Promotional still of the AAA blockbuster Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Image courtesy of Activision.
ANDRES SALERNO | ASST. OPINION EDITOR | firstname.lastname@example.org
I have given well over 800 hours of my life to League of Legends. In my less-than-glamorous high school days, I would blaze through my homework –– to the detriment of my GPA –– and spend 7p.m. to 4 a.m. mastering the art of “top lane” with my favorite pirate “Gangplank.”
If those words mean nothing to you, your coming-of-age was likely much more enjoyable than those who understand the gibberish I just espoused. But as much as it hurts my pride, I have to admit that those late nights on Skype with my 10 closest friends were some of the best times of my life.
No, I didn’t enjoy having slurs hurled at me in the “all” chat when I botched the use of my “ult,” but every long night was an escape from how awful my high school life was. Being yelled at by strangers in made up, high-pressure situations because I clicked the wrong cartoon gnome was an oasis compared to the terrible nuance of adolescence.
Over the years I’ve grown apart from competitive gaming, but I’ve watched with a keen eye as the subculture with which I used to identify has broken into the mainstream. The phenomenon of Fortnite accelerated the canonization of eSports into the sports entertainment industrial complex.
Now that esports is a billion-dollar industry, schools are attempting to capitalize on the trend. It seems that every university wants to be a pioneer in the future of sports. Enter Butler University, dual-wielding sacks of money after a successful fundraising initiative and looking to continue the crusade of modernizing our quaint campus.
By Fall 2020, Butler University will be the proud owner of two dedicated esports spaces, replacing the underused student lounge that was buried behind now-defunct C-Club and the cursed parking garage retail spaces. The university is rushing into the rapidly growing sector, but in doing so are leaving themselves open to a good ol’ fashion “ganking.”
Let me just say that I have nothing but respect for the athletes on the various Butler Esport’s teams. I know all too well how demanding competitive gaming can be. While it’s easy to take pot shots at stationary athletes, the skills needed to compete at a high level take years to develop, just like any other craft. I do have a problem, however, with the subset of gaming culture that Butler University is inviting to manifest on campus.
An unignorable population of self-proclaimed “gamers” are toxic. The competitive nature of certain games mixed with the spoiled comforts of suburban life has created a small but vocal generation of man-children who grew up yelling racial slurs at fellow pre-teens on Modern Warfare. It is the dark underbelly of gaming culture, and every few years incidences such as GamerGate –– a coordinated misogynistic crusade against women in the gaming industry –– demonstrate the influence that this community still has.
Popular streamer Nweatherservice has documented her experience with toxic gamers while playing Overwatch, one of the leading games in the esports industry.
Every time a new AAA game announces something like a female lead character, the smarmy scum seep through every online channel to let their displeasure be known and catered to. Not unlike how they yell at their mother for pizza rolls, these slugs expect to be catered to by an entire industry. The unwashed gamer army attempts to force AAA developers away from inclusivity at every opportunity, decrying how “woke culture” is killing gaming.
I do not believe that the members of Butler’s eSports squads are these toxic individuals, but I have no doubts that the culture is present on this campus. There will be two spaces for competitive gaming, but who will occupy those spaces?
Esports are inherently exclusive –– the learning curve to be “good at games” is climbed over a lifetime in front of a screen. The tactile skills that many people who play video games take for granted, like being able to fluently use a dual analog stick, can be a challenge to people unfamiliar with gaming. Even people who grew up with gaming understand the activity much differently than those who treat it as a competition.
Those who understand and partake in competitive gaming are a subset of the larger population of people who simply play video games. This does not bode well for a space that is being advertised as inclusive for all students, and I would bet on these spaces becoming havens for a rather undesirable culture of exclusion. It is a clear sign of naivete that Butler claims that this space will be inclusive while risking exposure to the worst aspects of gaming culture.
Despite the dark-side of gaming, the culture is becoming increasingly mainstream and the business increasingly lucrative. It would be naïve to think that Butler would sit on their hands and miss their window to become leaders in a growing field, but perhaps I am also naïve to think that they would consider the impact on campus culture. Perhaps I am naïve to believe that striving to bolster a community of care would be more important than trendsetting. Perhaps I am naïve to believe that the university would even consider investing in underserved groups on campus.
I want to be wrong –– I want these spaces to be utilized by a diverse group of students, perhaps exposing all that is good about video games to people who didn’t have a chance to grow up with them. If there must be a gaming space, I want it to be to expand the medium to a wider audience. I love games and I know what they can do for people –– I experienced it myself –– but I want more than anything for the culture to be better than it is.
As it stands, gaming culture is still inseparable from its toxic underbelly. Time will be the final judge on what the culture of these gaming spaces will be, but I won’t be waiting in the lobby. Perhaps when there are no more trends to chase, money can go to the groups on campus that don’t get the same coddling as the holy trinity of business, pharmacy and STEM.