I came to Twitter somewhat reluctantly, as many do. I saw it as an application for unnecessary ego boosting and vanity, a platform you use to wave at your favorite celebrities and hope they wave back. That criticism contains an element of truth, but it’s not the whole picture.
When I did finally create a profile, I did it promote my gaming-related writing. I also decided to start following critics, writers, and editors of the community as sources of news. Surprisingly, I found not just news updates but a hotbed of debates, soap boxes, and sex jokes. This aspect has arrested my attention and the attention of thousands of gamers for the simple fact that these exchanges are both informative and entertaining. Within moments of one another, you can watch game personalities trade some light-hearted barbs over Spec Ops: The Line and then see industry people discuss social issues in gaming culture.
Twitter is more than just an information dump. It’s also an avenue into the various ongoing debates in the community. I like to think of it as a digital realization of rhetorician Kenneth Burke’s metaphor of the parlor, which is … well — let Burke explain:
“Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.”
My experience with the Burkean parlor is usually confined to helping students work through issues they’re having when drafting and planning research papers. It lets them create a context in which they can “talk” with folks past and present who have tackled whatever subject the student is writing about. But let’s repurpose this concept for Twitter. I find the parlor a particularly apt metaphor for this experience since it really is like stepping into a virtual bar of sorts and overhearing conversations.
Much of the time I don’t take part in these discussions, sometimes because the participants are intimidating and sometimes because I don’t want to come across as an obscure suck up. But, I do throw in my two cents or lame joke into the middle of the table every once in and a while, and sometimes, one of the participants responds, which has the unfortunate effect of working as a reluctant ego boost. This also ensures that the conversation keeps on going with individuals who aren’t necessarily regulars. I’ve never had anyone tell me to butt out, since, you know, Twitter is a public platform, so by design, it basically invites conversation.
And, right now, what this culture needs more than anything is vigorous discussion — not one that the critics push, but one that involves the entire community. Obviously, this conversation won’t change everything — technological constraints, unstoppable AAA publishers, tacky marketing campaigns. Keeping that cultural dialogue out in the open, however, influences more than just the flow of gaming criticism. It can also influence game development. Developers like Harvey Smith and Kim Swift tune into our parlor conversations as well. Whether or not they do anything more than chuckle, sigh, or take to heart what’s said is ultimately up to them, but the fact that they’re tuned in means that the channel is open.
If you want to affect our culture’s direction, I imagine this is a good place to start. Come into the parlor. Have a drink. Watch. Listen. Participate. Talk. Let’s figure out why we play games, why we love them, and how we can make them better.