There’s been an uptick in mainstream reporting on video games in Australia this week. It’s to be expected following the horrific news of an Aussie streamer allegedly assaulting his wife on camera.
As usual, most of the reporting has centred on the game instead of the alleged abuse. And while that’s disturbing – but not unexpected – there’s an another crucial detail that’s also being lost in the mainstream noise.
Gamers have known for a long time that gaming is a social activity; gamers by their nature tend to form communities, and become very devoted to those communities. That community might be a large guild, or just a small group of friends that happened to come together through a matchmaking algorithm or some other fortunate circumstance.
Case in point: some friends of mine have a particular Overwatch friend that we enjoy playing with. Most of the group knows each other quite well. We’ve worked together, hung out, played D&D, shared good times. But this one bloke, who goes by the name Couch, is someone we’ve never met.
Why is he so beloved? Because every time he ended up on the other team, everyone else kept yelling “COUCH NOOOOOOO”.
So Couch became one of us.
It’s little things like that.
Anyway, I came across a thread from Anoop Ranganath. It’s a story that echoes many sentiments you might have seen in Mark and Luke, gaming parents both. It’s what happens when your kids grow up and share games, and you start seeing games through the prism of their experiences rather than the decades of your own.
Anyone who’s gone deep down the rabbit hole of one particular game – Fallout, Dota 2, the old days of Counter-Strike, the long-time fans of the Quake or TF2 community – will recognise this.
It’s an argument you might have heard whenever esports – or competitive gaming as it used to be called – started to get on the mainstream radar. I’m not talking in the last three or four years, but a decade ago when things like the World Cyber Games used to be around.
Aren’t you worried about these people playing as terrorists, planting bombs and shooting each other, some reporters would ask.
The answer would always be the same: no.
Because the value of the game isn’t actually the game.
It’s a social space.
To their credit, Epic seems to have recognised this with the creation of the creative mode. It’s Fortnite without the element of competition. The kids that stopped playing Minecraft and just muck around on parts of the map building stuff – the antithesis of what the game, mechanically, is about – are going to love that.
That’s something that mainstream reporting has, and possibly never will, ever understood about gaming. The concept of a virtual space as a social space, one just as worthwhile as a soccer pitch, a basketball court or any other outdoor environment, has always been a bridge too far.
But kids get it. Gamers get it. And while everyone continues to digest the horrors from this week, and what that means for a country that is failing to combat or even properly recognise the scourge of domestic violence, it’s worth remembering the value of gaming, the benefits it provides that no other medium can accomplish.