Tag Archives: culture

Bullying After School Hours: Cyberbullying

It used to be, even when I was a kid, that even if you got bullied at school, you could go home and get away from them if you didn’t live near them. There was a certain safety in “home;” it could be largely free of such pointless drama. But no longer can you leave “school drama” at school, if you’re a student.

These days, bullying, petty squabbles, and other distasteful hallmarks of student life follow you home via the Internet. Kids at school can find you online, especially if you have social media accounts, and their torment online is recorded for posterity unless you delete it all. And even then, the remarks they make have likely been seen by others, and have possibly been shared.

I am SO glad I did not grow up in this era of being digitally inter-tangled with the rest of the kids I went to school with. I was bullied enough during the school day itself–I can’t imagine what it would have been like to come home from school, knowing that nasty written comments were likely waiting for me as soon as I got onto Internet at home.

Bullying is Deadlier than Ever

I am not the first to write about these kinds of incidents, most certainly, but the issue of bullying or harassing others on the Internet needs constant attention, so that future generations know about it, and know that it is a cruel, cowardly, and mean-spirited act. Just as verbal bullying has finally gotten worldwide attention, so must the digital form of bullying.

The much-publicized suicide death of Megan Meier in 2005 after being harassed on Myspace (more information via Wikipedia), as well as other deaths because of online bullying, are warning signals for us, as parents, as teachers, and as members of society. Not only have kids seemingly gotten nastier to each other over the years, they have also latched on to new forms of technology as ways of tormenting other students, and that torment takes an emotional toll that may never completely fade.

For instance, I still hear the taunting voices of those idiot girls in the middle-school gym locker room every time I try on a pair of pants that isn’t quite big enough. I still remember how they managed to holler and still sound sing-song as they chanted “Fat girl, fat girl, stupid whale fat girl” as I hid from them in the locker room bathroom stall. And those words weren’t emblazoned on a computer screen anywhere, where people unrelated to the problem could read the words and share them with others. The hateful words were ephemeral (however long they’ve lasted in my memory aside); words said on the Internet are out there for all who want to see and share.

How do We Combat This?

Trying to combat cyberbullying is as difficult as fighting verbal and physical bullying in schools. As much as teachers may try to keep it from happening, they simply cannot be everywhere and hear everything at once. Incidents will slip through their fingers, try as they might; I should know, I tried to stop all the bullying in my own classrooms and ended up tired with no triumph in sight. Cyberbullying is just as difficult, if not more so, to police. How can you punish someone who is using an anonymous or assumed name, anyway?

But attempts should be made to educate students about what constitutes bullying/cyberbullying, as well as how to keep away from bullying online. Also, parents and teachers should be educated on how to document cases of cyberbullying (and its close cousin, cyberstalking), and how to talk to their kids/students about speaking and acting respectfully to other kids.

In my opinion, students who are being bullied online/after school hours should try the following:

  • Only accept friend-requests and follow requests from those people you like and trust.
  • Restrict access to your page to “Friends Only” or “Followers Only”.
  • Keep anyone who is not friends with your account from posting on your page.
  • Don’t give out your phone number to anyone but closest friends, so that bullies won’t call or text (that’s another, rarely-policed outlet for abuse!)
  • Create an online pseudonym for your profiles (with only the vaguest details about you), so that people from school/real life do not recognize you.
  • If all else fails, delete social network accounts so that other students have fewer online targets to hit.

Furthermore, parents and teachers can be part of the fight against cyberbullying by trying the following:

  • Educate kids that “bullying is bullying,” no matter where/when it happens, and it IS a big deal.
  • Make it clear that bullying can lead to other criminal acts against people, like robbery, battery, stalking, and murder. After all, if you devalue other people enough to insult them verbally or digitally, how long before you begin devaluing them enough to think that stealing from them is okay, or that killing them is okay?
  • Show kids that online comments can be traced back to them through IP addresses on computers and other devices–the Internet does not promise total anonymity. If their comments are serious enough, they could end up in jail.

These are only suggestions, but I believe these tips for students, parents, and teachers might help kids who are suffering this kind of after-hours bullying. (I hate thinking that bullying victims would have to police their online lives so severely, even resorting to “hiding” from online activity, but if it helps the situation blow over, it might be worth the temporary work and inconvenience.) I remember all too well going through bullying on school grounds–the last thing any kid needs is to have that stuff follow them home.

For More Information


National Crime Prevention Council
Cyberbullying info @ Wikipedia
StopBullying.gov – Cyberbullying


Cyberstalking @ Reference.com
Cyberstalking @ Wikipedia

More about the MySpace Suicide Case

How Myspace suicide might change laws on Internet privacy, terms of service, and criminal culpability
Verdict of Myspace suicide case and its aftermath

Don’t Forget to Actually Talk to Your Opponent (Nicely)

In very involved gaming, whether you’re playing an opponent on the other side of the Internet or on the other side of a table, sometimes communication can break down. Sometimes, you can forget you’re playing against another human being.

As many online gamers can likely tell you, there are some opponents who are so hardcore that they can’t lose a game without cursing you, your mama, the last breath you took, and everything you ate for supper. It’s like they forget they’re not playing a computerized opponent, and take out their frustration on another human being, who will react and remember what they said.

Other times, two gamers simply won’t talk to each other at all. A series of hand gestures (some vague, some rude in several countries) takes the place of verbal communication at a table; a series of acronyms and emoticons takes the place of typed words on a computer screen. Never have I seen the gulf between people widen so much as when they’re either talking heated politics or conducting a tooth-and-nail game.

We as gamers have to remember to treat each other like human beings, and part of that is communicating. To help us all communicate better while we game, I’ve listed some quick tips for improving how we talk to each other, so our games are fun rather than boring or irritating.

