Finding a community is important for every single person on the planet. No matter who or where you are, having a sense of shared interests and experience, camaraderie and mutual investment with others makes you feel more welcome, at home, and better able to grow and flourish.
However, nearly all communities are plagued by different barriers, whether social, economic, ideological or otherwise. We all can remember the cliques in high school—and who was and was not allowed in them. Or famed country clubs, which typically require a membership fee that by default has historically limited eligible members to a socioeconomic subset of the population (read: white and wealthy). In a different vein, local skate parks most often cater to a teenage male crowd; they might not be so welcome to a 60-year-old skateboarding aunt who wanted to come hang. Essentially, every community has its hang-ups and tends to be good for some and less good for others.
In the gaming community, however, many of the typical barriers don’t really exist. The gaming community certainly does have its hang-ups too, and we’ll come back to those. But when you look at the basics, gamers and the gaming community at large cover a wide array and the online nature of gaming makes many physical or social barriers have little to no weight, giving many voices ample and equal say—it’s democratic, really.
Here’s what we mean.
Anyone can play
That statement can’t be misconstrued: truly anyone can be a gamer. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how in shape you are, what your school grades and test scores were, what your name or background or skin color is, what language you speak, who your parents are, who you work for, how many friends you have or don’t have—it really doesn’t matter. Your desire to game and capability to operate the equipment—or have a kind friend do it for you if you’re physically unable—is the only thing that determines whether or not you can be involved.
You can create your virtual reality
On top of that, it’s not a visual realm unless you want it to be. You can fully participate in the community without putting your own image out there. You can also create your own avatar, or use alternate names, or do other things to create the virtual reality that you want to present in order to participate in a way you’re comfortable with. Your physical appearance doesn’t have to have a stake in your interactions.
There is a game—and a place—for everyone
There are so, so many games out there of so many different varieties that there really is something for everyone. And because the gaming community is predominantly online, that means there are specialized communities for nearly every single game—and communities for whole categories of games, or specific companies, or specific groups of people if you want them. And within those groups, people of all sorts can take leadership roles, prompt discussions, ask questions, etc. What this means is that the gaming community on the whole is, we’ll say it again, for everyone who wants in.
However, online bullying is real
All that said, we must acknowledge the gaming community’s fault lines. We have emphasized above the advantages of having a community that’s largely based online. However, the downside of online communities with little face-to-face interaction is that without oversight or set standards of conduct, they become prone to bullying. When you don’t have to say an insult to someone’s face and see their reaction or deal with their in-person response, it’s much easier to take a dig at them. Additionally, when you see a whole chorus of voices harping on one person’s question or comment, but you don’t know who that person is in real life or what other circumstances they might be facing, it’s easy to join the bandwagon and keep the jabs coming.
This was a big issue in gaming for a few years, and still is in some. But many gaming communities have worked hard to counteract online bullying. Some, like LiT eSports, have welcome messages on the community’s home page stating that their community’s purpose is to foster friendships and provide encouragement and support. Some communities declare their commitment to a “no judgment” space, indicating that those gamers who do try to comment unkindly or inappropriately will not be allowed to remain active in the group. In all, most gaming communities take pride in being open to and accepting of everyone, strive to maintain a welcoming environment, and take action to remove those members who do not treat others with respect.
Also, money is a thing
The other biggest barrier in the gaming community is the cost. While there are no membership fees, it is certainly true that gaming consoles and the games themselves are not necessarily cheap. Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro runs upwards of $400, the latest Xbox is about $300, and the new Nintendo Switch goes for between $300-500, depending on the vendor. That’s no small price tag. As for the games themselves, everyone’s new favorite, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, will cost you $60, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare sets you back $80, and Super Smash Bros. rings up at about $63. Now, not all games will cost you an arm and a leg—there are plenty below the $30 mark. But if you’re really into gaming, you’re likely not just buying one console and one game. You’re buying multiple games for a couple of different consoles (computers count, too!), or perhaps a handheld system, plus any other equipment, like headsets, additional controllers, cameras and game capture devices, better speakers, carrying cases, screen protectors, a good chair—the list goes on. Not to mention upgrades down the line. All of that really adds up. And for parents of young adults (or adults of any age!) who have other financial needs and priorities, saving up for a new Nintendo—much less 10 games and a fancy headset—might not be in the cards.
Additionally, if you want to be able to participate in bigger in-person aspects of the gaming community and attend gaming conferences and tournaments, those things all cost a not-small amount of money too. Between airfare, hotels, registration fees, ticketed events, gear you buy when you get there, and a host of other potential things, it all adds up.
In the end, the gaming community may be cost-prohibitive for some, but it is a community that welcomes everyone who wants to be a part of it, regardless of what you look like, what you’re into, or what you want to get from gaming. It’s democratic in that all kinds of people can have a prevalent voice- as long as —as long as your voice isn’t trying to demean others.