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Identity and Gaming


My school is filled with people that are incredibly passionate about gaming, but in several different directions. Around four years ago, everybody had a general consensus that Call of Duty: Black Ops was the go-to game, and almost everyone played that one game, alongside Modern Warfare 3. Others played Battlefield 3, and there was a pretty large divide between these two groups that made for some heated debates. As time went on, people started to divorce themselves from the console gaming scene and would flock to PC gaming, and then establish some sort of dominance there. About a year ago, half of the class would be bringing laptops to school and would waste their days away on Hearthstone, League of Legends, or some other popular PC game that I can't bother to remember. In the latter half of this year, someone brought a GameCube to the school, and then almost everyone flocked to a certain room to play Super Smash Bros. Melee for hours on end, skipping every class they had that day. These latter two were very polarizing among us, as the console apologists would have full-scale arguments with the PC gamers, and the smaller group of people who thought that the GameCube was absorbing everyone's time and wasn't a good addition to the school heavily lobbied for it to be removed, which sparked a lot more outrage from the 50-something people who wasted their days on it. People were labelled with certain identities because of what games interested them, and were judged accordingly because of those interests. Some students would gauge other peoples' entire personalities based on the fact that they played Hearthstone or Call of Duty, and for a while it heavily interested me. With the recent drop of Battlefield 1's trailer wholly polarizing the Battlefield and Call of Duty fanbases and provoking a profound number of arguments, I figured now would be a great time to examine the ways in which certain games seem to give people an identity.

To keep things topical, I will talk about the numerous debates people had regarding Battlefield and Call of Duty. I was lucky enough to have to experience both sides of this large-scale argument, and by "lucky," I most definitely do mean "acutely inconvenienced." People who preferred Battlefield over Call of Duty would basically call fans of the latter unintelligent, without sustaining attention spans, and far too eager to indulge in some prejudiced Ad Hominem, and they mostly complained that Call of Duty had a redundant and mundane atmosphere that was surrounded by an unrelenting hypercompetitive nature and profound amounts of unwarranted aggression. The other side tended to call Battlefield a slow, drawn-out, empty experience filled with poorly-constructed gaming mechanics, confusing HUD, and lack of reward for skill. I have obviously paraphrased these arguments from incoherent insults and a lot of name-calling, but these seems to be the center of the debates I've witnessed. Each side assumed stereotypes and labels for the respective opposing side and would continually quarrel over these opposing mindsets. A lot of the people on the Battlefield side of the argument would decide that those on the other side were all unintelligent and aggressive, while those on the Call of Duty side decided that everyone on the other side were stuck-up, pretentious, and always had some need to feel superior for no particular reason.

It's truly amazing how an interest in a certain video game sparks so many assumptions and so much hatred for a person. During this time I tried to keep my side to myself, as I was recently introduced to the Call of Duty scene and didn't want people thinking I was stupid for liking the game. I began to think I really was stupid for playing Call of Duty, and instead I tried Battlefield for a while. It was an alright experience, but I found myself going back to Call of Duty at the end of the day. Maybe I really am an idiot and have a frighteningly short attention span, but to this day I still prefer Call of Duty over Battlefield. I don't see anything wrong with that, just like I don't see anything wrong with my friend who prefers Battlefield over Call of Duty. He has his reasons for liking the former, and I have my reasons for liking the latter. Our opinions differ, and I don't see any reason to be upset about this. I don't think he's stuck-up, and he doesn't think I'm an idiot. Some people seem genuinely bothered by this divide, however, and decide that the other side must adopt their views, or that side is incorrect. I suppose it's part of the natural psychological desire to be right in everything we do, and anything that differs from that perception of "correct" must be wrong. I find it frightening, however, how people express this insecurity of differing opinion.