Tip #1: Opponents Aren’t Mind-Readers

Whether you’re playing a big game of Magic, an MMO like City of Heroes, or even a game over XBox Live, remember that your opponents (and your allies, for that matter), are not privy to the decision-making process going on in your head. If you want to charge ahead and pwn some bad guys way ahead of the group, that’s great–but no one else will know if you don’t tell them, and you might get everyone into an ambush that no one else is prepared for. If you’re playing your super-epic card or miniatures combo that allows you to win the game if no one else counters it, that’s great…but you have to speak it aloud to give someone else a chance to respond.

I learned this the hard way; a few years ago, I was playing in a giant 8- or 9-person group Magic game at our local gaming shop. I was playing a fairly basic life-gain and prevent-damage deck, as is my wont, while most of the other guys were playing cutthroat beat-butt decks. I had the card Test of Endurance in my deck, which I played on about turn 8; it would let me win the game if I ever reached 50 life at the beginning of my upkeep.

I played my turns quietly and without much comment, as the other guys at the table were busy thrashing each other and countering spells that seemed more important to them than mine. Thus, it was a complete shock to everyone at the table when it came round to my turn and I said, “Okay, I’m at 50 life, I win the game.” One of the guys especially, named Jordan, took special offense to what I’d done. “You didn’t even announce what you were doing every turn!” he said, indignant. “I had no idea what you were doing the whole game!”

Jordan’s rant was half typical-teenage-boy-nerd-rage, half real gripe. He hadn’t been paying attention to my strategy at all because he considered my strategy not worth his time, but I had made no effort to make him pay attention. I had not been communicating effectively, and thus he felt blindsided and cheated out of a good game. The fault lay with both of us, for not communicating or listening effectively.

Tip #2: Let People Know Clearly What You’re Doing

Another time, very recently, I was playing in a Clix tournament against one of my newest Clix buddies, a guy named John. During the game, I was using my Night Nurse character to do several Support rolls to heal up various members of my team, since John’s ranged-damage strategy was quickly ripping holes in my defenses. When it came around to my turn, I was feeling the pressure of the timed tournament round, and did not announce that I was making a Support roll before rolling the dice.

John stopped me as I gestured toward the dice, showing him the result. “Wait a minute, why are you just randomly rolling the dice?” he asked, his voice getting a little more heated.

“I was making a Support roll,” I replied, a little bit more tersely than I should have.

John’s response was to direct a question to my boyfriend, the resident Clix judge seated at the next table. “Can you just roll the dice without calling what you’re doing?” he asked, clearly annoyed.

My boyfriend did agree that I needed to make it clear what I was rolling the dice for before I did anything, but let this instance go in the interest of time. Thereafter, I clearly stated what I intended to do before doing it; John’s irritation, while mild and transitory, did remind me I needed to be better in my in-game communication.

Tip #3: If They Question Your Strategy, Don’t Be Offended

If a Magic opponent wants to read the rules text on a card or miniatures figure and question the validity of your strategy, do NOT (and I repeat, do NOT) take it personally. In order to have a genuine, good game experience, you need to make sure both players are on equal footing rules-wise. Finding out later that someone cheated during a whole game? NOT fun. So, if your opponent wants to see for himself or herself what your strategy is based around, then let them see your gaming materials.

This can go for all other games, too–make sure you’re following the rules of the game whatever you do, otherwise you’ll have some ticked-off opponents. Nobody likes to play against someone who’s cheating at everything; by the same token, you’ll have a better experience if you know for certain that your strategy is valid and it wins genuinely. (Don’t make the mistake I did and include too many copies of an awesome card in your Magic deck by mistake. Nor should you completely misread the rules text of a HeroClix figure, thinking it can move and attack like Hypersonic only to find out mid-game that it can’t. LOL)

Tip #4: If All Else Fails, Call a Judge or Game Official

If you and your opponent simply cannot work out a dispute on your own, it’s important to either look to online rulings resources for your game, or to talk to a judge/game official who knows the rules really well. (My boyfriend is pretty much the “rules guy” in every game he plays, so I often find myself asking him about various rulings that seem like they should work one way, but don’t really.)

Going to the source of information about a rulings dispute is important for resolving a problem–otherwise, the communication between your opponent and you is going to dissolve into a “I-said/you-said” argument. This way, you get a clear and objective vantage point on your disagreement, and you can quickly get back to gaming afterward.


Gaming together should be fun for you and your opponent, not a minefield of tension and anger. Keeping pleasant, thorough communication going the whole time helps a game feel…well, like a game, and not like work. Try some of these tips at your next gaming session, and feel for yourself how much happier the environment becomes!

Church: Not about Control, but about Worship

I have always said that whenever you get a group of humans together, even a group of Christian humans, you are going to have some manipulation and struggles for control, as well as hurt pride and hurt feelings. From a group of kindergartners to a group of co-workers, humans tend to have power struggles between each other, even if they are so subtle they are never voiced.

But in the Christian church, it seems, power struggles get far more virulent and dangerous to the community than in any other place. When people try to control the church’s direction, worship style, outreach, activities, and even decorations, worship itself gets lost in the confusion, and it can split the church apart before any of the members are truly aware of what’s happened.

Where Good Intentions Become Manipulation/Control: A Handy Chart

I am not saying that church members should not be active in the church, doing things for the church, etc. What I am advising against here is church members saying, “Hey, you do things my way, or I’m taking my tithe elsewhere.” Many times, actions and behavior that start out well-intentioned become manipulative and controlling–here’s a few examples:

Good Intentions… …Manipulation/Control
Suggesting a new style of worship music to be integrated with the current choices Demanding that a new style of worship music be put in place of the old
Offering to decorate the church display tables/altar/choir loft/etc. Refusing to heed anyone else’s ideas about decorations because it’s “your” ministry
Coming to the business meetings to learn what needs to be done Turning the business meeting into a theater for your ideas and yours alone
Meeting with the pastor to discuss a part of last week’s sermon you found distressing Firing off hateful emails to the pastor about the sermon last week
Politely disagreeing with a music style choice Threatening to leave the church if the offending music is not changed
Expressing well-reasoned doubts about a new, experimental ministry Talking spitefully about the experimental ministry getting in the way of your work
Discussing funding for all church programs Demanding that the programs you’re involved in get the most funding
Expressing thoughtful concern about the length of the worship service Complaining (loudly) that the service always lets out too late for you to get to your favorite restaurant

Those who Try to Control the Church Are Never Happy

It’s important to realize that people who try to control the church are actually missing out. They miss out on their own true worship by fretting and worrying over the church’s organization; by the same token, they make worship nearly impossible for others by being so specific in their “needs.” They are so concerned with making everything “just so” that they end up unhappy that everything can’t be “just so.”

