But Westerners can behave as stereotypes as well. The good news is that we're all blending together.
That's the gist of the claim, anyway. I'm sure there are some readers who would add to this over-the-top list of stereotypes. The difficulty in shooting down these conventional beliefs is that the media and the industry itself frequently highlight players who appear to exemplify, not defy, the "Asian gamer" stereotype.
Next there's the 2010 example of the Korean couple who allowed their baby to starve to death because they were too busy playing Prius Online.
"Players who are growing up on the internet right now are slowly becoming more used to the games that are more frequently selling powerful items in cash shops. Look at Wizard101, Free Realms, and non-MMO games like Magic: The Gathering."
But those are all sensationalist stories that imply extremes are the norm and that a few corner cases in Asia represent a whole continental demographic. What about everyone else -- the "normal" Eastern gamer?
This brings me to Jesse McBride, a pro gamer from South Korea who agreed to give me an insider's perspective on gaming in his country. According to him, Korean gamers tend to use PC "bangs" (cafes) as the go-to source for digital entertainment. His words backed up my suspicions: that cooperative gaming, and yes, even grind, is a social outing for many Eastern gamers. They are in the room together, there is no lag in their voices, and they'll put up with mindless grind as an activity because they're busy chatting and having a good time.
Jesse lived in a gamer house, an apartment rented or bought to bring pros together to train up for competition. He lived there with several other players, and a maid would come two or three times a week to cook meals and clean. Jesse told me that this social connection is why arcades are still popular in his country; most people who want to play games don't have "two or three" home PCs (implying he believes that we in the West do have more PCs and devices, which is true for me -- how about you?). His point was that most gamers in his area use the easy-access PC bang instead of playing at home. Jesse goes on to list the most popular multiplayer games in Korea, claiming that a variety of games, like Minecraft, League of Legends, and Kart Rider, are at least as popular as World of Warcraft.
So what about the other side -- what defines the stereotypical Western gamer? No doubt he is overweight, plays games for almost as many hours as he works, prefers the subscription model to free-to-play, values high-fantasy over Anime fluff, and is willing to do whatever it takes to get the best piece of loot. Heck, just fill in examples of what we have heard about gamers from non-gamers, and you get the picture. Of course, we roll our eyes at this stereotype because we know the scene here and know just how varied and open gaming can be.
Still, Western games media also focus on the crazy things gamers do in the West, contributing to these negative impressions held by non-gamers and gamers outside Western borders. In EVE Online alone, there's the player who scammed another player for loot worth $45,000, another rip-off of a trillion ISK, as well the infamous story of an influential EVE Online council rep who urged his minions to heckle a suicidal player. A RuneScape player in Massachusetts attempted to rob a fellow gamer of his gold at gunpoint. These are all examples of poor gamer behavior in the West, and there are too many to list.
Researching for this article convinced me that gamers from all over the world -- yes, all over -- are pretty much the same. Gaming cultures are becoming closer and closer together, not further apart, no matter what hyperbolic mass media might suggest. Jesse's Facebook timeline has pictures of his PC setup and updates from a RIFT session. MOBAs like League of Legends are storming East and West alike. E-sports, once the domain of East Asia, are not on the rise in the West. We like to play a lot, and the games we play are converging.
We share in the bad side of gaming, too. Western gamers love to put in a ton of hours. Many of us resemble the much-maligned gold-farmer, some even looking into botting or multiboxing just to get ahead. Many of us grind our butts off, and not all of us are socializing in a Korean cyber cafe while we do so. We can be very snooty in America, as though our form of grinding or intense play is somehow different from gameplay in the East. The reality is that we're all meeting in the middle, and thanks to the internet, we all share one massive, varied, wacky gamer culture.
I originally thought I would show that Western gamers spend way too much time tweaking character stats and repetitively executing strategies in the same dungeons every week, activities just as boring and soulless as the grinding that the Eastern gamer is often accused of. What I found is that there are shades of gray in both audiences, despite the stereotypes that grab media attention.
Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers every Tuesday as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews and not necessarily shared by Massively as a whole. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!