Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what gamer culture really is. We hear the phrase tossed around a lot and to many it conjures basic images of nerdy stuff and people enjoying it. Lately, in the face of certain cultural critics claiming that video games cannot be art, many voices were raised in defense of video games. This choir of support is indicative that as a community, gamers have begun to band together on a larger scale than perhaps was previously apparent. Conventions like PAX come to mind when I consider this development. PAX, more than any other electronics gathering I have attended, is not about marketing new products, but rather celebrating games as culture. To me, this means two important developments are occurring. 1. The video game community is growing in size. 2. The video game community is ageing.
As video games become more and more a part of mainstream culture and life, they have developed. One result of this development is that there is now a divide between gamer past and gamer present. We think nostalgically about our days playing Goldeneye on N64. Older gamers may recall their first forays on an Atari, or maybe they remember when the first Tetris arcade cabinets began to appear. Maybe they remember playing pinball before games even had screens! What this means for us, as gamers, however is that we now have a past with traditions and shared experiences. In the words of Jerry Holkins of Penny Arcade, who can put it better than I ever could, “…[T]hose experiences happen to be digital, for the most part, but they’re still filed away. We’ve all had those; many of our memories are of simulations. Well, those memories are shared, just like they would be in any culture.”
As a developing culture, we are now the guardians of our own past. What does that mean? Well, for starters it means we need to preserve. Have an old system? Think twice about tossing it. Someday it will be a relic of bygone days. Every classic system you own is an important part of gamer history, and if you don’t do your part to preserve it, our past will be lost. Granted there are already museums dedicated to this sort of thing, both physically and digitally. However, that’s no excuse for getting rid of history. What may seem inconvenient now might be an appreciated decision later. After all, would you throw away a poster from the 1940’s regarding WWII? Probably not, it’s a piece of history after all. Well in 2030, a year that the average 18-24 year old gamer can easily expect to see, your old SNES will be just as old as that poster. And if gamer culture keeps growing, expanding, and maintaining its relevance, that system will be just as valuable.
There are signs that gamers are already aware of the importance of preserving history. Besides the aforementioned museums, things like PAX often feature showcases of retro gaming. I for one was greatly impressed by the classic console and classic arcade rooms at the recent PAX East. There, I was able to play PONG on an original, still working cabinet. I feel this is an important part of being a gamer. Not that everyone should go try to play a game of PONG, but it is interesting to note that as gamers we have a rare privilege. Unlike most cultures, we can easily relive any moment of our culture’s entire past, in precisely the way it was originally experienced! And that’s why preservation is important. Because someday in the future, when our children are playing Super Mario Experience 3D with Hyper-Accelerators (or whatever futuristic title), we’ll be able to pull out an NES, push in a cartridge of Super Mario Bros. and say, “This is where it all began.”