Video gamers can defy stereotypes

Not all are anti-social or live in parents’ basements

By Bryan Reynolds -

Barry Electronics Sales Manager Jeff Smith, 41, of Elida, plays “Donkey Kong” on a arcade system in his store.

Barry Electronics Sales Manager Jeff Smith, 41, of Elida, plays “Donkey Kong” on a arcade system in his store.

Bryan Reynolds | The Lima News

LIMA — A young girl sits on the couch next to her father, her small hands gripping the familiar hard black plastic, six buttoned controller of a Sega Genesis. Her attention is focused on the television screen as she attempts to navigate the blue streak that is Sonic the Hedgehog through a level. Suddenly she hits a pit of spikes and the all too familiar tone indicating Sonic has run out of coins sounds and the girl lets out a disappointed sigh.

“Can you get past this?” Allison Miller says, turning to her dad with big, puppy-dog eyes and handing him the controller.

Miller, 30, of Lima, got into gaming because her father was a gamer, and she’s been in it every since, even getting a job in gaming as a manager at GameStop on North Cable Road in Lima. Her father had a personal computer and the two would play Worms, a turned based strategy game where factions of warring worms use strange weapons to eliminate one another.

“I enjoyed it,” she said. “I had a lot of fun with the creativity, the feeling you get when you finally beat a level or boss.”

Many popular stereotypes concerning video game players fill the imagination of those who don’t play video games — young children having their minds twisted by playing video games too dark and violent for them to handle, turning into psychopaths ready to commit murder like at the August shooting at a “Madden NFL” tournament in Jacksonville, Florida.

The region’s gaming community is more diverse and complex than those stereotypes.

Video Gamers: Fiction Versus Reality

Jeff Smith, 41, of Elida, is sales manager at Barry Electronics in Lima. Smith is married with two school-aged sons — a family of video gamers.

“It’s just another form of entertainment in my house,” he said. “I don’t think gaming should be held to any higher standard or lower standard than anything else.”

Smith’s 9-year-old is a huge football fan and loves playing “Madden.” Currently, Smith himself is seriously into “No Man’s Sky,” a game which allows players to create their own space opera story.

Miller said a wide assortment of people come into her GameStop to purchase video games, from young children to parents shopping for themselves or family and even retirees.

“Lima has such a huge, broad demographic,” she said. “I have different people coming in for sports games. I have people coming in for RPGs (Role Playing Games). Every single face, every person’s different.”

A recent retiree came into GameStop looking for a golf game and Miller said she sold him a PlayStation 4 console and a golf game only for him to return later and purchase more games for the system later. She said she’s even seen an increase of women getting into gaming.

She’s had men come in looking for a video game he can play with his girlfriend and Miller said she helps him pick out cooperative games the couple can play together. Later on, the girlfriend comes back interested in picking up games for herself. Miller said there are a lot more video games now that appeal to a female audience because game creators are moving away from women being the prize or eye candy and to women being the heroes of their own stories.

Smith believes the stereotypes attached to video gamers is steadily fading away. His generation has been gaming since they were children. They grew up, had families and imparted their passion for video games to their children. He said it’s the older generation — his parents and grandparents generations — who still have a negative outlook on video gaming, but as more people begin to play, it is becoming more accepted.

ONU esports

Ohio Northern University announced back in July that the university will be launching a competitive electronics sports, esports, team during the fall 2019 semester.

“There’s been discussion ongoing for at least the past year as a number of us on campus watched the growth of Esports both collegiality and professionally,” said William Eilola, ONU vice president for enrollment management. “I guess when ESPN developed a channel on their website dedicated to esports, it’s something serious.”

During the 2018-19 school year, the esports team is acting like a student club while the university searches for a coach to run the program. The esports team will be part of the ONU athletics department, and the athletes will follow the same rules as those in other sports programs. Eilola said the players will be required to maintain a certain grade point average to be eligible to participate in competitions and will be required to follow a code of good, sportsman-like conduct.

“There will be a strong emphasis on sportsmanship [and] ethical behavior,” he said. “We want it to be a valuable learning experience. I think as we looked at the potential of introducing esports to our portfolio of extra and co-curricular opportunities, we saw a great opportunity for ONU students to be nationally and internationally competitive.”

Eilola recognizes online gaming can get toxic with a lot of inappropriate behavior — bullying through sexism, phobia against LGBTQ individuals and other extreme behavior. He said the goal is to not only make the ONU esports team competitive but also a fun environment for the athletes as well.

Toxic behavior

Wade Hensley, 41, of Ottawa, is an original “griefer,” an online video gamer who provokes or harasses other gamers. It all began when he was 21, in 1998 and started playing “Ultima Online,” the forerunner of Massively Multiplayer Online games like “World of Warcraft” and “Final Fantasy 14.” MMOs are games played in real time with hundreds or even thousands of other video gamers from around the world.

