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Shedding our “nerdy” mystique

March 08, 2012 By: Ladan Category: computer, World of Warcraft

So I am the last person to claim that there isn’t a well nurtured stigma attached to being called a gamer and that gaming isn’t sometimes viewed as a hobby that you might not want everyone knowing you enjoy. And I’m often quick to notice the subtle and sometimes overt insults to the sociality, lifestyle, and even romantic potential of a gamer. And this long-held stigma has even up and coming generations shying away from being identified as a gamer. Allow me to illustrate:

I have had the pleasure of helping teach on a course in my department here at Durham called about online geographies. I’ve usually been asked by the course’s professor, Mike Crang, to facilitate the workshop on “Virtual worlds and games”. It’s often been about exploring what something like Second Life or an MMO are like. This year, my third year helping with it, we realised the workshop material was a bit out of date so Mike generously gave me an opportunity to redesign the workshop and guide the students through a few more recent virtual environments, games, and MMOs. Due to Durham’s very conservative attitude toward games and some strict limitations on what we could access and play, I ended up having the students look at a free browser-based MMO called Glitch (kind of like a Farmville MMO, though that’s not quite right.. it’s fun for a while but it has its limits too) and we looked at other things like Plants vs. Zombies, Alphaworlds, Habbo Hotel, and Farmville/Cafeville on Facebook. We even tried Angry Birds on our smartphones!

Well, when we got into a discussion about gaming within the group, these well educated, cool, mostly 19- and 20-something third year Durham Geography students were very very reticent to admit (in that group setting) what, if any, games they might have played or be currently playing. As far as the cool factor goes in relation to games, I’d say FIFA is acceptable (if you want to admit you play games but remain cool with the non-gaming cool set), Mafia Wars *might* be ok… Angry Birds could cause a giggle but a knowing nod of acceptance. And that might be it. We’re still not quite there yet as far as people getting over this idea of gaming being uncool.

I mean we’ve gotten past other things that have been viewed as a stigma in the past. And I’d like to think that eventually we’re going to be ok with the idea of gaming and not relegate it to the “nerdy” or “no life” part of the shelf. But if university students are still finding it hard to relate to or even admit an affiliation with anything but the most mainstream of games, I think we’ve got a ways to go.

Even a couple weeks ago we had a story about a new research study about WoW that provides some promising health benefits in relation to gaming. They took a group of older adults (60-77) and had some learn how to play WoW while others did not and they were able to note an increase in focus and spatial orientation among those adults that had been playing WoW. Now this is a pretty good story, and I’m glad different media channels were reporting it, but like much else in the media these days, it had to start off with a subtle insult to the community before telling us something positive: “‘World of Warcraft’ isn’t just for nerds”. And I know, I know, you’re all going to tell me this is just par for the course, but isn’t it just getting a bit too predictable now?

Anyway, the academic paper can be accessed here, if you’re interested.

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