Not only that, people who try to control the church are actually pretending their word and authority goes before God’s on earth. When you try to control everything that a church does just to suit your own needs, the church becomes significantly less about God and more about you. In fact, some churches can end up inadvertently worshipping their wealthiest/most influential members, instead of God. (I’ve seen it happen…more times than I wish.)

This kind of controlling and manipulating behavior is one reason people have begun to draw away from the church, citing that they “hate religion.” (See: the viral Youtube video on that very subject.) When we start worshipping other people’s interests, wants, and needs rather than focusing on God, the whole point of the earthly church is lost.

Compassion and Compromise: The Secret to a Great Church Family Relationship

I believe that compromise, compassion, and understanding is how churches truly function best. Though my church is certainly not free of these human problems, I have been lucky to not feel factions and church politics intruding on my worship and praise. I chose my current church specifically because I felt God moving in it, felt Him working and using the church to do what needed to be done in the wider community. Though we are now going through a little rough patch, I know that the members are still the same good folk I knew when I first joined, and I know God has this under control.

When we use calm discussion, good sense, and humility in dealing with fellow Christians, church problems just seem to dissolve away rather than sit and rankle in our hearts. Realizing that it’s not “all about us,” but rather “all about Jesus,” is a powerful reminder that what we want isn’t as important as praising God. When we put aside the desire for more power, more prestige, more accomplishment, and more pride, God can come into our lives and start doing marvelous works.

One of the leaders of the church said in a recent meeting, “Don’t join a church attempting to change it; join it because it feels like the place God wants you to be.” I think that’s the takeaway message here. Don’t change your particular church to be something that panders to you and only you, and don’t threaten others with taking “influence” and “tithes” elsewhere; instead, be as Christlike, compassionate and forgiving, as you can be. That’s what Christianity is about, isn’t it?

Quoth Your M:TG Friends, “I’ll Play You Nevermore”

Nevermore, from Innistrad, and its predecessor, Meddling Mage (from way back in Planeshift), are both great cards in tournaments, highly competitive, especially against combo decks that rely on specific cards. When you are able to flatly outlaw a card from being played, that gives your deck a chance to catch up or a chance to nip the opponent’s strategy in the bud.

But notice I said “good in tournaments;” these two cards are part of a very competitive strategy. That doesn’t mean these and other cards like them are good in casual play.

Or rather, cards like these are TOO GOOD for casual play. Playing this kind of card against your M:TG-playing friends, when you know their decks almost as well as you know yours, is an unfair advantage at best, and a complete friend-trouncing move at worst.

When Winning Takes the Place of Friendship in Your Life

Winning Magic games (or any other kind of game, for that matter) is fine–everybody likes to win, everybody likes to feel good about themselves. But when your wins start superseding your friendships and your relationships with other people, you need to rethink how dependent your self-worth is on winning.

I’ve played against literally dozens of people in Magic, and I find that the most fun I have is with people who aren’t playing just to win. When the opponent’s conversation consists entirely of their moves, or bragging about how well their deck is doing, I get impatient for the game to end. “Don’t you have anything else to talk about, any humanity at all?” I find myself wondering in these games. “Or are you just some soulless Magic beast who finds fun in trashing others?”

Unfortunately, for many competitive players, an obviously-one-sided game IS fun to them, while it’s not very much fun for the other player. The “competitive player” type I’m describing is the kind who just can’t snap out of the competitive mode even while playing “friendly” games. Thus, they bring their cutthroat attitude to a table where it is decidedly NOT welcome. They ruin casual games with their 5-turn-win optimized decks and then walk off, leaving the atmosphere of camaraderie in tatters. Who wants to play more Magic after being soundly whipped at it? Certainly not this girl.

The Consequences of Playing “Hardcore” Competitive Magic

Playing Nevermore, Meddling Mage, and other “game-changing” competitive cards can lead to unintended strife between Magic buddies, leading to an eventual loss of opponents to play against.

For instance, it’s gotten to the point where I don’t like playing against my own boyfriend’s Blue/White counter deck because of its Meddling Mages–if he drops one of those, I know he’ll outlaw one of the cards that makes my deck run, because he knows my decks so well. At that point, I might as well just give up, because my deck isn’t going to run the way I designed it to, and I don’t like being controlled like that. Magic is not fun for me when my strategy is rendered absolutely unplayable, and I’d wager other Magic players feel the same way sometimes.

Thankfully, my boyfriend understands how frustrated those kinds of cards make me, and he doesn’t play them all the time. Therein lies the difference, between a person who knows how to scale back his playing to a friendlier level, and people who wouldn’t know what a real “friendly” game was if it bit them in an uncomfortable bodily region.

When someone who has a “hardcore” Magic playing style shows up, casual players cringe. We know what we’re in for–we’re just going to have to lie back and think of England while they’re getting their jollies. We have to wait for them to be done so we can go on to something else that IS fun, with someone else who isn’t acting like a feminine cleaning product. I hate to put it in such blunt terms, but there it is; competitive Magic has its place, and it’s not in my living room nor in my recreation time.

And, once they’ve alienated the casual players in the play group, other competitive players will likely be next to go, as strategies get even more cutthroat and even more “uber-powerful.” Soon enough, nobody will bother even sitting down at the table across from them, because the ending is a foregone conclusion. I’ve seen it happen a few times, and heard of it happening even more times; playing too competitively and focusing on winning alone can and will destroy friendships and entire Magic playing groups over time.

