Gaming and operating systems

UNIX Magic

I’ve noted here before that I have played MMORPGs since at least 2005. Actually, though, my history with computer games goes back about 30 years before that, including online gaming most of that time. BBS door games like Legend of the Red Dragon and Solar Realms Elite occupied huge amounts of my time when I was in middle and high school. In fact, I remember when Microsoft started pushing Windows as a platform for games. At that time, most games ran under DOS and we saw Windows as a resource hog. Our expectations that this strategy would fail turned out wrong, of course.

Since then, things have split for me. I do my real (professional) work under Linux these days. Most of my personal computer usage also happens in Linux, largely because I know it better. When I want to set something up or fix a problem, I can generally do so far more quickly and with less trouble in Linux. Unix in general lends itself better to hacking for fun. Compatibility for web sites and such hasn’t caused me trouble in a decade or so.

Gaming is the obvious and glaring exception to that statement about personal usage. But it occurs to me, as I’ve returned to tabletop RPGs, that almost all my gaming could shift to Linux too. Other than MMORPGs like SWTOR, most of the other games I play run fine under Linux. Dwarf Fortress, Kerbal Space Program, Shadowrun Returns and several other games accessible via Steam don’t require Windows at all. Quite a few others actually work fine using Wine or one of its derivatives. I do almost all of my RPG preparation in a browser, text editor, or GIMP. Some specialized software like Hexographer (a mapping program) runs under Java, making it cross-platform by nature.

I don’t want to stop playing SWTOR, though, at least not yet. Shadow of Revan, the next expansion, launches in December. It should provide several months of enjoyment before my next break from that game. When that happens, though, my kids might end up getting my gaming computer and I can shift everything back to my preferred environment.

Encouraging all kinds of people to play games

Cover of the book "The Player of Games" by Iain M. BanksNB: I’m not using the hashtag or phrases related to recent controversies about women in gaming, because I want no part of that. Hostile comments will be marked appropriately.

All my life, I have considered myself a “gamer”. That phrase has suffered some tarnish at different times for different reasons. The term “player” has worse connotations when spoken out of context, though. The phrase “player of games” works too, although it might sound a bit unwieldy. I fit some elements of the stereotype: socially awkward middle class white straight male with interests in math and science fiction. My parents and I disagreed about some gaming issues in my childhood, e.g. “Dungeons & Dragons is spiritism” and “Wolfenstein 3D has too much gore”. That just came with the territory. No one ever made me uncomfortable in my hobby, though. Nobody ever told me “you aren’t a real gamer”.

Now, as a man in my late 30s with a literal neckbeard, a family, and a career, I have a bit more perspective on things. D&D no longer makes me think that literal demons will invade my home, although I still try to avoid games with lots of gore. I understand why 14-year-old me loved the idea of Lechery as a character trait – in fact I understand why 34-year-old me did, too. At least by then I saw it as a flaw, not a strength, though at this point in life I can understand why that would seem off-putting to other folks anyway. My personal likes and dislikes in games don’t restrict anyone else, except insofar as they want me as part of their target market. Games like Call of Duty and Red Dead Redemption will likely have a significant market share for many years. Nobody is taking your games away. As much as I dislike sexism and extreme violence, those things play too much of a role in our society to disappear tomorrow or even during this generation.

I want to encourage other people who might enjoy playing games to do so. Maybe that’s Bejeweled, or the next Civilization game, or Dungeons & Dragons, or maybe it is something I don’t even know about. Any sort of restriction on a gaming audience doesn’t sit well with me. “That’s just for guys” or “No Girls Allowed” signs appear too often in this hobby. You don’t have to say those literal words to exclude people, by the way. Pictures of people playing a game often look the same. When everybody looks like me, then that ends up telling people “unless you are One Of Us, you don’t belong here.” We often don’t have that intent, of course. That only means that we should consider what adjustments we should make so that our actions accomplish what we really want.

From a selfish point of view, no one has the right to tell me who I can and cannot play games with. And from the far more important and broader view, no one has the right to tell anyone else how they should enjoy their spare time or what profession they should practice. (Perhaps contradicting myself here, I’d discourage anyone from pursuing a career in games right now, but sexism is only a small part of that. Other structural issues, like burnout and low pay, make it a demanding career choice.)

I avoid one specific group of people: those who only want the good things in life for themselves and people like them. That sort of tribalism is destructive and hurtful. I hope that those people will open their eyes and their hearts with time.

Games are now, and have always been, part of the society in which they exist. People play games who don’t belong to this particular subculture, but the broader culture of the 21st century West encompasses that. Therefore I want women and kids and trans people and people of color and everyone else to play whatever games they want to play. Sometimes I get the opportunity to share their gaming experiences. I have enjoyed playing games with people from all those groups. That taught me something that applies as much to this hobby as it does to anything else in life. Having many kinds of people enjoying the same thing together makes it better for everyone. We all learn new ways to enjoy that thing because we start to see it through someone else’s eyes.

We live in a cold, uncaring universe, and the time we have in it vanishes quickly. If someone brightens else their life a little more by playing a game, then at a minimum it does no harm to you. In reality, it should brighten your life a little as well. Happiness is self-reinforcing and multiplicative. That laughter of kids playing baseball is only slightly different from the same laughter at a women’s fast-pitch softball game. And that is even less different from what you’ll hear at a men’s baseball game. Baseball isn’t my game anymore, but hearing people having fun is precious in the best possible way. This principle carries over to computer games, tabletop games, and board games. Imagine listening to little kids playing Candy Land, or a bunch of people streaming their WoW raid.

When you hear all sorts of different laughter and the players genuinely enjoying each other’s company, that is just a little glimpse of paradise.

PS: If anyone reading this would like to try out RPGs in an inclusive, safe, welcoming environment, please let me know. I will happily do everything I can to help you find the right game and group for you.