Us gamers have got a bad image, and you know it. I know we've come a long way - our medium has become smarter, maturer, more respectable as an 'art' and we've hit the mainstream (which has brought its own batch of ugly stereotypes) but we're still mocked to the left and to the right. It's a new year, a nice even number and everyone's making new promises for the next month. So why don't we make a promise for the next year, the next generation, the next everything? Let's take little steps to improve our image as a hobby, as a lifestyle, as gamers. Because remember; as the good book (probably) says: 'the geek shall inherit the Earth'.
Counter-Strike revision - This is a little technique my mate and I developed at uni. It allows you to feel like you're taking a break from revision while still cramming a few facts in. It's not restricted to Counter-Strike and it's not some dodgy sponsorship deal I've got going; it's just what we had at the time. In fact, it works with any round based game with long waits between rounds or in lobbies (or waiting for your new gen consoles to load). Sit with your textbook at your side and while you wait, instead of hurling abuse at other players, cram, cram, cram. Write down one or two phrases/facts you need to learn - then, when your round loads, instead of repeating 'oh s*** oh s***, oh s***' repeat the fact like it's your mantra. 'Oakley. 1974. Women's attitudes to housework. Oakley. 1974. Women's attitudes to housework. Oakley. 1974. Women's attitudes to - arghhh, you godamn camping ****!' I promise it'll stick.
Note: this does not replace actual revision. It just allows a break from the hard slog while still feeling productive.
Tangential Learning - If a game is engaging but referencing things you don't know: research it. I started tangential learning back when I was playing Final Fantasy VIII. Knowing that the summon Shiva was a Hindu deity, I decided to research the rest: Quetzalcoatl - Mesoamerican deity, Ifrit - supernatural Arabic creature, Odin - One-Eyed, Norse god. If you're playing God of War and want the low down on the bloke whose head you just pulled off - research it. If you've got Lara Croft running around on a sunken boat with a name you recognise (Marie Celeste): research it. It enriches your gaming experience and fills you with a wealth of useless knowledge, in case you ever become a parent. We've all got smartphones and tablets by our sides anyway, so it's not like we even have to leave the game!
Note: While Sid Meier's Civilization games are awful for destroying your sleep cycle and free time, they do aid tangential learning by providing an in-game encyclopedia.
Get Involved - Read and write about the thing you love. You're here reading this, so that's a start - now get in the comments and have intelligent conversation, or write your own articles and publish them on a blog. Why not find a local arts venue, cafe or pub with a participation space and set up a videogames club? Here you can talk with maturity about worthwhile topics - morality in gaming, the state of storytelling, presentation of women. You could propose a theme for every month. When I was at school, being a geek was shameful. In my adult life though, I've been told on multiple occasions something that has revolutionised how I feel about my own interests: 'Being smart is sexy' and 'being passionate about something is hot'. So be sexy. Be hot.
Audio Learning - Some games ask you to carry out some pretty low-skill tasks: crossing unpopulated terrain, grinding for XP, fetch quests (I'm not just talking about RPGs but they are the main culprits). Make that time productive by listening to podcasts. There's plenty of gems out there that make science, literature, society interesting (there's even a load on gaming!). Try Brian Cox and Robin Ince's The Infinite Monkey Cage, or Stuff To Blow Your Mind, for free. Or you could get your hands on audio recordings of the books you always pretend you've read but haven't. It'll take a bit of training to get your brain used to taking in the audio while looking at the screen, but after a few days you'll be able to follow both with ease. You could even repeatedly hammer that one button while learning another language, if you want to.
Rethink Light - While killing my twentieth Zubat just trying to escape a cave I didn't mean to walk into and listening to a podcast at the same time, I learnt all about how light affects our sleep-cycle. Basically there's two types of light: red-rich light calms our body and mind, preparing us for sleep. It's the kind of light we get when the sun is going down. Blue-rich light wakes our body and mind up, preparing us for the day. It's the kind of light we get in the morning as the sun rises. Blue-rich is also the kind of light that our computers, TVs and phones pump out. And what do you tend to do just before you go to bed? If you struggle falling asleep or sleeping well - stop playing videogames an hour earlier. You could trade that hour for the morning and get up early with a handheld next to your bed - that blue light will suddenly become useful. If you can't cope with that, try downloading f.lux from http://justgetflux.com/. It's a programme that adjusts the colour of your monitor to reflect the time of day - blues early, reds at night. I've tried it - it helps. Or if you play on a console... I guess you could mess around with the colour saturation?
Counter-Strike workout - Similar concept to the Counter-Strike revision. Game with lots of waiting time? Have a set of weights next to you and work out in the downtime. Dual pistols? Pfft. Check out these guns!
Motion Controlled Exercise Games - ...that counts, right?
Troll less - It doesn't seem like long ago that Anita Sarkeesian (who? Time for some tangential learning!) was almost torn to pieces by ignorance, when she tried to get us talking and thinking a little bit more about how we present women in gaming. This stops now. If you're smart enough to read this, then you're smart enough to know that prejudice of any kind; be it race, gender, sexuality or age is wrong. As is threatening to rape someone's loved one because you're losing a game. If you think that insult is funny then I'll put you in a room full of rape victims and they'll bury you with your own shame. So that stops. Right here, this year. But I think that most of the people reading this are probably decent, mature, above that; don't rest on your laurels though. What I believe to be more important is the fact that we will be/currently are responsible for bringing the next generation of gamers into the world. So let's look after them, educate them, lead by example and try not to make the internet the scumbag apocalypse that it's currently shaping up to be.
And if you're going to troll, do it right. It's a weapon, so use it on the right people: those that deserve it. If you see big companies taking advantage of people or being guilty of reinforcing prejudices, troll them. Troll those that deserve it into the ground. See Amazon reviews of Bic 'For her' Pens for responsible trolling.
Talk - Talk to the opposite sex. I read an article that claimed that 50% of gamers are now girls. I think that's pretty much the perfect figure! So let's talk: not in a romantic way, not in a sexy way, just in a human way, a gamer way. Stop expressing surprise when you meet a girl that likes games. Stop talking about how you're the only girl that likes games. Start acting like gender doesn't even register anymore. Let's break the stereotype of the sad little man sat in a basement, let's show the world that gaming isn't just a boys' club.
Talk to the shy kids too. When I was little, I was painfully shy; I couldn't make small talk for the life of me ( I can now, watch: 'Nice weather isn't it Matt?' 'No'.) but I could talk for England about the games I loved. So if you see someone shy; be they boy or girl, young or old, ask them if they like videogames. If they say no - not a problem. If they say yes, let them chat. Just because they're quiet doesn't mean they don't want to talk. And that's not patronising, that's from personal experience.
Show the world, gamers doing good things - Let's counter the thousands of articles about murderers being known to play violent games with some good press. Show the world gamers getting involved in worthwhile projects to help the environment, the community, unfortunate people. Get on Kickstarter and back worthwhile causes - games and projects that look to challenge stereotypes or educate the world about important issues through games. There's plenty of gaming based charities out there: http://www.childsplaycharity.org , http://www.extra-life.org/ are just a few so give a little to support them too.
Just a few pointers, you don't have to take them all up at once. But if we take a step in the right direction for 2014 that would be good. Let's act so that we can be proud to call ourselves gamers. Let's inherit the Earth.