Are You Addicted to Winning and Forgetting Your Friendships?

If you’re a competitive Magic player and have found your play group steadily dwindling, you might be unintentionally suffering from win addiction. Or, perhaps this article has proven to be more of a mirror than you ever expected. Ask yourself: is winning every single Magic game you sit down to really necessary to prove you’re a “pro?” Can you really not let go of competition long enough to just enjoy being with your friends and seeing their strategies work as well as your own?

If you can’t, then maybe you’re investing too much worth in your “pro” status, and less of your worth in the relationships you forge. Humans are social creatures, after all–this is why Magic: the Gathering succeeds the way it does. When you have no one to play against, the game loses much of its luster. Too many un-fun games, and you’ll find yourself out of opponents. No one wants to play a game they’re destined to lose, and no one wants to play against someone who can’t afford to lose a game.

I’m not saying that competitive Magic is “of the devil,” nor am I saying that competitive Magic should be excised completely from the game’s structure. It’s just that all the hardcore stuff has to be balanced with easier-going games, where the stakes aren’t driven up artificially high and the opponents are people who will go and get pizza together after this last round.

How to Recognize When Your Opponent is Not Having Fun

As a type of summary to this article, I provide two handy checklists (not entirely comedic, either). The first is for “reading” your opponent when you’re stomping them in a Magic game; the second is how to soften up your play and make it easier to bear, if not easier to win against.

You Know Your Opponent Is Not Having Fun When…

  • Their turns are quick: “Untap, upkeep, draw…pass.”
  • They aren’t talking unless you’re asking them something directly, when before the game they were talking animatedly.
  • There’s a certain glazed, dead look in their eyes, and their shoulders are as deeply hunched as if they want to disappear down into their chair.
  • The only time they look happy or excited is when someone outside the game asks them what they’re doing after they finish this game.
  • There are multiple player errors, done out of indifference rather than ignorance: “Oh, I just mistapped that land. Oh well.”
  • They haven’t looked you in the face since turn 2.
  • They finish your sentence when you play the final move that kills them–some, like me, might even add a bitter “Good” afterwards, such as “Yeah, yeah, I take 19 and that kills me. Good.”

If You See Any of These Signs…

  • Ask them what their strategy is about; if you’ve been stomping or controlling them, you probably haven’t seen their strategy at its best.
  • Actually listen to the answer, don’t just dismiss it as “inferior”.
  • Directly apologize if the game is clearly one-sided in your favor: “I shouldn’t have played this deck against you–sorry, this one’s my competitive deck.” This wins a lot of points with casual gamers, take it from me. It means you realize how much of a pain it’s been to play you.
  • If it’s truly a casual game, tell your opponent the key cards in your deck to beat; this makes you less of an uber-gamer and more human.
  • Take pressure off the current game by asking them what their favorite cards, colors, card art, creature abilities, etc. are. Talk Magic theory with them.Express interest in their trade collection. Super-competitive gamers playing casual gamers usually complete their conquest and leave like a man sneaking out after a one-night stand; staying around, even just for a few minutes to look at their tradebook, might help them get over the game and see you as a potential new friend.

Battling the Gamer Stereotype

When you think of the word “gamer”, what physical appearance generally pops to mind? What mindset do you associate with “gaming” as it is in modern culture? What goals, what habits?

For many people, the word “gamer” conjures up a person of the following description:

The “Gamer” Stereotype

  • Male
  • Age range: mid-teens to late forties
  • Caucasian or Asian, upper middle class
  • Likely unmarried, in the “forever alone” category
  • If not single, saddled with a girlfriend who hates that he games so much
  • No personal hygiene to speak of (hence the phrase “gamer funk”)
  • Fat, unshaven, wears ill-fitting clothes (especially pants)
  • Still lives with parents or relatives, usually in a basement
  • Eternally unemployed
  • Socially awkward/clueless
  • Misogynistic or otherwise highly skeptical of women’s prowess in gaming
  • Foul-mouthed
  • Follower of Satanism, Wicca, or other “pagan” religions
  • Eats nothing but junk food
  • Can’t save up money because of buying gaming expansion packs all the time
  • Immature, has no life goals except winning the next game
  • Knows little about anything else except his chosen game

How do I know all of these? Sadly, it’s because these “facts” are thrown in my face every time a non-gamer acquaintance hears that I “game” with people at a “gaming shop.”

I hear stuff like:
“Oh, you’re gonna go hang out with all those boys again.”
“Gaming again? Don’t any of ’em have a JOB?”
“What are you doin’ hangin’ out with all them devil-worshippers?”
“You’re probably the only girl they ever talk to, you know.”
“Well, don’t let any of ’em bum money off you when they’ve been buying all that gaming stuff.”
“I don’t think any of those boys are ever gonna grow up.”

Why the Gamer Stereotype is (Mostly) Wrong

I will preface this by saying that I have known and/or do know of gamers who exhibit some of the characteristics listed in the stereotype list. But I have yet to see or know of a single gamer who shows all these characteristics.

Firstly, not all gamers are male anymore. In fact, in the last ten years, more and more girls are doing more gaming beyond dressup games and Farmville. Magic: the Gathering and HeroClix have both seen an influx of female gamers, and more console and PC video games are bought by women today than ever before.

Secondly, gaming is not restricted by race or social class anymore (thankfully). Though gaming was in the past more accessible to upper-middle-class folks because of the expense of games and game supplies, now gaming on the cheap is possible, allowing people to play for lesser investment. And gaming is not just a “white” or “Asian” thing to do anymore, either, though this has been much slower to change than the social-class monetary barrier.

Thirdly, many gamers I know or have known over the past 8 to 10 years are happily married or in committed relationships, and most of them have either held jobs before or are currently employed. Rather than gamers not being “responsible adults,” in fact many modern gamers are contributing members of society and have families of their own, as well as doing a little gaming for relaxation. This also touches on the stereotypes of gamers living off other people and wasting their money–most gamers these days, in the throes of this economy, are learning how to spend more wisely, and they don’t all live in their mama’s basement.

