Game on

Reno’s gaming community

A crowd waits in the cold outside of the Mae Ann Game Stop on Nov. 10.

A crowd waits in the cold outside of the Mae Ann Game Stop on Nov. 10.

Photo By Ashley Hennefer

On the night of Nov. 7, a crowd lined up outside the Game Stop at 5150 Mae Ann Ave., and similar crowds formed at the other Game Stops throughout Reno and Sparks. Braving the cold on what for many was a school night, video game fans waited patiently for the release of military simulator Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, one of most highly anticipated games of 2011.

Three days later, gamers once again huddled in the cold to receive their copies of the massive role-playing fantasy game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Some brought makeshift swords and armor and quizzed one another on the history and lore of the fantasy universe. And it’s safe to assume that another group of eager fans will turn out for Nov. 15’s release of the exotic adventure tale Assassin’s Creed: Revelations.

But it’s not the same group of people attending all of these events. The subdued, serious crew at CoD: MW3 is a far stretch from the jolly costumed folks at Skyrim, and while young white guys still seem to embody the standard gamer type, their ranks have been infiltrated by people of various ages, genders and ethnicities. One look at the fans celebrating these titles reveals that gaming is not what it used to be. While there are still those who choose to quest and raid in the dark comfort of their parents’ basement, others are attending conventions in droves, forming gaming clans with friends and neighbors, starting bands, and establishing social circles based on a mutual interest in a favorite title. High quality television commercials for games like Skyrim are more evocative of epic films than 8-bit platform puzzles.

Gaming has become, in its own way, cool.

Good ol’ days

“The first game I remember playing was Lords of the Realm, when I was 6,” says avid gamer Scott Godine, now 23. For Godine, technological advances have made video games better than ever, but it’s also changed the dynamics of the subculture.

“It’s broadened a lot, and thus is kind of fracturing,” Godine says.

Alex Yturbide, a manager at the Sierra Center Parkway Game Stop, says that gaming has become less daunting for families due to the media services integrated into consoles like the Xbox 360, PlayStation and Wii, as well as handheld gadgets like smart phones and tablets.

“Consoles are more mainstream. The fact that they are getting into a lot of homes has changed things,” says Yturbide. “A lot of parents come in to get a console for their family, and not just for games, but to use services like Netflix so they can watch movies.”

But for some, gaming’s newfound coolness comes at a price, and there is a heavy sense of nostalgia that surrounds the subculture. In gaming forums throughout the internet, many reminisce about the days of Nintendo, arcade games, simpler graphics and smaller gaming circles.

“I don’t even think there is a true gaming subculture as such, just lots of overlapping fan cultures,” says Godine. “You wouldn’t say there’s much of a ‘film culture’ these days, people just see movies. It’s penetrated daily life for most people.”

It can also be a hard crowd to please. During this year’s E3 (Electronics Entertainment Expo), pessimism abounded despite announcements for new gadgets and games. Many were unimpressed with new gadgets like the Nintendo Wii U, which despite its awkward name offers some potentially interesting options for game play. And even with old favorites revamped, like the beloved Zelda franchise, some missed simpler days.

“Gaming walks a fine line between nerdy and popular,” says Chris Carlson, a student at Truckee Meadows Community College, who has played The Elder Scrolls games since they were first released in 1994, when he was 8 years old. “The fact that so many play games has taken away part of our identity as gamers. Some of us were teased for gaming and now everyone plays. But it’s part of the evolution of any trend, I guess.”

As one user on the Gaming forums gloated, “A guy who used to bully me for being a geek was at the Skyrim release wearing a Viking helm.”

Austin Krater wields his homemade sword and the Dragonborn helm at the midnight release of <i>The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim</i>.

Photo By ashley hennefer


Few can deny that it’s been a huge year for games. Popular franchises like Call of Duty, Portal, Uncharted, The Elder Scrolls and Assassin’s Creed, to name a few, released new titles. With new releases costing around $60 a pop, it can be an expensive hobby. Online streaming sources like Steam—which also functions as a sort of social networking site—have reduced the need for computer gamers to buy games in- store, and have also allowed independent gamers to get their projects on the market. But this also causes some segregation for the computer vs. console gamers, and has made certain types of games more popular than others. Yturbide says that the game determines the crowd.

“For Call of Duty, which isn’t necessarily a ‘nerdy’ type of thing, it’s definitely a more open crowd but people don’t necessarily come to the releases to socialize,” he says. “For themed games like Halo or Skyrim, you’ll have people in costume, and the fans tend to be more sociable.”

Although gaming is, by nature, a solitary activity likened to reading books or watching films, the element of collaboration allows for casual interactions based on a shared interest.

“I have more than one friend that I’m in contact with only because we play games together,” says Godine. “Gaming has made me new friends and brought me back into contact with old ones. MMOs [massively multiplayer online] and more traditional competitive multiplayer games foster teamwork and communication, and with the advent of voice chat, it can often get hilarious.”

“People make buddies there. Standing in line, just talking, you already share an interest when you’re there,” says Yturbide. “Very anti-social people come to the release events looking to make friends.”

For many gamers, the balance between socializing and solitude is what attracts them to particular games.

“On the one hand, games can be highly immersive, encouraging a player to become lost in the character they’re playing,” Godine says. “They can also be very demanding, which can bring out a streak of perfectionism to hit that skill ceiling. Either of these traits make gaming a solo experience, something done for relaxation or self-improvement.”

“However, games can be extremely social as well, indeed more so than any other form of media we have.”

Party time

The atmosphere at the midnight releases is friendly, giddy and undoubtedly nerdy—but everyone in attendance seems to embrace it. At the Call of Duty release, Game Stop staff members held a raffle for CoD-related prizes, and provided pizza, drinks, and opportunities to play the game in store with other fans. The Reno Videogame Orchestra—yes, such a thing exists—played popular game tunes at the Skyrim release to a crowd of nearly 100.

The camaraderie is reason enough to partake in gaming, and both experienced and novice gamers can find a community in it.

As RVO’s Kevin Frederick said on the Facebook page for the Skyrim midnight release, “Our version of Tetris A is a real face-melter.”

Nerd is the new cool.