Grasping opposite sides of a chunky, 1990’s-reminiscent television, sophomores Anthony Xie and Francis Peng wordlessly shuffle out of the English department offices and into room 204. As usual, everyone is already there, either in the middle of unpacking their lunches or untangling knotted cords.
But all heads snap towards the TV once it’s carried in. Not even a single eye deviates from its path while it’s being set down on a cleared desk and powered on. A couple seconds later, an annoyingly iconic Nintendo tune jingles from the speakers, and the freeze in time is shattered as everyone suddenly cheers and scrambles for the controllers.
Gaming in the media
Boasting a gifted student body famed for its distinctive individuality and array of talents, Palo Alto High School’s diversity is practically undeniable. But don’t just take anyone’s word for it. Walk around the school’s lunchtime scene, for instance. Artists, athletes, debaters, theater kids — you’ll find groups big and small of people interwoven together by their unique interests. At Paly, a whole collection of passionate students destined for success are at your proverbial fingertips.
And then, there clumped together with perhaps as many laptops as there are people, are the gamers. Hunched over their screens and typing furiously on their keyboards, faces completely masked over with detached concentration, you can’t help but think that they’re the odd ones out, living in a world of their own.
As you walk by them, you subconsciously ruminate for a word that can accurately describe them and think, though culturally outdated in this open-minded 21st century, that they’re nerds.
Or, like Xie jokes, “A bunch of lowlifes hiding in their blankets drinking energy drinks.”
So before you know it, you’ve passed them without much of a second glance. And come to think of it, so has the media. Seriously, when was the last time you heard about video gaming in the news?
Well, you might have heard of Grand Theft Auto V. Upon its 2013 release, the graphically-savage game was immediately deemed excessively violent by publications such as The Huffington Post, who called the game “an attack on women.” Yet it still retains its place as the fourth highest grossing game of all time.
'I was too scared to tell them I played video games' ADAM PELAVIN, sophomore
So you’ve heard of GTA. But what about awesome video game tournaments like The International, which brings teams from around the world into a single city to compete for over $20 million, thousands to a physical stadium like Seattle’s KeyArena, and millions to its live stream every year? These competitions are a defining factor of the video game community, yet violent video games, a tiny subsidiary of the culture, are what’s mentioned. Because who really cares unless it’s a controversial issue that garners national outrage?
But video gaming isn’t an obscure thing. There are more than 1.8 billion gamers worldwide, with video games generating a lofty $91 billion in 2016, according to a report from SuperData Research. This industry has been proving itself over and over again to be a goldmine of wealth and popularity, yet it seems to linger on the cultural margins of society while never crossing it.
Paly sophomore Adam Pelavin disagrees. Instead of gaming not being able to break through cultural barriers, he thinks that it has already been established as a separate culture
“Gaming culture is the media,” Pelavin says. “It’s just not the one people are seeing. So many people are a part of it, but people don’t know it exists.”
According to Pelavin, mainstream media means something different for everyone. While non-gamers may rely on Facebook to stay updated on the most recent phenomenon, most gamers use Reddit.
In Hearthstone, a game played by over fifty million people, Pelavin zipped up the leaderboards to rank two in all of North America at one point. While this was a huge achievement for him, it only made him feel more out of place with his football-playing clique.
“I was too scared to tell them I played video games,” Pelavin says. “People are surprised when I tell them I play [Hearthstone].”
Now in high school, Pelavin’s comfort in following his own interests is unmistakeable. With his closest friends all aware of the world of video games, he no longer feels the necessity of secrecy. But there’s still a slight weariness in being more open with this hobby, which he doesn’t believe others are interested in.
“I don’t want to be public about it,” Pelavin says. “In sports, people brag about their achievements. Everyone knows football and soccer so they can relate to them. But people don’t care about video games and people who don’t know about it will stay not knowing.”
Kevin Kim, president of Paly’s Smash Club, a club dedicated to playing Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros., feels similarly about this disconnect from gaming, but also sees it as an area that’s in the midst of big change.
“[Video games] don’t really show up in big name media,” Kim says. “But it’s growing and it’s starting to become a bit more normal.”
Though Kim and Pelavin may not agree on where gaming is headed, they can both attest to the positive impacts it has had on their lives.
“It’s an escape from the social expectations,” Kim says. “At Smash Club, you can let go of these fears and just chill with people – play some Smash.”
The future of gaming is shrouded in mystery, yet the community that gamers have created over the past few decades remains accepting and diverse.
“I don’t judge people by the way they look because of gaming,” Pelavin says. “I didn’t choose to like them by how they look, their race, if they’re short or tall, if they’re attractive or not. Imagine meeting someone and not caring about anything except who they are. It’s meeting people for their personality, and I want everyone to have that opportunity.”