We gamers can seem an odd sort to the outside observer, and I think many of us prefer it that way. We are not like other hobbyists. Being a gamer is not the same as being, say, a golfer. Certainly people can become passionate about their pastimes, even to the same kinds of unhealthy degrees gamers commonly chart, but where other people collapse within themselves in their mania, gamers seem to reach out and become part of a much larger and cohesive community. There is something very powerful non-gamers, even those with equally compelling hobbies, don’t get about being a gamer, but what defines the oddity of the gamer is often inexplicable, even within the community.

It would be easy here to make the predictable gamer/nerd joke, but that stereotype left the building years ago. Gamers are successful, married, employed, well-adjusted and 10,000 other equally contradictory adjectives. To just say what is odd about gamers is gamers are odd is simplistic to the point of absurdity, and so I wonder if there is something instead about what we do rather than who we are that defines us.

I think the answer lies in the community-building nature of our pastime. Gamers have invested their lives into a hobby that, unlike most others, does not weaken its grip in the rocky wasteland of adolescence and remains a calling into adulthood. Gaming is a link not only to our past, but as a high-tech industry, it embraces the technology that can link us together.

Take a game like World of Warcraft. It’s not merely a hobby, like cross-country skiing or golf, something in which one occasionally and casually participates. It encourages players to return, invest more time, build relationships and come to depend upon each other. From the microcosm of individual parties to raids to guilds to alliances and eventually to the macro community of a complete server, everyone’s experiences are irrevocably affected by the surrounding population. It is incredibly difficult to be anything like alone playing the game.

It is an idea that has been developing for nearly a decade, and in the most recent generations has taken center stage.

Microsoft’s decision to integrate Xbox Live into even single-player games lays a foundation for a broader community. Sony’s plans for the advertising-laden Home have a similar feel. Chatting while playing has become so fundamental, from web-based casual gaming to hardcore shooters, that players who choose only the realm of offline gaming seem almost anachronistic.

The web that binds gamers together, as well as to the industry itself, is robust and unique. We are not defined by demographics, and with each year it becomes less reasonable to describe any kind of quintessential gamer. In virtually no other environment might you find 30-something engineers, menopausal homemakers and 12-year-old kids interacting in anonymous and questionably appropriate spaces, joined in the cooperative and competitive acts of play.

We are something of a social experiment, the frontiersmen in one of the first digital landscapes. We are the first example of community separated from our realities, where our perception is self-defined. Even though we do this within the trappings of entertainment, gamers sense that there is something unique about the hobby we explore, and we should take some pleasure in that. At the risk of being passé, I take our joined oddness as a very positive identity.

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