Finally, gaming does not indicate a Satanist lifestyle. This infuriates me when others typecast gamers as devil-worshippers, as if we’re some sub-human sect of beings that doesn’t deserve to live. While it is true that many games do have threads of dark storylines going through them, most of the time human gamers play the role of the hero, more like a King David, a Joshua, or a Daniel than any ancient Ba’al worshipper. Gaming, like any form of recreation, can get in the way of a Christian lifestyle if too thoroughly pursued, but in moderation it certainly does not pose a threat to the gamer or his/her family and friends.

A Small Caveat

I will admit that hygiene does sometimes go by the wayside for some gamers, and sometimes we gamers can seem hyper-focused on knowing all about the games we play. And I will say that I’ve run across my share of misogynistic idiots who think I will be easy to defeat because of my female anatomy. While much of this stereotype is overdrawn, there are some kernels of truth in it, unpleasant as they might be to acknowledge.

Summary: Gamers ARE Normal People

But a few outlying gamers who only partially fit the stereotype do not speak or act for the majority of awesome gamers I know who manage to play well and still carry on normal conversations; they game like pros and still enjoy their normal, productive lives as well. Gamers, contrary to this stereotype’s concept, are normal people who choose gaming as their way of recreation.

In a way, it’s similar to a football fan watching a game on TV or playing a casual game with friends. It’s just that our games involve character sheets, impromptu acting, a few sets of dice, some decks of carefully-chosen cards, and generally less tackling. 🙂

Taking Back Social Console Gaming

Last week I wrote about how gamers have started getting away from console gaming and social gaming in general. Gaming has transferred itself from arcades to homes, and from homes to online, in a matter of a few years rather than decades.

What online gaming has done to social gaming may be irreversible–it has taken gaming out of the more social environment of the home and placed it in a virtual zone that is nearly unreachable except to the single player. Along with becoming more and more online (and yet more and more isolating), gaming has become uber-competitive. The fallacy here is that games must be won to be enjoyed.

But gaming does not have to be competitive to be fun. Nor does it have to be won to be enjoyed. That is like saying that food has to be eaten to be enjoyed–and anybody who’s ever stood outside the kitchen smelling cookies baking can tell you food can be enjoyed without ever being eaten. Sometimes, it’s the gossamer touch of experiencing happiness that is all you need, like the scent of cookies wafting toward your nose.

My Social Gaming Anecdotes

Some of the best times I had with friends back in the day was just getting together and beating face on games like Soul Calibur and Super Smash Brothers Melee–me and three or four guy friends, all madly tapping buttons to do fighting moves and directing our characters around the screen.

More shouting and laughing went on than cussing and ditching the controllers aside, thankfully, and we all managed to have fun. It wasn’t about winning so much as just playing around (even if we did have some mini-competitions going on). The most prevalent emotion that veils those memories is camaraderie; I knew these guys well and we were all great friends, both within the games and outside them.

These days, I don’t get together with that old group as much ( 🙁 ), but I do play some cooperative video games with my boyfriend. Playing some Gauntlet II: Dark Legacy or Marvel Ultimate Alliance gets us working together, and we have a lot of fun whomping up on imaginary bad guys. ^_^ Not only do I get to spend time with my love, but I get to show him how my knack for screwing around and not getting the mission done can actually lead to finding secrets within games. 😛

Getting Back that Gamin’ Feeling

Because of my experiences, I don’t think social gaming is lost to us forever. As long as we have real-life friends who can come over to our real-life dwellings, and as long as we still eat real-life food with these friends, we can still game socially. Here is how I think social gaming can be won back from the brink:

Building a Social Gaming Night

  1. First, invite a few friends to get together at your house/apartment. However many is comfortable for your dwelling–no need to have 20 people at your apartment if you can only seat 3, right?
  2. Make or get easy party food, like nachos, wraps, chicken fingers, vegetable trays with dips, mini pizzas, etc. Pretty much any finger food you and your friends like would be great. (Good food + gaming = good times guaranteed.) And don’t forget drinks–ask ahead of time what everyone would like to drink so that you have it on hand, if possible. (Alcohol isn’t preferred if you’re going to be using kinetic controllers…just sayin’.)
  3. Make sure you have comfortable seating for everyone, or at least clear floor space in front of the TV you’re going to be using for game night.
  4. Bring out some of your best multiplayer console games. If you don’t have any games like that, renting or borrowing some games would be the next best option. Great options for multiplayer game parties would be:

Conducting Your Gaming Night

One of the best things you can do is to keep your computers and phones off during gaming night. I know, I know, we’re all welded to our personal gadgets these days, but just for a night, put them all in a safe place away from stray gamers’ flying feet and hands, and just enjoy being with your friends in the same room. Twitter, Facebook, and the rest of the Interwebs will not miss you for a few hours while you enjoy yourself, and you’ll be much more fun and have much more fun if you’re completely engaged in whatever’s going on. (Take it from me, just writing a status about what you’re doing is lots less fun)

Second, if you have more players than can play all together at once, make up rules for taking turns on the controllers. With my old group of gaming buddies, we used to take turns on fighting games with the rule of “Loser of this fight gives the controller to the one who isn’t playing.” Whatever makes sense for your group and for the game you’re playing, just make sure everyone gets an equal chance to play.

Third, switch games every so often. Smash Brothers is awesome, but not for five hours. Change up the game discs about every 45 minutes to an hour or so, just to keep things fresh, unless you all are really having fun with the one you’re playing. This way, nobody gets bored or tired of the games, and the group keeps trying new things.

Fourth, resist the urge to go online with your gaming console. When you have four or more real live players in the same room, who needs the online world?!

Fifth, keep paper towels and wipes handy for drink/food spills and greasy hands. You might not think you’ll need them–you will.

