I grew up playing video games and I spent most of my young adult life being a line cook. I’ve also been an activist for 8 years and next month I’ll receive my fourth award for the work that I do. This article will explore how this is insane, but you can do it too! If you want…Baka. Video games are not fundamentally different from activism and every tool that you learn as a gamer can be applied materially on work to help change your community.
I get that games as a genre are incredibly broad, but I really mean that every game will help you be an activist, because fundamentally games are about having an operative goal, understanding the mechanics of the systems you are engaging with, and working to achieve that goal. The mentality of what you bring to every game is the same framework that you can bring to activism. I’ll delve into that much deeper, but first let’s talk about what being an activist is.
Fundamentally an activist is anyone looking to bring about change at any level. You can be a turtle activist and your change is a better world for turtles. You may even want turtle dominance. Activism is not good or bad, it just denotes that you are working towards some change or to prevent change from happening. Not every activist is as pure and good as ones pursuing turtle dominance in accordance with world turtle. All Hail.
Activism can be very micro or macro in expression. You can think of this along the same lines of comic book heroes. Some heroes patrol their city, some their region, some the world, some the whole universe. You can broadly be about human rights, you can be about decriminalization of drugs, or you can fight for homeless people. You can also be an activist against homeless people, because of how they may lower your property value. I’m not going to judge what you want to do in this article, but know the great turtle will come for you if you’re an asshole.
When someone comes to me, wanting to get involved. I often ask them what they want to do. It’s a simple question, but a lot of folks don’t know the answer. They get to this point where they feel like being part of a community or giving back or getting involved, but just have that desire with no real aim. If you don’t have the answer to this question, I recommend looking for local volunteer opportunities connected to something you care about. Animal shelters, homeless shelters, adopt a mile of highway, etc. It’s not hard to find places where they need warm bodies to do some job.
If you don’t know what exists in your area, contact the nearest college for people pursuing a degree in social work. A lot of the time professors keep lists of volunteer opportunities that are required for students to either complete some project in or do minimum hours. This may not be consistent with each state within education or licensing, but social workers are going to be the most likely to know where community need is and how to get involved. If you do plan to volunteer, then be sure to start out small. Don’t just commit to 20 hours a week. Start with 2 and if you feel like you can do more, do it. A lot of people take on everything and burn out in just a few weeks and that’s not good for anyone.
So, figure out what you care about and find out what infrastructure exists and how to support it. The biggest mistake I see people making is they get these strong feelings about wanting to do a project, but then don’t communicate with anyone actually doing the work. They get all gung-ho about feeding homeless with turtle soup, but don’t ask about the shelters currently offering that or consider the wrath of divine beings. It will be absolute.
What I’ve recommended so far is for anyone who kind of wants to contribute to their community or society, but doesn’t really know how to go about it. A great deal of work is going to be bigger than just volunteer opportunities that you sign-up for and go do the job. A lot of it can require significantly bigger challenges. But the question I ask is — are these challenges bigger than Emerald Weapon?
Maybe that’s a bit dated? Maybe people don’t care about Emerald Weapon anymore. How about…any big boss in FFXIV?
Can we really say that activism is harder than Elden Ring’s Malenia?
Listen, I don’t know what games you play. But every game has its own challenge. Even Hero or Cookie Clickers are fine games to draw comparison too. There are almost no games where you don’t have some agency within the game to impact or improve the game state. Your actions will make the game take less time, will allow you to overcome a difficult boss, get a higher score, beat the game, or make you more powerful. If a game doesn’t have some component of agency within it, then you’re not playing a game, you are actually watching a movie. I don’t mean that in a coy way. I mean you legitimately are probably just watching Scott Pilgrim, I don’t know.
Even thinking about highly predatory games that play themselves and demand more money from you, that is a level of interaction you can engage with. It just demands you have a ton of money to play the game well. And guess what, that’s activism too. Some people don’t have any talent or time to be activists, but they can write checks. I really do mean that any way you engage with games can be directly applied to activism.
Okay Faye…but seriously, Hero Clickers? You get some meaning out of that? That mindless skinner box of numbers get big makes you a better activist? In what timeline? In what universe? I’d throw a hot pocket at you if I could.
First, I’d like to say that’s an excellent call back to season 4 of Lost, pretend voice of random stranger. Very fitting, if not a little too obvious to each reader. The lesson that Hero Clickers teaches you is that a lot of activism takes a very very long time. The rewards in activism can often be very quick when you start out. You get all this validation for doing something important and helping other people, but very quickly you’re left with work that maybe will take years or decades. The validation you receive in the beginning often stops pretty quickly and you’re left with just criticism for everything you do wrong. You struggle against the weight and scope of the world you’re fighting for and try not to burn out. Try not to lose hope. Change in activism is a tree that grows only when you’re looking at it. You never feel like any single day matters, but if you keep doing it for years you start to see the fruit of your labor pay off in significant ways and make something beautiful for the effort.
