Video Games as Social Lubricant

"We’re all friends here in the gaming tent."It was always destined that I would be awkward at making conversation. Growing up on a farm, I spent most of my time playing by myself and doing imagination things. So, when I started preschool, I didn’t know how to act around other kids. I would climb to the top of the jungle gym and watch the other children, like some kind of reverse Jane Goodall, trying to figure out what they were doing. It was pretty weird.

Nowadays, I’m expected to attend work functions, talk on the phone, and go to friends’ birthday parties. And little four-year-old-Jodie-Foster-in-Nell-Bethany does not like it one bit. She doesn’t know how to function in normal social settings. If you ask her where she lives or what she does for a living or where she sees herself vacationing over the summer, conversation will grind to a halt. I don’t know how to talk about those things. If you bring them up, I’ll probably run back to the hut I’ve built out of sticks in the corner and start lighting things on fire.

But one awkward day a few years ago, I was in the middle of a very awkward conversation with a new coworker. He was mumbling something about where I could find the staples, and I was responding with mumbles about the importance of checking your moles for skin cancer. And then a miracle happened. He asked me what I was doing after work. And I said, “Eh, nothing much. Probably playing Zelda. Or reading a book. You know…”

“WHAT ZELDA? OCARINA OF TIME? PLEASE TELL ME IT’S OCARINA OF TIME,” he said.

And for the next 20 minutes we nerded out over Zelda. After that, we never ran out of things to talk about again.

This became my go-to conversation prompt. If I felt a conversation with someone was filling with too many of those, “Soooooo….yeah” moments, I would just say something like, “Well, I gotta get ready to go soon. Busy day tomorrow. And I gotta make time for some BioShock 2.” I’m like a little kid who’s like, “Hey, do you like rabbits?” to every elderly relative at a family reunion, hoping that someone will talk to him.

Some people would respond with, “I don’t know what that is. Let’s go back to talking about my recent spiritual journey through the Congo.”

Others would say something like, “That sounds really painful. I hope you get it checked out.”

But the best kind of people respond with, “HOLY CRAP! You’re into BioShock? Let’s talk about that now and then make love to each other’s faces but, you know, platonically.”

Since starting this technique, I’ve made platonic love to a lot of faces. I’ve met new people. I’ve learned new things about people I thought I knew already. Strangers. Friends of friends of friends. Teenagers, kids, adults. We’re all friends here in the gaming tent.

Video games go beyond sharing a common interest with someone. It’s an all-encompassing thing. I’ve come to realize that many people define themselves by the game they are playing. And the best part of this is that they want to share, discuss, recommend new games (and old ones). I love this kind of excitement and eagerness. I want to talk to these people. I go out of my way to talk to them, when 29 years ago, I would have been happier clinging to the top of the jungle gym.

It’s possible, after 33 years of life, that I’ve finally found my people in gamers. Feral Bethany has at last been able to crawl her way out of her shell and into society.

 

Bethany Bryan writes funny things at Welcome to Bethville!

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