The Day We Discovered the Gamers

by Bob Schwartz

It’s a cliché from a hundred movies: Right before the wedding, the father of the bride looks over at his daughter and discovers something: the little girl is all grown up. This isn’t the day she grew up; that has been going on all along, for years. This is just the day he learned that.

Sean Smith, the Libyan embassy officer killed yesterday along with Ambassador Chris Stevens and two others, was also a world-class online gamer. In the 400,000-member EV Online community, where his name was Vile Rat, he was known as perhaps the greatest of all space diplomats. Most did not know that was what he did in his other life.

The community responded immediately and in force. Members gave assurances that his family would be supported, including making sure that his children went to college. In the digital world, space stations were named in his honor.

Those two things may not make sense together to some, but it is fitting. There is an image, outdated if it was ever true, that digital gaming is filled with socially inept people, mostly men, suffering from some form of arrested development. To the contrary, just ask the digital gaming industry, which is reaping the rewards of one of the few truly healthy entertainment genres. Or ask the millions who are citizens of the communities, who are also grown-up, responsible men—and women—who live complete and complex non-digital lives.

Or ask the wife and young children of Sean Smith, who may or may not have understood the different way he was important as an online diplomat, esteemed member of that community, and friend to thousands who had never met him. As one member posted, it is a “stupid game” that stands in the shadow of Sean Smith’s real world contributions and passing. But the gaming itself and the community it fostered is not stupid.

This is the day we learned that.