“I didn’t start off as a griefer,” he said. “I was a good guy. I did dungeon runs. I helped people out. I did the basic gaming stuff.”

Eventually, as Hensley became better at combat in the game, he started looking for players to fight — player versus player combat, where players can kill other players’ characters. When a character died, players could take all of the gear and money they were carrying. Hensley reached the point where he would look for vulnerable and distracted characters and cause their deaths in creative ways to take their gear.

Griefing in “Ultima Online” had a purpose and was all in good fun. He said some griefers were so creative they became in-game celebrities. Now, however, griefers are neither creative nor celebrities. “Minecraft,” a game popular among both children and adults, allows gamers to build replicas of real and fantasy world locations while also allowing other players to destroy those creations. There are people who play specifically to log into a person’s game to destroy what they’ve created. Hensley said this kind of griefing doesn’t take any thought or creativity and there’s no in-game gain.

Examples of toxic behavior and griefing are not difficult to find; it just takes a simple search on YouTube. Type in the word “toxic” and “League of Legends,” “Overwatch” or any other popular game and dozens of examples are available.

Miller said as long as no one knows she’s a woman playing online, things are fine. But sometimes if she’s on voice chat in a game and male gamers find out she’s a woman, things can get uncomfortable.

“I feel like they get this bravery because they are behind a screen and a keyboard,” she said. “They feel like this is something that they have to say to females. It’s not. I’m a gamer just like anyone else. I’m a female and I can outshoot you any day.”

One day while playing an first-person shooter game online, another player found out she was a woman and began harassing her and griefing her by killing her character exclusively. Miller said she likes to just have fun and not let people get to her online. This time, she decided to punch the bully instead of ignoring him and invited a bunch of friends into the game she was playing. Together the group hunted the man harassing her down and killed his character repeatedly, like he was doing to her, until he stopped harassing her.

Hensley said this kind of player-versus-player justice kept harassment out of “Ultima Online.” Since the game was built so players could kill other players’ characters outright if anyone practiced verbally abusive harassment, the community would hunt them down and kill their character over and over again until the behavior stopped.

Smith believes this behavior isn’t caused by gaming, asserting that these individuals are the same people who would be bullying offline, as well.

Trauma can be a cause of bullying, online and offline, and is an outlet for the frustrations and damage from that trauma, said Susan Hawk, Behavioral Health Chief of Clinical Integration at Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center. Sometimes people can grow up in toxic environments, like in a family where sexism or racism is acceptable. They can believe that behavior is acceptable, and it can show in how they interact with people online.

“Their environment lends itself to them becoming much more sexist and much more inappropriate in relationships,” she said.

Hawk said people should try to keep in mind what those people may be going through in their own lives and how that might be causing their toxic behavior. With some individuals, it might help for the other players in a game to ask them why they are behaving in a toxic manner and point out how their behavior is ruining others’ enjoyment of the game.

There are many different perspectives on how to deal with toxic gamers. Hensley believes online gaming is like walking into a bar where people use a lot of profanity.

“If you don’t like that kind of language, you can leave and find another bar,” he said. “On the other hand, if the bar owner wants to attract more people to drink at his bar and decides he doesn’t want people talking like that, those people using that language can leave and find another bar to drink at.” If the company who made the game has rules about toxic behavior, people need to follow those rules, and if they can’t, they need to find a different game to play.

Smith believes the mute option in the voice chat of most online video games is a great creation.

Not everyone is toxic

Smith and Miller agree toxic gamers are the vast minority and most gamers are good people who enjoy their hobby and care about their communities.

For 14 years, Barry Electronics has hosted a charity video game tournament. Smith said the event began as a small, local event, but over the years, it has grown into a large, family-friendly event where people come to compete for prizes while helping to donate to agencies like the Lima Police Department.

Miller helps organize these events and provides prizes from the GameStop she manages. She said it’s always a fun event, and this year, Lima Police officers played “Mario Kart” against area children. Mayor David Berger even attended the event.

It’s an event that brings the gaming community together with the community.

“I think we are a community and we’re growing,” Miller said. “There’s charity events. ‘The Extra Life’ is coming up Nov. 3, where you play games for 24 hours and raise money for Children’s Miracle Network. Gaming is becoming something you can go to school for and something you can compete in. We are the cool kids now.”

Barry Electronics Sales Manager Jeff Smith, 41, of Elida, plays “Donkey Kong” on a arcade system in his store. Electronics Sales Manager Jeff Smith, 41, of Elida, plays “Donkey Kong” on a arcade system in his store. Bryan Reynolds | The Lima News Reynolds | The Lima News
Not all are anti-social or live in parents’ basements

By Bryan Reynolds

Reach Bryan Reynolds at 567-242-0362.

Reach Bryan Reynolds at 567-242-0362.

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