The social event of year for the “anti-social”

7439512656_04f88d7461_b

While coming down from the massive gaming high that is PAXAus in Melbourne this year, I took a moment to think about all the games I’d played but also the staggering number of people I had met. PAXAus is a gigantic gaming convention, bringing in hundreds of developers and thousands of fans from all around the country and beyond. There is little that can describe the sheer amount of bodies of all shapes and sizes (some epically costumed) that flow through the halls of the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre during PAX. Sometimes, the lines just to get a coffee can be a little overwhelming but luckily you can make a friend in just about any nook and cranny.

At every single panel I had lined up for, my neighbouring nerds would strike up a conversation with me on almost any topic and I even ended up playing a Princess Bride card game while we waited. In every indie booth, an eager developer would beam at the chance to discuss their game and studio, or just chat if I was walking by. And no other community I know, would see a full theatre of people cheering for a girl trying to jump a marshmallow on top of random falling blocks in the quest for an epic high score. And the amount of kids that met their heroes, non-chalantly walking around and having their picture taken was heart-warming to say the least.

It was great to see that the Australian gaming community is so diverse and accepting, to the point that there were unisex bathrooms and a diversity lounge to make everyone feel included and welcome. I wonder then, why the rest of the world, continues to call us anti-social. We’ve all seen or read the news articles claiming that gaming makes us a-social, reclusive hermits incapable of human interaction. This stereotype is entrenched in our society, particularly through Hollywood’s portrayal of so-called “geeks” and “gamers” in TV shows like “The Big Bang Theory”. Needless to say, this is inaccurate. The sheer volume of people who attend conventions such as PAX proves that not only are we capable of social interaction, we crave it. We will literally travel cross-country to meet people who share the same passions. So why is gaming such a detestable hobby?

I remember when I was around 5, I would attend birthday parties at children’s entertainment venues like Lollipops Playland, which usually consisted of a ballpit, slippery slides, crafts table, playground and a video games area. Prejudice isn’t something you learn at the ripe old age of 5, so it was completely acceptable and fine for me to go up to a Playstation and play “Crash Team Racing” with some boys I’d never met. However, somewhere between then and now, it became socially deplorable for video games to be my hobby, let alone my career. When speaking with members of the non-gaming community, I am oftened queried about my “social life” and the specific lack of boys, drinks and night clubs that are most prevalent to such persons. Upon which, my reply is usually something along the lines of awkwardly walking away because I’m not sure how to reply with upsetting them or sounding condescending.

Even my friends, who once loved gaming, tell me that it’s immature and worrying that I show an interest in the things I am most passionate about. Somewhere along the line, society told them to trade in their life values of fun, passion and imagination for the ever more important material values like money, sex and alcohol. And now they are very confused when they can’t apply the same values to me. Sure, we all love a beer and a night out with a close partner but trading these things for an hour of fighting digital aliens or even romancing them? This is not something they can comprehend. Why is going to a bar to watch a game of rugby with some mates over a beer, more social than doing the same thing with Starcraft for example? It’s no wonder that many “gamers” would choose to stay home and play more video games over being ostracized for not enjoying a manly match of ball-toss-kick-goal.

If PAXAus proves anything, it’s that gaming is a beloved hobby and profession for so many Australians and it should be celebrated accordingly. We need more places where it is socially acceptable to bring up how bad the latest Sonic spin-off was or how hyped we are for Fallout 4. We need more places to be ourselves and more importantly, to be ourselves around other people, because being social just once a year for PAX is enough to make people think we’re not.


Photo Credit: “Who wants to play video games?”, © 2012 JD Hancock, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio