Genuine Enthusiasm, Different Experiences, and “Fake” Geeks

I don’t really see people start playing video games very often. The people I know who play games have played them since childhood, like I have. Seeing a good friend start to discover games is a novel and interesting experience. (It’s also interesting to talk to older, adult-like folk who played games in their youth and have different attitudes towards games now.)

My friend, T, is getting more involved and interested in video games in her mid-20’s. I enjoy showing her games that I’ve enjoyed, or talking to her about other games she’s heard of or experienced. Like many people, T was very excited about the announcement of Fallout 4.  Unlike a lot of people who were excited about Fallout 4, she at least had an excuse for not knowing it was coming. (Seriously, I was excited about this almost 3 years ago- why are people so behind?) Both T and I were excited about Fallout 4, though we have very different histories with gaming, Bethesda products, and the Fallout universe.

I was very surprised by T’s excitement over Fallout 4 because she did not play Fallout 3. T doesn’t have the experience of walking out of Vault 101 and discovering a wasteland DC. She never pieced together Project Purity or found her father. She has not experienced the chilling surrealism of Tranquility Lane. She does not have fond memories of strolling through Megaton or that instant emotional bond of rescuing Dogmeat. These are some of the experiences that fuel my enthusiasm for the next Fallout game. T doesn’t have these experiences to draw upon, so it seems she cannot be excited for the same reasons I am excited.

But she is, in fact, excited for Fallout 4. Her lack of these past experiences doesn’t make her enthusiasm or interest any less genuine than that of the most avid, longest-addicted Fallout aficionado.

Some time ago, there was a particular uproar over “Fake Geek Girls.” I think the general sentiment was eclipsed and adopted by a lot of the hate and anger contained within Gamergate, so the claims that attractive females were entering Geek culture for male attention fell by the wayside to give room to more wrathful accusations. I found the claims interesting when understood through sociological notions of “Groups,” or social cliques and subcultures. There was a strange defensiveness about it, which seemed to implicate several social facets (not merely gender). I imagine there are many who would take umbrage at T’s excitement over Fallout 4, given her lack of previous game experience. I think this criticism of T’s excitement can be interpreted in a coherent way that still leaves room for the sincerity of T’s enthusiasm.

The excitement of long-time gamers and Fallout fans can be understood as a symptom of the ways in which experience drives perception. As we perceive new experiences, we connect them to past experiences. When a fan sees the latest Fallout 4 trailer, the fan’s perception (including the internal state of reaction) is actually different* than the perception of a non-fan. Fundamentally, this is no more controversial a claim than asserting that each individual has uniquely subjective perceptions and experiences. Accordingly, the challenges against the sincerity of non-fans are reducible to claims that different subjective perceptions draw upon different non-shared experiences; it is no more than claiming, “You cannot feel what I feel,” which is always already true for most definitions of the notion of “feel.”

So, T cannot be excited about Fallout 4 because of her memories or experiences in playing Fallout 3 (or 2, or the original). But T can still perceive an impressive trailer with exciting gameplay, glimpse an interesting and wondrous world, and want to have those future experiences.

One of the outcomes of the “Fake Geek Girl” accusations was the rejoinder that there is no certification test to become a Geek: Previous knowledge and experience simply isn’t requisite for participation in Geeky things. Though there are other relevant sociological implications in that sordid affair, I think it is safe to conclude that T’s excitement can be entirely appropriate and genuine without some kind of certificate of previous game experience. It may be that my excitement is different, in that it has a different basis, but no fact of my own experience can undermine the reality of another’s perception. To claim that T’s excitement is disingenuous because I thought Fallout 3 was one of the greatest games ever made is to claim based on that level of absurdity.

*Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik have commented a few times on the fact of their respective fatherhoods influenced their experience of playing The Last of Us. Would Fallout 3 be a more powerful game for someone who had recently lost their own father, or never knew him? Would anyone assert that a stable, reasonable relationship with my own father undermines my proclaimed love of Fallout 3?

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