“What do you mean you guys never gave out candy for Halloween?!” my wife asked. She was shocked and baffled by my lack of childhood memories related to Halloween. “Did you dress up?” she asked.
“We aren’t from here!” I said.
I grew up in the United States, but my parents did not. The differences between my cultural upbringing and my wife’s have been highlighted most during the holidays. While my wife strongly feels the joy of Halloween is so powerful it should pass all borders and cultures, I tend to forget it’s coming up every year. There will always be little gaps like this in my experience of American culture.
This year my wife’s views on Halloween made me think about how gaming has been something that truly has helped me bridge borders and cultures.
Growing Up With Bi-Cultural Gaming
I was born in Houston, but my brother was born in Seville. My mother and father both grew up in Spain. I had things better than my friends who were also immigrant kids. If I looked and acted a certain way, I could avoid standing out too much as an immigrant kid. Sadly, however, as an immigrant kid I knew there would always be people who reminded me that I didn’t quite fit in.
While I was growing up, gaming was starting to get big. It was something that was new to everyone. The earliest games like Qbert and Pac-Man were so abstract that they transcended most cultural boundaries. Later games like Lemmings, Civilization, and Super Mario Bros. similarly did not require an American cultural background to enjoy. The medium was new and flexible enough to bridge the cultural gaps my friends and I had with each other. The adventures of Mario and Luigi didn’t need a shared family experience or even a shared language. The Pac-Man family’s insatiable need to consume dots and fruit is something we can all relate to.
This bridging occurred between me and my Spanish cousins when we would visit as well. My knowledge of Spanish and their knowledge of English was barely enough to communicate the simplest ideas. Our shared knowledge of gaming, however, was the basis of a bonding experience we couldn’t have any other way at the time. I remember spending hours with my cousins playing through the Asterix video game on the SEGA Master system. Likewise, when one of my cousin’s lived with us for a summer, we tackled Zeliard, a DOS side-scrolling adventure, together. The games were group efforts. Zeliard more or less required one person sitting next to the player to guide them through various mazes. We were encouraged to achieve the games’ goals through whatever shared language we had.
Taking Gaming Global
These days players from all over the globe can play and compete together. Gamers can now play with people in the same room or on a different continent. It is not uncommon for me to run across fellow players using any number of different languages in games like League of Legends or StarCraft. These are competitive games that require coordination of some kind, and players do find ways to work together to achieve shared goals despite the obstacles. We might use scripted notifications built into the game or players might try their best to translate for each other.
Parents and teachers know well that the world kids are growing up in today is far more globalized than when I was growing up. Thanks to the Internet and the global economy, the world is more interconnected today than it ever was before. What is not always recognized is that gaming is an important part of our increasingly borderless online world too. In fairly unique ways games are creating opportunities for young people to play, interact, compete, and cooperate regardless of location or culture.
Incorporating Gaming in Holiday Traditions
For players, games have created a new culture and shared experience, and there is no reason this cannot be added to our families’ already established traditions. In the United States, the holiday season is a time steeped in great family customs. As time goes on and the world changes around us, however, there should be room to create new traditions to share with family and friends. Gaming can be a great bridge to bring people together and can be part of these new traditions. I may continue to be surprised every year when Halloween comes up at the end of October. My mother will always think of El Día de los Reyes in January as the main gift-giving holiday. Nevertheless, we can all enjoy the time off we have together and part of this can be finding games we love to play together. My wife and I will be playing the new Warcraft expansion together this holiday season. When we visit my in-laws there is no doubt that we’ll play some rounds of Mario Kart or Rock Band together. Similarly, the next time I see my Spanish cousins I know these games will be a bridge able to bring us together once again.