When sociologist defined “mutually shared experiences,” I doubt they had the simulated experiences of video games in mind, but the events that take place in the kingdom of Hyrule, on Shadow Moses island, and after the crash of The Pillar of Autumn are more than simple simulations; they are memorable and engaging adventures that have a lasting impact on gamers. Although these are individual, private experiences, the fact that game content remains constant allows gamers under different circumstances to have something close to identical experiences.
When you come across someone who has had the same gaming experiences as yourself, a bond is formed and nostalgic conversation is sure to follow. I’m sure that all the readers who recognize the references in the previous paragraph feel some level of affinity towards me as a direct consequence of having played, and maybe even loved, the same games. (Originally from my Gamer Babel post).
Games are certainly situated in culture, but through mutually shared experiences, they also create their own community and culture; “a shared frame of behavior and understanding” (Mayra 19). In fact, games in the pre-digital sense are not much more than specific playful conventions that are preserved as a cultural form by a community that is brought together in some way by the playful conventions they are preserving. In other words, the tradition of playing box-ball, for example, is made into a cultural form because we keep playing the game, and although I’m not aware of any box-ball playing communities, playing the game is a mutually shared experience that brings people together. The same can be said about a game like The Legend of Zelda, except that the community building aspects are even more palpable because communities of Zelda loving gamers exist in both virtual and physical environments.
But can we really say that these communities form culture? well this question is problematic because the concept of culture is hard to pin down. I’m not going too deep down this rabbit hole, but its important to acknowledge that culture can be defined in the traditional art criticism sense of high culture, which refers to aesthetic qualities and stuff, and it can also be defined as the values, practices, and beliefs that are shared by a community and passed down to the next generation. (this is the view of cultural anthropology and the most commonly taught definition of culture).
Certain games definitely have artistic aspirations, and although I wouldn’t classify games as a form of shared value, practice or belief that informs our community, I would say that games make up an important and pervasive part of certain gamers’ lives. Moreover, games have undoubtedly become part of mainstream culture, so they affect everyone in post-industrial societies to some extent.
The point is that culture is tricky to define, but game culture does share some characteristics with the “traditional” view(s) of culture. For example, specific groups of gamers share the same unique language, behavior patterns, and they perform what can almost be defined as rituals ( anything from casual game play sessions to 4 hour raids in WoW) and they use the same or similar artifacts ( systems, clothes, toys, monitor wall paper). These communities also have shared spaces, whether they be online forums, the world of Azeroth, or somebody’s living room. However, I would say that game culture does not have the same significance as nationality, ethnicity, or religion, and many times, gamers’ participation in these larger cultures has priority over their participation in game culture. Therefore, I would say that gaming communities form a sort of subculture that exists within or under larger, more well-established cultures.
I suppose I don’t have anything too enlightening to say about how games create culture, but it is definitely a dynamic worth considering. I believe that what we’ve seen so far is just the beginning of a sub-culture that will continue to have an increasing impact in the world. I don’t feel like this post is really all that, so I’m sorry if you’ve been let down, but it’s not that bad either.
Stay tuned for the next one lol. I promise it’ll be better =]