Lots of people have pretty fixed ideas about the video gaming world. Violent games, sexist games. Isolated young men who aren’t engaged with real life. You know the story.
Well, there’s another story, too, and it doesn’t get told often enough. That’s why business owner (Master Collective is his graphic design and creative services company) and passionate lifelong gamer Robert Gatewood is setting out to bring the businesspeople, activists, and educators he works with in his own Cleveland neighborhood of Collinwood into direct contact with gaming community. He’s creating a new creative space called Full Spectrum: GamerHaven, because he thinks the gaming community and the non-gaming community – who may have preconceived ideas about one another – actually have much more in common than they realize. And a whole lot to learn from one another.
Right now, he’s hard at work sharing his vision with funders and shaping the space. You can get involved by contributing to his ioby campaign here.
what is GamerHaven?
Imagine a downtown storefront space where you can pop in on your way to work to get a decent cup of coffee, swing by after lunch to print out Tuesday’s board meeting reports, meet with potential collaborators, get creative services for your organization from Gatewood himself, join in with some folks on a group basketball video game taking place on the big screen, or even use the tech station to create your own video game. Or… all of the above. Gatewood, who can jumpstart a fascinating conversation with just about anyone, and who’s always been most at home in spaces of social overlap, wants to see gamers and non-gamers reaching across the aisle, so to speak. He wants to see a forty-something woman come in and print out signs for an upcoming social justice rally, and get talking with an 18 year old gamer who’s never been to a rally before.
“I find, people get brought together and it just works,” says Gatewood, who’s always naturally found himself serving his community as a sort of cross-pollinator of ideas between social groups. “And five years later, everyone’s wondering why we never tried it before. Exposure changes things.”
So what do gamers have to learn from that board member printing out a report or rally sign? “I think if I had to look at us as a whole,” explains Gatewood, “the thing that we might have to learn from non-gamers is that we don’t have to defend the stuff that we care about in an offensive way. We very much are soldiers for the stuff that we care about, because we’re so used to being marginalized in that way. I think a person that cares about reading, doesn’t really feel like they have to fight for the idea of reading. But we very much hold the flag for gaming, and I think that’s important, but I don’t think we need to be so offensive about it. And they’ll see that, when they see how non-gamers acknowledge and respect what they do, on some level. Just by being in the space with them.”
And the flip side of that coin – what do non-gamers have to learn from gamers? It all comes down to a certain kind of creativity that’s very active.“Gamers want to have their hands in their entertainment,” says Gatewood, who even as a kid never liked sitting and watching TV or movies, but always wanted to play a role in shaping the story. “We very much are hands-on, interested in changing things, and that thinking is necessary everywhere. It’s the doing part. The interactive part of entertainment. That’s where technology is leading. Gamers are already there, and they’ve been there. And you’ll see the value of it, by being around these people.”
a good moment in history to practice being active
Gatewood says this might be a moment in history when that tendency to be more active rather than passive could be really helpful, emotionally and also in terms of social justice work. “It seems like the kinds of processing of what’s happening in the world around us is different in people who game, or do, and people who watch,” says Gatewood. “I think it probably is a critical point where we understand how much control we do have – at least in our neighborhood, on our block, in our house. I want to lift up the thinking about games – we have that kind of thinking with every other form of art.”
And what about those violent games, which do exist? They’ll be allowed at GamerHaven, for now, but not during times of day when children and teens are working and playing at the incubator space. And Gatewood is very interested in following research where gaming and psychology meet. “I want to know for sure,” he says. “If it turns out that most violent media doesn’t make people more violent, but this particular kind does, because you’re ‘doing’ it and it wires your brain differently, then I want to make sure that we’re being responsible.” He imagines that someday, if he can build up a large enough gaming community, nearby universities might even be interested in tapping into the network as they conduct studies on the effects of gaming on the brain.
Even better, Gatewood is excited to use the new space to champion the many incredibly high-quality, non-violent, narrative games that are being produced today. “I want to promote the value of games that aren’t just slaughterfests or puzzle games like Candy Crush,” he says, his passion for the art form coming through in his voice. “Let’s push up these narrative games — there’s a guy who wrote a game about his experience as he lost his daughter to cancer. And you don’t know that that’s what’s happening until about a third of the way in, and then you are now a part of this experience. It was mind-blowing. There’s dozens and dozens of games like that, but people don’t know about them. And that’s where I can have a screen up and say ‘this exists, this is why, this is who made it. Oh, you have a story you want to tell like that? Well we have a game development workshop that starts next week.’”
By the way, want to know what Gatewood’s favorite game is, right now? No big deal – it’s a progressive homesteading/farming game called Stardew Valley, in which you raise your livestock, tend your crops, interact with neighbors, and marry the person of your choice, whatever gender they may be. He says it’s supremely relaxing.
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