Sixth, make a rule: “No drinks on top of the console/TV/anything electronic.” Speaking from sad experience here. 🙁

Lastly: make sure that you’re not keeping anybody out too late. Between jobs, family, and personal time, not everyone has the ability to game all night–be considerate of each other’s time, and you’ll be more likely to get another gaming night together sooner rather than never.


If we work at it, social console gaming can come back in a big way. Not only is it freer entertainment than paying to play an online game every month, but it’s a great way to get back in touch with your favorite examples of humanity in a relaxed setting. It’s just more fun with everyone in the same room!

Getting Out of Console Gaming?

Time was, consoles were how gamers passed the time. From the time Atari made its first console, to the early 1990s when Nintendo created the SNES and Sega crafted its Genesis, and even on to when the Playstation 2, Xbox, and Gamecube warred for market dominance in the early 2000s, consoles have all but ruled gaming life.

But now, that is increasingly no longer the way of things.

With the advent of gaming on the Internet, consoles are not often needed to play games anymore. People are now able to use computers as TVs, media creators, Internet browsers, and now even gaming consoles. It’s possible to play monthly-fee online MMOs like World of Warcraft, League of Legends, and City of Heroes (OMG LINK) as well as single-player online Flash games for free. Indeed, gamers of today can get their gaming fix without ever buying a console or its games (especially due to the pirated game downloads and emulators).

I am one of the gamers who has all but ditched console gaming in favor of online gaming. Though I buy and use my games legitimately, turning on a separate machine besides my computer just to game seems almost alien to me now, even though I literally grew up playing video games on systems like the SNES, Playstation 1, and N64. I haven’t touched my Playstation 2 in weeks, and my Wii sat so long unused that it doesn’t even turn on anymore. And, from what I can tell, I am not alone; many old-school gamers have turned to computers as well.

Why Might Consoles Go the Way of the Dodo?

  • A computer keyboard can be easier to manipulate than controllers (especially for kinetic controllers like the Wii–I still can’t completely figure ’em out)
  • Games online are free or small-fee to play, and can be played anywhere you can set a laptop; console games require special equipment, a set place to play, etc.
  • We increasingly require more and more online components from our consoles, so they end up being small computers in and of themselves
  • We are living downsized lives economically, and people can better rationalize paying for a new computer rather than for a new gaming console

But Wait a Moment: The Social Gaming Perspective

As much fun as online gaming is, there is a vital component of gaming that it’s still missing: true social gaming.

Much of online gaming is single-player, unless you get into MMOs (Massive Multiplayer Online games). And even with MMOs, everyone is hooked up to different computer screens and communicating via typed or voice chat. It’s just not the same as playing with three or four of your buddies in front of a single TV screen, with controllers hooked up and a ton of laughs (or muttered curses) going on.

There’s something about playing a game with others in the same room and on the same screen that engenders more honest, real communication and socializing, much more than playing online with others does. Even playing an online game with someone while they’re sitting in the same room with you is different; you’re still looking at different computer screens, still disconnected from them somehow. Social gaming–the kind only seen in console gaming, 4 players at a time–is in danger of dying out.

I found an XKCD-style, long comic panel about a year ago that really explains this all visually, but I’m darned if I can find it again. (Hating dialup a whole bunch right now for not letting me search faster!) Basically, it showed how computers make many facets of modern gaming easier (buying, stealing, playing multiplayer), but the social gaming aspect, the “playing on my couch with a bunch of my friends” concept, is woefully lacking. Poor little stick man just cries alone in his room, with only fond, poignant memories of gaming with friends.

Next Week: What’s So Special About Social Gaming?

As wonderful as social console gaming is, it deserves its own blog post. Tune in next week to hear the rest of this story, full of personal anecdotes and nostalgia. 🙂


I spelled this word out in my blog title because I have seen it misspelled so often it makes me laugh. “Inconvieniece,” “incoinvenice,” and even “enconvance”…and no, sadly, I’m not kidding. As a former English teacher, these spelling mistakes (on the outsides of otherwise professional businesses, mind you!) grate on my nerves like nails on a chalkboard. It’s an inconvenience to have to decode these handwritten signs! 😛

C-H-I-L-D-H-O-O-D, “childhood”

I’ve generally been an instinctive good speller, all through my life–writing words correctly came more naturally to me, possibly because of all the reading I did, and possibly because my parents used a large vocabulary around me at young ages. Unlike math, which remains a frightening overgrown jungle, spelling was laughably easy, at least on paper. I could clearly see the word in front of me, and if it was spelled wrong, it LOOKED wrong on the page–it looked ugly, ill-formed, and I eagerly sought to change it with my trusty eraser.

(Side note: Spelling out loud is quite another animal entirely from spelling in writing; the ephemeral nature of the spoken voice meant that I could not “see” what I was spelling and could not “see” where to pick up from if I paused in the middle of a word. Once I paused, it was like I was going to have to start back over if I was to complete the word successfully. Thus, the embarrassment of spelling “tied” as “tide” in the first grade spelling bee. Even though I KNEW as it came out of my mouth it was wrong, wrong, wrong, I couldn’t keep my traitorous tongue from spitting out the wrong sequence of letters because I had stopped in the middle of the word. GRR. Even 19 years later, GRR.)

But even people like me are not immune to misspelling words in print. Just now, I typed “misppelling” instead of “misspelling” and had to go back. Why? Because my little finger got trigger-happy on the P key. Keyboards make it a lot faster and easier to communicate, but you have to be a precision instrument in order to spell correctly 100% of the time. Let’s just say I’m very good at hitting the Backspace key at lightning speed to correct myself. Just like “tied” and “tide” (darnit, I did it again–I reversed the words!), I can feel when I’m spelling a word wrong or if I’ve hit a key too many times, unless I’m too wrapped up in WHAT I’m writing about to be bothered with it.

Can You Spell “I-N-T-E-R-N-E-T?” Oh, It’s Spelled Three Different Ways?

