feminist non-bros, help to illuminate the Gamer Divide.
Jo, 23, is in athletics and strongly prefers multi-player games
Seth, 25, is a licensed EMT, and participates in mutli-player functions and similarly enjoys RPGs
Kyler, 20, is a certified welder and enjoys RPGs
1) What is the appeal of multi-player games (COD, Halo, FIFA, etc).
Jo: The appeal of multiplayer games is the ability to compete and compare your self to other gamers. You are able to win and show you are a better player than others. Also you never know how the other person or persons you are playing against are going to play. You may have to adapt your style to combat what is being thrown at you
Kyler: I don’t personally like multiplayer games that much. I’d say it’s just a mind numbing activity. I do however, feel that the multiplayer gamer has become a norm in our culture and isn’t seen as a nerdy.
The more I think about it… perhaps the appeal of multiplayer games lies within the potential for instant gratification as you often level up and get new things as well as showing off your achievements and the like. RPG and strategy games take the course of a delayed gratification.”
Seth: It’s the simplest way for me to keep in touch with my friends across the board. I could think of at least 5 guys I would no longer be in touch with if we didn’t game at night
2) How would you say the average multi-player gamer perceives RPG-heavy gamer? (someone who only plays COD perceiving someone who plays Dragon Age)
Jo: I think we perceive them as… different.
Kyler: I do believe that those who tend to play the shooters such as COD and Halo or Battlefield see the RPG gamer as still a nerd. Given that there’s a lot more depth in the RPG genre it takes more of a thinker or simply a fantasizer to truly enjoy its longevity.
Seth: Games have so permeated culture that different camps have developed. It’s pretty safe to say we’ve overcome the “gamer” stigma. I don’t think anyone thinks of them as lonely recluses anymore. When getting to know someone I often ask if they play games. Then I quickly follow up with what kind of games they play. If the games they list are solely sports games I can gauge how close (or not close) we will be as friends; I’m sure it’s the same in the opposite direction. I love me some RPG and I can see the light dim in some people’s eyes when I list off my favorite games
Bro gamers may be responsible for the “othering” of RPG gamers, but the role players can’t claim sanctuary from discrimination within their own camp.
According to a 2014 survey by the Entertainment Software Association, female gamers age 18 and up make up 36% of the gaming population.
A 2012 effort by the Software Usability Research Laboratory published its efforts in determining differences between male and female gamers in terms of video game usage, preference, and behavior. While they named the primary differences contrasting “violent” and “non-violent”, their terminology could have been swapped synonymously for “shooter games”—largely multi-player—and RPGs, which are plot, rather than violence driven.
This is not to say that women don’t benefit directly from the recreational activity of multiplayer video games, whether in predominantly female groups or in integrated friend groups, but the strongly tailored cis-male audience of Bro Games does add an isolating factor to the genre.
Women are breaking down walls and bashing in the doors to the gaming industry. What kinds of games are those women playing? The male-centric appeal of Bro Games reflects as disproportionate to the comparatively gender-equal appeal of RPGs. It’s worthwhile to note that even though RPGs may be more attractive to women than multiplayer games, the secondary layer of judgment between gamers harms what could be a cohesive community. The genres themselves, though insular, are often breeding grounds for gender-based discrimination. (Read this excerpt from Sam Magg’s Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy to kick neckbeards accusing you of being a Fake Geek Girl to the curb, and to source the aforementioned ESA study.)
“Othering” and the Video Game Experience
Historically, humans have loved to judge each other, and no one does that better than the privileged v. the marginalized.
Rather than creating a platform for unity, a way has been found for video games to facilitate new opportunities of hierarchy creation. The already powerful are shifting their criteria for judgment from “are you good at football” or “do you drive a nice car” to “are you an EA Sports kinda guy or do you play World of Warcraft?” Video Games can be used by the hegemony as a measuring stick to dictate who is socially affluent, who is acceptable, and who is “in”.
The Bros may be Gamers, but they do not have monopoly on the title. Role Players have the “G” built right into their acronym, after all.
Disparaging looks from society’s normal are nothing new, but there’s good news for the Nerds and Geek Girls: the winds of awareness, acceptance and tolerance are in the air. Fandom communities are vibrant. Games continue to evolve, catering to the new wave of representation. Gamers are loud, zealous, and moving to a front united.
So dig your heels in, gamers. Bros can share the real estate on the Gamer platform. Role Players aren’t going anywhere.
What do you think? Leave a comment.