On this note, it's very worrying how people break down people's interests in gaming and turn it into a far too personal concept. I prefer Call of Duty because it was introduced to me before Battlefield, so I am profoundly better at the former. If I were to tell someone who liked Battlefield this statement, however, I would have been told that I actually liked Call of Duty because I was a neanderthal who liked to pick my nose and take enjoyment in juvenile activities. Children are incendiary. All of these conclusions drawn because of my enjoyment in one video game franchise. I simply do not understand this. At this time, one of my friends ridiculed a Battlefield lover because he apparently "needed to come down to the world with the rest of us." I asked him to explain his reasoning, and all he said was, "What do you mean? He loves Battlefield," and he went on to say a few more things I am not at liberty to say on a webpage that's targeted to viewers of all ages. My point is that his reasoning was so incredibly shallow and based on absolutely nothing that it boggled my mind how he formed his entire opinion of this person around a video game. A video game. Interests are pretty telling of an individual's personality, don't get me wrong, but criticizing the entire being of a person because they like Battlefield or Call of Duty is profoundly ridiculous and ignorant. It only serves as a self-therapeutic measure to make someone feel better about the possibility of difference in opinion, and all it amounts to is incendiary and unwarranted arguments about why your opinion is wrong, David! Oh, and it most certainly does not amount to any change in opinion, unless a slightly eroded friendship over something so petty counts as change.

Let me broaden the scope a little bit and talk about the subsequent feud between console gamers and PC gamers. There is a room in my school that is segmented into two different sides, where two different couches sat. One group of people would sit on the left-side couch and play games on their laptops, while the right-side couch would converse with one another or play on their phones. Neither couch would speak to each other, however, become of some unsaid gaming warfare we had going on. Eventually, someone spoke up and asked the left couch, "What's so good about PC gaming?" and then the warfare became apparent and unbearable. Once again, it became an issue of intelligence, and PC gamers claimed to have all of it. While I'm attempting to be as impartial as I possibly can here, I do feel as though the PC Master Race needs to calm down a bit. Perhaps I say that because of the merciless bullying I suffered when I came out as a console gamer, but plenty of the people on my side returned the bullying to them. The arguments were intense with pure rage, and at one point a fistfight broke out over what platform The Sims 3 ran the best on, and I am the absolute farthest thing from kidding. People broke off friendships during this time that were never mended, and it was a very sorry time to be a part of my class.

As a mostly third-person viewer to this gaming platform war, it was unbelievable to watch unfold. Heated arguments, broken friendships, fistfights, over the way people play a certain game? For real? When you look at gaming through this perspective, it makes all gamers look terrible. People didn't seem to understand that it was all up to preference, and they thought that there just had to be a correct answer. PC gamers would hurl specs at console gamers, and confused console gamers would meekly try to retaliate with something about easier controls, and then PC gamers would become livid. It was, without exaggeration, an insane spectacle. It felt like I was a part of another world, in which everyone indulged in extreme hyperbole over the most petty and inconsequential things. It was absolute madness. I had never seen such passion over a certain medium, and it wasn't even about something that truly mattered. Maybe it's because I am a "casual" gamer (cue pitchforks) but this fierce argument is one that I never understood the purpose behind. I went and tested this theory by playing the entirety of the Call of Duty 4 campaign on my Xbox 360, and then going over to my friend's house and playing Call of Duty 4's campaign on his PC that has some specs that I don't comprehend, but all I know is that they are pretty optimal. I successfully noticed approximately zero performance differences between the two and thought they ran just fine. Again, I am not the ultimate opinion on this as I am thoroughly inexperienced with hardcore gaming as a whole, but I don't see why there was such a horrifying year-long argument in my class about what platform to game on.

