Gaming and the Language of "Them Versus Us"
Language is an evolutionary thing. It changes over time, reflecting the needs of the culture that use it. Furthermore, each unique sub-set of society seems to create and utilise its own bespoke lexicon. From business, science, politics, religion, to sports and other leisure activities, all use terminology that is unique to their own group. Overtime some of these terms’ crossover from one niche to another to eventually find broad mainstream acceptance. It is a fascinating process and one I think has accelerated in recent years due to the growth of social media.
I have written before about the subject of gaming semantics and the fact that some terms are so ambiguous and not clearly defined. This subsequently leads to skewed debates and discussion, as there is not a mutually agreed frame of reference of definition. This time I want to focus on another linguistic issue that it currently blighting the discourse surrounding games. That being the proliferation of pejorative terms and ill-conceived labels, which are used not to describe but to discredit. It sadly adds to the increasingly bi-partisan nature of all public debates these days and reinforces my current stance of not defining myself by a pastime that I pursue. The gaming community is becoming increasingly intolerant and I don't wish to be associated with such things.
Something that often comes up in discussions about PVP, is the term "carebear". Initially this was a term that was jokingly employed to describe players that preferred the social interaction of PVE content and avoided player versus player gameplay. Now it seems to be a routine epithet to negatively label anyone who doesn't advocate any of the competitive aspects of gaming. If you do not like PVP, or end-game raiding, warzones, skirmishes or the like you are a "carebear". The implication being that caring and compassion are negative things and potentially a sign of weakness. It is a blanket term design to be besmirch and standard ammunition in ad hominem attacks.
During the seventies, UK national politics was extremely binary. The right was focused on privatisation, small government and the free market with the left advocating the welfare state, social responsibility and equality. It was during this period that I first became aware of the term "do gooder"; a term broadly meaning a well-meaning but unrealistic or interfering philanthropist or reformer. Yet overtime it simple degenerated into a pejorative label for anyone who's politics were not sufficiently right wing enough. Any sort of policy that advocated fairness or parity was lambasted with this term, to the point where it became nothing but a vacuous buzz word. The reason I mention this is because the exactly the same thing is happening today with the trite label "social justice warrior".
In recent years games discourse has sunk under the weight of these sorts of terms. Any sort of meaningful and mature discussion is obscured under a swath of pointless and ultimately meaningless terms. "Feminazi", "delicate snowflake", "filthy casual gamer" and other such names are bandied about, dragging the debate away from a level playing field and into the playground. Combine this sort of rhetoric with the prevailing mindset that eschews reason, critical thinking and scope to disagree in a civil fashion and all rational discussion ends. The winner is simply those who shout loudest. History has shown us that such groups are seldom the best informed.
When this sort of philosophy prevails it ultimately does more harm than good. Sadly at present, too many gamers are busy indulging in territorial pissing that they are oblivious to the fact that they are befouling their own waterhole. It's only a matter of time before the well is truly poisoned. If gaming culture genuinely wants to improve for everyone's benefits then it needs to start thinking. That begins with the language that we use towards each other. The alternative is to continue down the current road and let those who want to watch Rome burn, do so to the detriment of all. In the meantime there will be those that disassociate themselves from the mainstream and set up isolated safe havens for likeminded gamers. However that doesn't really fix the long-term problems. Are smaller more fragmented markets and communities ultimately good for gaming?