Gaming culture is so rich and varied because it is just another representation of real life; there are games and communities to suit almost everyone’s tastes. If games themselves are a form of escapism, then the cultural aspects that surround them are the grounding ties back to the real world. They are the thing that makes playing games more integrated with every day life; the friends one makes in an MMO often cross over into becoming ‘real’ friends, not just digital representations of people. Gaming communities are able to give the solitary act of playing games a little more meaning.
In this aspect, I think they’re a good thing, although not quite for me. Games for me remain as a solitary hobby, pure escapism which I’m happy with as being completely separate from my real social life. For one, I’ve never really played the sort of games which favour community in the same way, apart from maybe certain RPGs with large online fanbases; where we discuss everything apart from the actual gameplay. Somehow I don’t think this sort of thing counts, as there’s no competitive aspect, only discussion that could apply to any other medium. Another reason for my game shyness is probably the same reason for my general internet shyness. For about 5 years I was extremely active online and keen on the idea of online interest-based communities and friends. A while ago I found myself becoming less and less active, and quite jaded with the whole thing, I didn’t see it as necessary anymore, and not that fulfilling as there was always a distance between you and these people that limited you to little more than glorified small talk, which you can do in real life anyway. Another thing is when you’re younger, you seem to have the insatiable craving to find others who are similar to you because you feel so isolated all the time; it’s a fairly natural part of teen angst, isn’t it? Now I know there are in fact many thousands of people with similar interests and opinions to me, it all seems a bit redundant. I’m not particularly special or unique, and I’m happy with that, whereas 4 years ago most of the things I did were motivated by the drive to be different from everyone else. So now more than anything, I prefer to be an observer or do things anonymously, and right now that’s fulfilling to me.
I’m sure there are many people with MSN contacts full of people they’ve never met and have very interesting conversations with, but I have 2 or 3 people who I’ve met online and meet up with regularly in RL too. If I meet someone online who I have good conversation with and it’s possible to meet in RL too, I’d definitely want to meet them! I think, with gaming communities, it seems to be more about having many, many friends to have game-related small talk with, and that kind of thing doesn’t appeal to me anymore. Give it a few years and I’ll probably have different attitudes again, but sometimes I just need to crawl away into peace and silence and be content with doing what I want to do and having my friends in RL. Also part of escapism, there’s lots of opportunity to recreate yourself as an avatar in a game as there is on the internet as a whole, and a lot of people do blur the boundaries to lie about things with no repercussions.
As for games being the new literacy, I don’t know if I like the idea of it. If games are part of your culture, then yes its good to play many different games, but also watch films and read old books and books of your time too, I think everyone needs to read more and seek out what they’re interested in! Though I spend most of my time watching children’s cartoons, so it feels wrong to pretend to give advice...!
Here's a pretty cool example of something productive coming from gaming cultures, PSP design club [although I think part of the site is down right now].