I do realize painting Hero Clickers in such a poetic way has to instill an uncomfortable feeling in most folks reading. So, let’s talk about Elden Ring or just broadly RPGs like FF7. These games are fundamentally puzzles. You must take the information of the game, how powerful you are, what each item does, and how powerful your foe is. The levels, damage, abilities, and items all become parts of this moving puzzle as you figure out how to defeat the enemy by bringing their health state to zero.
There is a pretty famous Youtuber named Iron Pineapple who has done a number of challenges for Elden Ring. They often involved self imposed limitations to see if he’s able to beat the game under certain conditions.
I want you to think about this in the games you’ve played. I’m sure this is a universal experience for all gamers. You come across a challenge you can’t just immediately overcome, so you have to think about ways to do so. You have to analyze the problem at hand, try out different tactics, and keep on trying until you win. While it’s easier to think about in terms of RPG games, this can be true of games like Celeste too.
Activism or trying to impact change is not different from this. You are looking at the tools and resources you have access to, you try things out to make change, you learn from your mistakes, and you keep trying until you win.
Let’s say you have a passion that everyone deserves to eat. I’d like to think that’s vaguely apolitical, but unfortunately I’ve been online before. But whatever, you’re one of those communists. Just another person wanting some kind of distribution of resources ultimately inferior to the great turtle economics and social order.
So, that is your goal. Feeding everyone is your endgame. Hunger is your boss and you need to defeat hunger. The first thing you do is identify everyone already working on this. You look for homeless shelters, you look for food shelters, and you look for coalitions of folks that are serving to achieve this end. You look at schools and wonder what lunch programs look like. You look towards prisons to make sure they’re being fed nutritionally appropriate meals. You look at rural communities across your state or nation or county, to make sure these resource desserts have access to grocery stores or stable food. You try to think about every way this problem is impacting people from every area and demographic. Reminder, hunger is your final boss and it can exist anywhere. Also, turtles are inedible. I wouldn’t even try.
So, you identified all of this infrastructure that exists. You should ask everyone you talk to about what they know about. So often, organizations never talk to each other. You’d be surprised. And as you do this you keep receipts. You make a contact list. You’re putting together your spells and armor and tools.
Each conversation should give you more knowledge about the assets that will help you take down Big H. And once none of your contacts have any new leads to other contacts, you can start to see the big picture. This is where I will say, again, that the important part of this work is helping the infrastructure that already exists. Trying to create your own anti-hunger organizations, when there are already three others, just means you’re now creating some confusion and competition in a market that maybe didn’t need it. It is possible a city needs a fourth anti-hunger organization, that there is enough room and need to create it, but you do this after assessing the area you’re trying to help.
And let’s say you just want to work at a soup kitchen. Maybe all your effort was just finding that and volunteering. Maybe you want that to be your job. So, you start volunteering at one and applying to them when that position opens up. Maybe you’re good at digital art or promotion and you find that homeless shelters don’t have any real social media presence — that a service you can offer. And while someone who is homeless may not necessarily have access to that, it could be about getting more people interested in donating or investing in better infrastructure or so other healthcare organizations know where to refer patients.
Activism has no real limit, so it’s difficult to define exactly what to do in each moment. So, broadly I recommend just devoting a few hours a week to looking for information or finding out how you want to be involved. Get your foot in the door of the change you want to make. And the more time you spend with it, the more you spend working towards a cause, the more doors open up to you. Maybe you walked into a soup kitchen to volunteer and it goes great for two years. Then you find yourself applying to be a worker there and that’s great. Then a year later, a board position opens up at a non-profit and you take that, because you have a lot of on the ground experience with community needs. Then a few years later, you find yourself becoming the president of a non-profit and leading efforts through grant work. That is a possibility so long as you take the opportunities that come up when the need arises.
Ultimately, I’m just outlining how you should outline your approach. Find out information, ask yourself what you want out of it, and offer whatever knowledge or talent you have to the cause. Maybe you just make a ton of money and you’re sick of spending it on Diablo Immortal. Find a non-profit that you like and give them a thousand a month. Give them a hundred. I would recommend talking to the organization first as not all non-profits are equal or competent or put funds to good use. Maybe find areas to directly donate to individuals you’re trying to serve.
