The Will Porter column: Why real-world gaming communities still matter
“Do you need any help there?” asked the pre-programmed teen in a GAME t-shirt one size too large, scurrying around and attempting to herd bewildered parents towards the latest Ubisoft shovelware in the Christmas rush. Now, the rational response would have been to calmly state “I’m a thirty year old man, and I am excitedly clutching Pokemon SoulSilver. It’s fair to say that I know what I’m doing”. Instead, with eyes like fire I beat him to death with the nearest thing to hand – which just happened to be a spinning rack of budget PC titles and driving test DVDs.
Now, I don’t blame that poor dead teenager for what happened – he was, after all, only trying to help in the manner his overlords demanded – but his was a fate that could have been avoided. Games might be getting more widespread but when you’re not recognised as one of the cognoscenti, it’s still faintly galling. Despite its proliferation in everyday life gaming often still feels like a secret members club – an imaginary place where you and I could slump in ancient armchairs, cradling tumblers of whiskey and discuss why Halo 2 was/wasn’t shit.
Amazingly enough in the real world, the one my wife and parents live in, most people have no particular opinion on Duke Nukem Forever. Similarly, while ‘Fuck off Chelsea!’ would presumably get a reaction, you can’t just walk into a random pub and expect polite chit-chat about the Krogan Genophage. Instead my own game conversations generally have to be with male friends when my significant other goes to the bar – our short, sharp and illicit conversations about the new direction for Brothers in Arms suddenly halted when she returns with her gin and tonic to note, with growing horror, my hand absent-mindedly placed on his thigh.
All of which is an extremely roundabout way of telling you how much I love Gamestation. Now I realise it’s a shop that’s under the same umbrella as GAME, but as yet I’ve never been into a branch of Gamestation that didn’t have friendly, knowledgeable staff who’ll quite happily hold up a queue for a spot of vital banter about Kinectimals. Sure there are occasional GAME staff members that are diamonds in the rough (and anything beats the utter horror of the stack-em-high cardboard mausoleums of Gamestop in the US) but the general set-up of Gamestation is pitch-perfect for a gamer like me.
Whenever I’m being dragged around women’s clothes shops – nodding, saying ‘yes’ and desperately trying to remember what colours she said she liked last time – the edges of my vision start to go white and I feel physically weak. The only way I can recharge is by taking cover inside the Haywards Heath branch of Gamestation and stare at the ‘Coming Soon’ rack while I regenerate. In the most severe cases I have to buy a trade-in and discuss the merits of Hitman: Blood Money with the nice people behind the till.
Games have never been more connected. I have my Xbox friends list, I have my Steam friends list, I have Facebook integration and I’m a twitter whore (@Batsphinx) but more than anything I crave real-life gaming communities. The friendliness of my local, corporate yet much endangered, gaming emporium is something of a methadone to tide me over until my next sadly infrequent hit of social nerdery. I have even been known to queue up for midnight launches for games that I already own through journalistic endeavours, simply for the company. (And sometimes because I’ve been spangled on tequila.)
This is why gaming events, like the Eurogamer expo [you can win yourself some Eurogamer expo tickets here], are so important – as are smaller-fry gatherings of like-minds like World of Warcraft guild meet-ups or Rock Paper Shotgun community drinkathons. Games are so, so much better when they also involve shooting down someone else’s wrong opinion over a beer - or involve a group of middle-aged men communally attempting to remember how the music went in Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle on Gameboy.
For me, and I think for many gamers, registering on forums, clicking ‘like’ on a facebook group or talking to a man over Call of Duty multiplayer who’s attempting to light a spliff off his toaster (true story) isn’t quite enough. Face to face nerd-chat, even when surrounded by increasingly archaic plastic game boxes in a High Street store, is still what moves gaming away from being a home-based, curtains-drawn hobby and into the realms of a communal, shared passion.
So essentially what I’m getting at, if you happen to be free this evening, do you fancy a pint and a chat about the largely forgotten nineties PC version of Battlezone? I swear to God I will not touch your legs. Just don’t tell the wife.
Will Porter writes about games and for games. In a former life he was the editor of the dear departed PC Zone magazine, right now though he pulls the narrative strings on Project Zomboid and has some secret stuff that he'd like to tell you about - but probably shouldn't. If you want rolling updates on how hungry/sleepy he is then follow @Batsphinx on Twitter.