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It was mid-day during a recent Saturday at the mall when I gained some insight into part of the problem. I was headed towards the game store when I came across a sight so awesome I had to stop and watch. People were gaming together in public. They were all playing at a large kiosk Nintendo temporarily installed, mostly to show off the Wii Fit board. People were visibly unconcerned with how they looked, flailing their arms as they balanced awkwardly on the boards. Participants were friendly, taking turns and talking to strangers. It was enough for me to conclude that perhaps this navel gazing over "gamer shame" was a bit over-blown.
Gamer shame is everywhere. Earlier this year, Escapist editor Tom Endo helped put a voice to the phenomenon in "A Day in the Life of the Social Loner," but it was Brainy Gamer's Michael Abbott who helped attach a clear label to the issue recently with a multi-part series sparked by playing Animal Crossing: Wild World in public. While many people are quick to hop on the soapbox and say they don't care what other people think, it's obvious this issue affects many gamers.
"It is difficult, even now 30 years out from the invention of the modern videogame, to put aside the disquieting notion that serious gamers should really be getting on with something more important," commented columnist Matthew Sakey over the summer in IGDA's monthly "Culture Clash".
The concept of play being acceptable at all is a tough sell. Dr. Jerald Block commented in a June 2008 Boston Globe interview, "It's much more acceptable for kids to talk about game use, whereas adults keep it a secret." The process toward changing public perception about gamers is a slow one. People like Barbara St. Hilaire (Old Grandma Hardcore) give us hope. Game blogs buzz excitedly when key policy makers are unmasked as World of Warcraft players. Yet despite the diversity of the DS demographic and casual market focus, the DS still garners mildly snarky comments about being for "12 year olds".
Upbeat from the Nintendo kiosk experience, I continued towards the game store to keep the mood going. The store is also a local "hot-spot" for the DS, and as such I knew it was technically possible to find portable gamers in action, checking out the temporary demos and other offerings. The store looked busy from the outside, but inside I found nothing but a buzzkill. PictoChat was as empty as ever. People went in; people went out. Even inside a gaming store, no one looked twice at the woman in the corner with her DS.