“Obviously, it’s a lot different now, because games have become so mainstream. But back in the ‘80s, games were perceived as more of a nerdy thing.
I don’t think so, though. I guess in the nerd world, it was considered that. But there’s a lot of mistakes [people make] with hip-hop. People watch us and they might pick up the low-riding and all that, but they miss the humor. We’re still kids; we’re just like y’all. We still f— around; we still do pranks – all that same stuff is a part of our make-up. So, we don’t really look at it as nerdy, we look at is as something to do. Go into a crack house, and they might have a video game! There’s nothing I’ve found that really burns time like video games. I’ve always said that if you put games in the prison system, cats would get out of jail and be like, “Hold up, I gotta go finish this level.” [Laughs] So, I’m here to say that it’s an absolute misconception that gaming is nerdy. I’ve been in some dangerous *** spots and there’s been a console there.”
I found this exchange between Ice T and Gameinformer interviewer, Matt Helgeson, interesting (full interview at the link). According to Helgeson, video games were something nerdy people did in the 1980’s. But, Ice T is someone who grew up around a different group of people, like myself. Call ’em what you want: thugs, pimps, players, hustlers, dealers or just hood folk. They were people to us. Some of them were family. And yes, they played video games but, you wouldn’t dare call them nerds.
You knew better than to call someone a nerd for sitting on their laminated couch playing Frogger or Pitfall. Why? Outside of the living room these people had reputations. Reputation was social capital. Being labeled a nerd would have been grounds for conflict. People had reputations to keep and social capital to protect.
But there was another reason. Living in low income communities, for many, is a life of disempowerment, shame, and stress. Each day presents a challenge that you can’t quite win. A person may have found some money to pay the bills this month but how are they going to pay them next month? They managed to avoid the corner boys today but what about tomorrow? They smiled through their bosses diatribes this week but how long can they keep it up?
Like life, video games can be challenging, but the cost of failure is one reset away. Through multiple play-throughs, a person starts learning patterns. They begin creating strategies for success. What was once hard becomes manageable. Over time they win. They save the world. Rescue the princess. Defuse the bomb. Find the treasure. They feel empowered. They escape from their problems.
I remember, a friend of the family had a Nintendo. He lived in the old projects by Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. I remember walking up urine scented stair cases to get to his second floor unit. The hallway smelt like burnt toast. It was dim because people kept knocking out the light bulbs. The maintenance man was always slow to get them fixed. You could hear people arguing through the walls to a loved one, maybe someone on the phone. I hated going to the projects. But, I loved playing Duck Hunt and Super Mario Brothers. Calling someone a nerd because they like playing games was just – inappropriate.
I think, the people Ice T grew up around understood this. We discovered, in the 1980’s, what Jane McGonial recently describes in her Huffington post article (and by extension her book, Reality is Broken). “[I]n today’s society, computer and video games are fulfilling genuine human needs that the real world is currently unable to satisfy.”