Why does a medium of entertainment bring on so much heat and animosity from other people? Why do the games I like to play and the way I like to play them say such bad things about me? Preference is the most subjective concept in existence. It is, by definition, flexible, so why does preference have the fine-print addendum that you can be wrong and harshly judged by others for having an opinion? Perhaps the answer goes far beyond gaming itself and is rooted in the psychological phenomenon I discussed above. Forming an identity involves a lot of attribution and coercive persuasion from others; no identity is formed in a wholly independent fashion. When formulating an identity over several years, a person is exposed to several factors that they perceive as good or correct (my first multiplayer experience being a Call of Duty game on a console) and other factors as bad, uninteresting, or incorrect (my friend telling me to get League of Legends and my first experience with it being completely destroyed and never touching it again) and these factors shape their mindset. Since I have become very good at Call of Duty and am profoundly awful at League of Legends, I'm obviously going to be partial towards Call of Duty since I am already good at it, and therefore the game will elicit a cheerful experience from me. League of Legends will consist of me dying a lot more than everyone else, being accused of feeding, and being verbally torn apart by the people I'm playing with, and so I will obviously not want to repeat that experience. This prohibits me from branching out into new experiences, however, and my way of gaming will result in me being stuck on the same platform on the same games for quite some time. I see no problem with this, as I haven't gotten bored of the games I play thus far. Some other people have criticized me for this and have told me to widen my mindset (in not-so-polite terminology), and perhaps in the future I will, but converting someone from PC to console is going to be just as implausible as converting someone from Catholicism to Atheism.

People are basically invested in whatever ideology they grew up on, and there comes a certain point where conversion is impossible. Conversion, in itself, isn't a good thing, as it's changing someone's characteristics to better suit a certain individual or party (also known as brainwashing), but I'll humor the idea that conversion can actually work on a fully-grown individual. When my friends were trying to get me to abandon Call of Duty and my Xbox 360 in favor of Hearthstone on the PC, they did it in such an aggressive fashion that I wanted to disobey their commands simply to spite them. I really am indifferent to Hearthstone, I have no idea how to play it and I have no real desire to, but I don't have anything against the game. My friends, however, tried to bully my into playing the game and tore into my interests in order to make me feel like they were bad and that I was wrong. This tactic almost never works on someone whose interests and passions are fully-formed, and it only serves to bring intense distaste towards whatever agenda the aggressor is trying to feed. These harsh debates at my school, obviously, never reached a conclusion, despite there being nearly four entire years of them raging on. Nobody came to a satisfying climax, nobody's opinions changed, but plenty of friendships dissolved in their stead.

In a way, the mindset behind these arguments is essentially, "This game that you like is bad, and therefore your interests are bad, and therefore you are bad." It's one of the tactics used in coercive persuasion, where the subject is made out to be inferior and want to be more like a certain group that they perceive as superior. Despite how frightening that implication is in itself, this also implies that the games someone plays are a part of that person's individuality. Games are not and should not ever be a defining characteristic of a person, and these debates are clear evidence that prove this. Judging someone by what games they like to play and how they like to play them is almost as bad as any other cultural prejudice, as it spreads unearned hatred because of a certain part of that person's identity. A person's harmless interests have no right to be attacked, and it only serves to damage people's psyches and create bigger disconnects between individuals. Linking gaming to personality is a steadily rising problem that nobody seems to be taking notice of, and this is scary, considering how many friendships were brutally murdered during my time in high school because of this issue. People are far too focused on fictional reasons to turn against video gaming to actually look at a real psychologically damaging issue that has been very prevalent, at least in my life. Perhaps this is simply fear-mongering and this problem is entirely nonexistent, but in my experience, it was far too present and far too aggressive to seem like a healthy or under-control issue, and if you compare Infinite Warfare and Battlefield 1 trailer comment sections, I am sure they will prove my point for me.

People need not be defined by the games they like to play, the way they like to play them, or the levels of enjoyment they receive from them. Gaming could be a harmless medium of entertainment where people simply coexist and embrace every medium, every technological advancement, and play games as they were meant to be played; as entertainment. The casual nature of video gaming should have never been turned into such a fierce, competitive facet of our culture that is now often ridiculed for how seriously some people take it, and it is seeping its way into the psychological by becoming a part of someone's individuality. Gaming is an interest, and some people don't understand that. Some people think that gaming preferences are personality traits, and frankly, that carries some of the most startling implications I think I have ever come across.
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