Over the past 20 years, video games have slowly crept into our mass consciousness not only as a form of entertainment, but also as a new way for artists to effectively express emotions and ideas that has traditionally come from media such as books, movies, television, and fine art. While many communities still dispute that video games are a viable means to communicate story and emotion, the huge numbers of sales figures and the growing gaming population demographics tell a different story. For example, since the release of the Wii-a home video game console manufactured by the industry giant Nintendo-video game sales have sky-rocketed higher in the past year and a half than in the past 20 years. There are more gamers today than ever before and as the gaming community continues to enlarge, more and more gamers are gathering in secret, right under our noses. There is even a growing list of publications, websites, and films dedicated to appealing to the burgeoning community.
The popularity and notoriety of video games among peoples from all walks of life are propagating the continuing growth that in the end will establish video games as the premier form of entertainment and information in the very-near future. And the “underground” movement is largely due to gaming communities such as the Santa Barbara Gamers Club.
Formed in 2005 by a few SBCC students, the SBGC has increased significantly and counts young and old alike among its members. So, like many other clubs, hosting a festival was a must for the Santa Barbara community.
Attending the first Santa Barbara Gamefest was like being in the video arcades of old-faces glued to computer screens or video monitors, hand and fingers rapidly jerking to and fro, shouts of triumphs and howls of defeat all brought back many fond memories from my own video game past. Some gamers brought their own computers and home consoles for all to share, while the SBGC went the extra mile to provide computers and consoles for those who had none.
The level of commitment to the festival from the SBGC members was nothing short of amazing. Consisting of mostly current and ex-SBCC students, the day started quite early for set-up. Running cables and power, wiring the computers, rolling out the flat-panel displays were not easy tasks but all of the club members enjoyed the early arrival and hard work of setting up. Despite a few electrical power issues and other small setbacks, all was ready by the time the gamers started arriving. And the gamers did come, by the hundreds. From L.A. to San Luis Obispo players came to test their skills against others in the tournaments or the various other gaming stations arrayed around the SBCC cafeteria. Many of the SBGC’s members commented about what a success the Gamefest was, and it showed in their enthusiasm and energy, which lasted the whole nine hours of the event.
Although the gaming was fierce among all attendees, the highlight of the day was the elimination tournament hosted by SBGC at Gamefest. Free to the public, the all-day tournament was for the very popular “fighting” game: Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Nintendo Wii. For five bucks, 60 players entered the winner-take-all to challenge. And what a challenge it was. Many of the tournament’s players would make mincemeat out of the “casual” gamer in mere seconds but the tournament lasted a total of seven hours, with most of the tournament players playing the entire seven hours. The final round was between two contestants that had battled it out all day. Brian Laub of San Luis Obispo and Bryant Beaveridge of Santa Barbara fought for nearly an hour for the title of the SBGC’s first tournament winner. But in the end the out-of-towner, Bryant Beaveridge won the title, as well nearly $300 in prize money.
While gaming consoles appeal to the average consumer and are aimed at attracting younger players, the opposite may be said for the PC. With racier, darker content, PC games have become the ultimate in gaming experience but sometimes at a price. Always pushing the technological envelope, PC’s are much more expensive and although the PC gamer community is large, it’s not as large as that of console gaming.
As the console tournaments ground on, I enjoyed a great deal of PC gaming with members from the SBGC, many others who showed up just come to play PC games. While I still love picking up the old Zelda game from time-to-time, I am primarily a PC gamer. PC gamers are usually older and more mature and focused and the games produced for the PC platform reflect that demographic. Games that were played at Gamefest such as Counter-Strike and Quake III Arena, are defiantly not for younger gamers. There tends to be a lot of bullets, blood, and babes in the much more edgy PC gaming community.
Even the most critical must acknowledge that something special is happening in the “virtual” world. Due to the advent of the internet and the growth of technology, home game consoles such as the Nintendo Wii, Sony’s Playstation 3, and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 are fairly inexpensive when compared to home PC’s. Many people, who are now in their 30s and 40s and remember the video game arcade boom in the late 1970s and early ’80s, are once again playing video games rather shamelessly. So it is not surprising that many of the “new thirty-somethings” are buying these consoles for their children, and finding out that they enjoy the video game experience almost as much as their kids do. As for the PC gaming community, it is still alive and well although suffering a bit due to the home game console craze of today.
All-in-all the day was a treat for local gamers and an experience that I won’t soon forget. The impression and energy of the Santa Barbara Gamefest was contagious for anyone who walked in the door and, after event was over, left many wanting more of the same.
Thanks to the Santa Barbara Gamers Club. Santa Barbara has found a new local voice for something that speaks to the gamer in all of us.
For more information on the Santa Barbara Gamers Club, visit sbgamefest.com