Difficulties with spelling are everywhere, due to many factors, such as the Internet, chatspeak and textspeak, lower emphasis on reading for pleasure in our society, and even less emphasis on spelling in schools. I actually had a parent come into my classroom one day asking me why her daughter’s spelling tests were pulling her grades down–“why does it matter so much?” she asked. I almost choked on my response trying not to laugh in her face. Of COURSE spelling matters; how am I going to know what your daughter’s turning in for assignments if I have no idea what language she’s writing in?

Some spelling mistakes even change the entire meaning of the word. Misspelling “from” as “form” is rather innocuous, but if you’re in a hurry and rearrange the letters of “this” into a popular four-letter curse, you’ll likely be in trouble with your boss. I know we’re all rushing around these days, but if we can’t even be bothered to make sure we’re communicating correctly, why even bother communicating at all?

What got to me the worst during teaching was that most of the spelling mistakes my students made could have been caught (and were indeed caught) when they read their papers through a second time. I took to having my students read their papers aloud before they turned them in, just to let them share their ideas with the class if they wanted to…and if I had a dollar for every time I heard them stop reading, pick up their pencil, and madly erase and rewrite, I wouldn’t be bothering looking for a job right now. XD I probably saved students a good bit of points off their papers for spelling mistakes by doing that, and I also saved myself a few headaches correcting them. It proves that they knew the correct spelling, but were hurrying through the paper and didn’t check it beforehand.

Making Our Communication Better

Adults can benefit from even just a scanning read-through of their communications, too. The number of emails I’ve gotten with “thier” in place of “their,” “your” in place of “you’re”, and “freind” instead of “friend” are amazing, and Internet websites (even the more reputable ones) are getting worse about those kinds of mistakes, too. Spellcheck won’t catch everything, either–it might catch “freind” and “thier,” but it won’t bother with “your” and “you’re.”

How can we get back to communicating clearly? This is, after all, a big problem–if we’re communicating with people who speak another language, feeding misspelled words into a translator will spit out garbage. Heck, some other native speakers might have a problem with reading what you’ve written, if it’s got enough mistakes in it. Below are some tips for spelling even in today’s Internet-driven world:

Steps to Spelling Better

  1. If in doubt, look up the word on Dictionary.com. Better to search and be sure of the spelling than unsure and wrong, especially if you’re writing to a boss or other authority figure.
  2. Sound the word out. To go back to the word “inconvenience” for a moment: the word is pronounced “ihn-kahn-VEE-nee-ence” (or “ihn-kahn-VEEN-yince” if you’re in the South like me). If it was spelled “inconvieniece,” it would be pronounced “ihn-KAHN-vee-neese.” Sound out what you have spelled and see if it reads the same way–if it doesn’t, you likely have a misspelling on your hands.
  3. Practice using the word you have trouble spelling as often as you can in emails, text messages, and written communication. It might be awkward at first, but if you get used to how it feels to type and write the word, you’ll misspell it less often. (This really, really works–I had to use this trick with the word “socioeconomic” because I kept trying to put in a few too many “o’s.”)
  4. Before you send anything out, read it aloud. Just like it worked for my middle-schoolers, it works for me–I catch all kinds of errors when I read my work out loud, like poor wording and too-long sentences. Spelling mistakes often jump out just as easily, and you can then take the time to look up any words which you’re not sure are spelled right.


If we don’t learn how to spell and practice the art of it, our writing will be dismissed, possibly even laughed at, and we might not be taken as seriously in the workplace. Our writing is how we communicate with others, and if it’s done poorly, we wno’t be udnrestode by enyun at ale. (See how bungled “won’t be understood by anyone at all” can become? …Ugh, that deliberate misspelling was painful to type. Yuck. :P)

But that is why spelling is important, and that’s what I told the mother of one of my students: “If you want your daughter to be able to write clearly when she graduates, you’ll work with her on her spelling. Otherwise, she’ll look unprofessional and uneducated her entire life, no matter how good her credentials are.” We have to keep that in mind for ourselves and our children. We wouldn’t walk into an interview or a fancy restaurant in wrinkled stained clothes; neither should we submit a resume (or an email) full of errors.

Gaming Makes You Smarter

You might be one who looks at most games and scoffs. “What educational value could this game possibly have?” you might think. Most video games and even collectible games these days seem either too violent, too cartoony, or too simple. Where’s the challenge? Where’s the mental stimulation?

Or, perhaps, you’re one of the millions of people who have discovered how stimulating and challenging games can be. As a gamer from the time I was five years old, I feel I’ve messed with enough games (and messed UP in enough games) to understand the true challenges and learning situations that can come up in all sorts of gaming concepts, from video games to collectible games, RPGs to first-person shooters and beyond. I truly believe gaming can make you smarter!

Gaming Teaches Time and Resource Management

Video games and collectible games alike help us manage time and items better. In Super Mario World for the SNES, you got a “Time Bonus” if you finished the level in a certain number of seconds. The game rewarded you for getting through the level without getting poor Mario killed or dawdling about. Not only that, but if you managed to keep all the lives that Mario was allotted in the beginning, you had them saved for later battles with one or more of Bowser’s children.

Learning to manage time effectively is one of the hardest things to teach kids–I should know, I tried to teach middle-school kids with limited success. If you give most kids a time limit of 15 minutes to do an in-class activity, chances are most of the kids are going to goof around for 10 minutes and then rush to do the assignment in the last 5 minutes. What games teach us is to value the time we’re given to complete an assignment, and to use that time to the best of our ability–i.e., not standing at the beginning of the level for a few minutes looking at the pretty background, but actively moving through it and solving the puzzles that come up.

Resource management is also difficult to teach, but easy to learn through games. While a kid may not understand that he or she only gets limited access to the glue sticks, crayons, and scissors, they can better understand that Mario only gets 5 lives to try to complete this level. Older kids might not be able to grasp that their research papers need accurate and reliable sources to be good papers, but they’ll likely understand what happens if you don’t draw a 7-card hand with enough mana in Magic: the Gathering. (A hand with no land, or mana-producing cards, leads to turns and turns of “I draw. Your turn.”)