An important thing to keep in mind is you don’t need any special skills or knowledge to be an activist. You don’t need a degree. You don’t need to be wealthy. You only need to have a will to see a better world, the patience to follow through on action, and the ability to listen to people and learn from them.
Most people get into activism because they have personally been impacted by something awful. Maybe it was cancer, maybe they lost an LGBTQ+ family member to bullying, or lost an uncle to abuse in a prison. At the end of the day activism lives and dies on the passion of the people who get involved. And in all of my experience, that desire to make change, that will to keep coming to the table to try new things — That is more important than any other thing. Yes, if a person was the richest, smartest person a problem could be solved quickly — but the fact is these causes often don’t have that person. Most causes are underfunded and short staffed. I’m so rarely the smartest or best person, but I am so often the only person in the room advocating for the populations I serve. Turtles.
I have beaten so many difficult games, not because I’m a god gamer. It is because I sat down, accepted the terms of the game, and went to work trying to beat it until I could. That’s activism to me.
Honestly, if you’ve ever played an MMO and taken down a raid boss, you are probably better than a lot of activists we see in the field today. The amount of team work, communication, and sustained effort to beat a boss in an MMO are all of the same tools of coming together on community projects. It even recognizes that each person has a different role and part to play. It acknowledges that the whole team needs to know what they’re doing or the effort could be sunk.
One thing to also keep in mind is that it can be scary to take that first step. A long time ago I was asked to tank the raid of Naxxramas. A few people knew I was a really competent tank and asked me to do it. I had done the raid as a DPS before, but never as a tank and told them I didn’t really know what I was doing. They told me that was okay, they’d explain every fight to me.
The dungeon has a ton of bosses, all with different mechanics and moving parts. But before every fight, they explained to me generally what to know, where to stand or move, and what things to watch out for. Most people who were part of that raid were pretty competent people, but if a tank goes down the party is going to wipe. So, I was still the anchor that had to perform well. Even though it was my first time tanking, thanks to their support and explanation, we only lost two fights in the entire raid.
When I first started getting involved in activism. People doing my kind of work explained to me how to write grants, how to create presentations, how to be an effective communicator, and some really tough lessons that bridged the time between being a cocky know it all girl to a woman who could live humbly for a cause. Mentors exist in every field of activism, who absolutely love people coming in with questions and willingness to help out. Who will support you as you learn where you can be effective and will guide you along your growth.
The big thing to consider is that activism is a puzzle in the same way video games are. Video games obviously are not real in the same way activism would be on the impact it has on its communities. What video games are is simulations. They are practice. They are puzzles to figure things out, learn, and grow. And so many modern games offer very real team building exercises.
Trying to get a decent team of random strangers to victory in a game like Fortnite or Overwatch or League of Legends is fantastic training for working with diverse people and shitty trolls. Seeking community help on forums is a great exercise to all the emails you’ll need to send off looking for specific answers or advice in community problems.
The main thing I’m really trying to communicate here is that even though I primarily had a resume of beating tough games when I walked into the activism ring, I felt pretty comfortable in all of the jobs I ended up taking. You don’t have the answers to how to solve big problems starting out, but you didn’t have them as a kid either when you were exploring how two beat Ocarina of Time or Dark Souls.
Activism, in as serious of a way I can convey to you, is a game. It is a lot of different values that you bring together in hopes of achieving a goal. What’s sad to me is rarely do you see gamers in activism. Often gaming is about escape. It is about detaching from a reality that is difficult, to engage in something a bit more structured. Honestly, the reason I play difficult games is sometimes just to feel like I can overcome difficult challenges that actually have an endpoint.
Gamers haven’t been on the slide lines either. Every year Games Done Quick is an event I share as proof gamers matter. That our community comes together for common cause and supports amazing work. I dream for the next stage of that. Where our nerdly passions can be the heart that we draw on when engaging the world at large. Where it isn’t an oddity that you’d wonder what an activist’s favorite game is in the same way we may ask about a movie or book. It’s a neat little dream, but I hope this made activism slightly more accessible to the folks reading.
(I didn’t talk about Gamergate, because that would be its own article. If you want to look at how effective gamers can be as activist, than you don’t need to look further than GG. It’s just a sad reality that the original biggest collective activism for gaming was channeled into such hateful rhetoric and targeted harassment. That a group of individuals, who had likely experience social exclusion and hardship from the dominant ideology would only wait until the glove was on their hand to dish out the same to everyone else. Creating their own dominate ingroups, social hierarchies, and bullying, while maintaining the feelings of being victims in all of it.)