Gaming Teaches Long-Term Planning

In HeroClix (“chess with superheroes”), having no plan of attack means you’re likely disadvantaged from the beginning. You have to assess the other player’s team, figure out which piece needs to be defeated first, and decide how best to approach to offset the other player’s strategy. This takes long-term planning, which isn’t always a strong suit for kids or adults alike.

Planning ahead, like time management, takes careful thought, and gaming strategies help people of all ages get more comfortable with how to plan ahead, what to think of ahead of time, and how to make the best of your situation. You can plan too far ahead of your opponent, or plan too far ahead of your road trip, but you can never make too many tweaks to your original plan–that’s the beauty of long-term planning!

Gaming Teaches Diplomacy

In multiplayer games, as in real life, other people’s plans may interfere with yours, or may co-opt or ignore your plans altogether. When you play a multiplayer game like the Resident Evil deck building game, you have to “buy” the resources you need without taking too much away from other players, all while trying to be the player that takes out the most zombies hiding in the Mansion. Some players choose not to be diplomatic, and end up hogging all the resources to themselves; I find, however, that diplomacy serves you well in the long term by allowing everyone to play at their best level.

Diplomacy goes beyond gaming to the classroom and to the workplace. Kids can easily be inclined not to let the other kids have their blue crayon because they’re coloring the sky in their picture; adults can easily be inclined to complain to management if someone else asks to use the room that they unofficially reserved for their special group meeting. By sharing diplomatically instead of taking all the resources for oneself, you encourage better relations among your fellow gamers (or your classmates, or your co-workers)!

Gaming Teaches Critical Thinking

Which card should I play next? Which character should I use to beat this challenge? Games often bring us mental puzzles to work out, which boosts “critical thinking,” a skill I often saw talked about in my teacher literature but which was never quite defined. I think of “critical thinking” as “deeper thinking”–not just “what” something is and “how” it works, but “when” to use it and “why” it was developed.

Going beyond facts to inferences and interpretations stretches the gray matter a good bit, and can get you out of a tight squeeze in Pikmin for Nintendo Gamecube just as easily as it gets you writing for that state test. For instance, just as you have to figure out how many and which types of Pikmin should be in your army for the day by studying what objective you want to complete, you have to figure out how to best present your position on an issue at work. It challenges you to think about the problem in different lights.

Gaming Teaches Multitasking

Games’ multitasking goes beyond hitting two buttons on the controller at once? Most certainly! In HeroClix, you often have two or three pieces going after a couple of objectives at once. You might have dispatched your second-string attacker to go and mop up the support crew of your opponent’s team, while you sent in your first-string attackers to deal with the primary damage-dealer of their team. If you don’t multitask during games, you can find yourself in a bind pretty quick.

It is the same way in our lives–if you don’t multitask, sometimes things don’t get done as quickly as they might need to be. Multitasking is a great skill to pick up because it makes you a more efficient worker. I find that multitasking keeps me from grinding away at the same problem for hours; if I find myself stuck on something, I just switch to another task for a few minutes, accomplish maybe a small goal or two, and then come back to the first task with slightly fresher eyes.


While games are entertaining and great fun, I also find that games can teach us quite a few skills that we’ll need either in the school world or the work world. Try a challenging game sometime, and see how your skills improve!

Why Do We Game?

Games in many forms have somewhat taken over our modern life. Oh, who am I kidding–they’ve taken over almost all of our lives these days. Even buying groceries is a game for extreme couponers; even Facebook is a game for social networkers. We love the competition, pleasantly pitting ourselves against friends and neighbors to see how many virtual crops we can grow in a week, how many items we can sell on eBay, etc.

But WHY do we game? Why is this such an important part of our world culture? I think there are five reasons why:

#1: Escape from Real Life

For most of us, life is either the drudgery of a 9-to-5, days full of hectic parenthood, or a combination of both. Games, by contrast, are things we don’t have to do, things we aren’t expected to succeed at (at least the first time), and are a way for our brains to wind down. During the time we’re gaming, we don’t have to think about our responsibilities outside the game.

#2: Mental Challenge

Games help us think in different ways, whether it’s fitting all the blocks together just so on Tetris or figuring out how not to get killed on Call of Duty. Some people unwind best when faced with a totally new type of challenge, one they would never see in their day-to-day work or family life. Plus, it can boost your real-life ego when you conquer a challenge in your virtual life.

#3: Social Competition

Admit it: It’s fun to see how your skills stack up against somebody else’s, even if we’re just growing some crops in Farmville. That’s why the Playstation Network and XBox Live exist–we as a human race like to compete against each other, both to test our own skills and to see how we compare to others. Virtual competition just takes some of the physicality out of the contest and makes it into a mental competition, leveling the playing field somewhat for people (like me) who aren’t as sports-oriented.

#4: Entertainment Experience

When a game is really fun, it’s a memorable experience, and we actively seek it out again and again. It’s like watching a favorite movie again–reliving it brings back some of the fond memories of the first experience, and we build on those memories as we replay. Games are not just challenges, but interactive entertainment, and it activates some of the same emotions, memories, and morals/values that other forms of entertainment do.

#5: Fantasy Experience

Some games are more based on social interactions than anything, and this brings in yet another element: fantasy. You might think this is interconnected with the “escape from real life” point, and it partially is; however, in a game with a heavy social interaction component, such as The Sims or even World of Warcraft, you can literally make yourself over in a fantasy world. You can feel more open to speak your mind, be funnier and wittier than you usually get a chance to be otherwise. You may even begin to judge people by what they say instead of their avatar’s looks!


I believe gaming has become very important to us today because it fulfills many of our needs. Yes, we have a real life to return to outside of our games, but games do help us to unwind, challenge ourselves, compete socially, be entertained, and experience a very different type of life.