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A Closer Look into Internet Cafés and Online Gaming

01 May

Katarina Lopez and Nathaniel Sundiang

Just a five minute walk from the Ateneo De Manila University campus stands a sort of haven for serious gamers- Blueskies Internet Gaming Network. Though it is situated right across the street from another well-known internet cafe, Mineski Infinity Cyber Cafe Network, it is still more popular for the simple reason that it has been in the Katipunan area longer. Another compelling reason to choose Skies (a term for Blueskies that was coined by its regular customers) over Mineski according to our informant is the food. “Skies’ food is a lot cheaper and it tastes better. I’ve been going here so long that the food to me is a lot like comfort food,” our informant explains. Blueskies has in itself become an institution over the years; a hidden Mecca for gamers looking for an online distraction from either school work or just everyday life. The internet cafe is discreetly located alongside the various shops and restaurants on the short and busy street of F. Dela Rosa. If you aren’t the most keen observer, there’s a big chance you missed this little internet cafe entirely. The storefront signage is a bit worn from time and its logo colors are not at all eye-catching. Instead of standing out, Blueskies seemingly blends into the background. Unlike most of the other stores on the street, Blueskies does not have a very welcoming appeal. Its entrance is blacked out and plastered by local advertisements and random stickers- from brightly colored roosters  to a rather large and faded Yahoo brand sticker that is placed right above the door frame. One would really have to go inside the internet cafe’s premises in order to see what is really going on in this somewhat secretive hole-in-the-wall.

Walking into Blueskies is like stepping into the stereotypical man cave. This internet cafe is dark, it is only lit up by immensely dim lights and the glow of many different computer screens. It is also quite dark even in the daytime for natural light is not enough and it has trouble piercing through the blacked out entrance. We suppose that the lack of too much light is a deliberate choice in order to maintain the ambiance of a pseudo man cave. It creates an inviting and cozy atmosphere for gamers who plan to stay for an extended period of time. There are two storeys to Blueskies and both floors are identical. Upon entrance to this internet cafe you will feel the almost sudden drop in temperature. Our informant says that this is normal since the internet cafe almost always has their Air-conditioning unit cranked up on high, especially now in the Summer months. An interesting scent hovers over the entire internet cafe- it is the distinct smell of cigarettes and several other unidentifiable vape flavors mixed together. You are sure to be walking out of Blueskies with the scent of the cafe stuck to your clothing.

On our first visit to Blueskies, our informant walked us through some of the available online games in the cafe. We were told that some of the most popular games are Defense of the Ancients 2 (DOTA 2), League of Legends, the different versions of Left 4 Dead and the different versions of Counterstrike. With this in mind, we set off to play and test out a couple of these games ourselves, for the price of P30 per hour.

Fieldwork: Channeling our inner gamers

Initially, we decided to play Defense of the Ancients 2 (DOTA 2) since it is one of the more famous games played in Blueskies and in nearly all internet cafes across the Philippines. The instructions as described by our informant, “to defeat the enemy’s army in order to gain access and ultimately destroy the enemy base,” seemed straightforward and easy but boy, were we wrong. After about 20 minutes of struggling, even with the help of our informant and a couple regulars, we just could not get the hang of the game. It proved to be far more complex than we had anticipated. We figured that we were not going to do well with this specific strategy game since there were so many variables we were not aware of. An example of these variables is the “hero” you are meant to play. In Defense of the Ancients 2, it is crucial to know your hero character in order to figure out your next moves in the game. Our newfound friends took pity on us newbies and advised us to try a Counter Strike game instead. Our informant backed up this suggestion by saying that it is “relatively easier to play if you’re just starting out.” With that, we pessimistically began our second game, Counter Strike Source. Surprisingly, we really enjoyed playing Counter Strike Source! Although our skills were subpar in comparison to the regulars at Blueskies, we managed to make it through the game- or shall I say mission, successfully.

Stepping into the shoes of Skies regulars, even for just a couple hours really helped us internalize the internet cafe culture in Katipunan. Aside from just observing what really goes on in Skies, experiencing gaming itself has left us with the understanding of what online gaming is really all about. Besides the thrill of playing the actual game, it is also about being in a space wherein you are free to play out your fantasies through the different online games. We also saw the community within Skies, although the difference in background and social status is obvious, our informant even said that, “it doesn’t really matter here.” We saw that online gaming has the capacity to bring people together regardless of merit. If you needed advice on a certain mission or wanted another person to play an online game with, all you need to do is ask. For instance, a few regulars were more than willing to give us tips and advice us on what to play as newbies to Blueskies.

The Informant

Having an informant undoubtedly gave us the upper hand to conducting our Ethnographic Fieldwork. Not only was it faster and more efficient with our informant around, but he was also able to provide us with a true insider’s point of view of Blueskies Internet Gaming Network. His input and guidance in our Ethnographic Project gave us inside information that would have otherwise taken much longer to acquire. He also served as a translator of sorts to explain certain habits and quirks that some gamers in Blueskies have. For example, also on our first visit to Blueskies we noticed that some gamers would stand behind the chairs of other gamers and simply watch what the other person was doing or playing online. We found this to be a rather peculiar phenomenon and upon asking our informant about the spectator, he explained that it is part of the norm in Blueskies to just watch, observe and admire another person’s work in an online game. “It’s a lot like watching a reality game show unfold in real time,” he adds.

Our informant visits Blueskies once or twice a week, depending on the amount of free time he has in between or after his classes. Other times, he is not able to visit at all, especially if he has a big load of school work to accomplish over the week. Everytime he visits the internet cafe, he stays for at least 2 hours but he never stays after midnight. He personally enjoys the games Left 4 Dead, Left 4 Dead 2 and Counter Strike over Defense of the Ancients 2. Upon conducting a brief interview with our informant, he also told us that maybe the main reason as to why people visit Blueskies so often is due to its convenient location. He argues that it is undoubtedly, “ an easy way to kill time when they have nothing else to do.” The games can are very exciting and can all too often also become  addicting. The games stimulate the player’s mind, that over many visits and long hours of playing, one can become so used to it that it becomes almost natural and does not put any stress on a player. In short, it becomes a very important part of a person’s routine and they can no longer figure out how to live without it. They can very quickly become addicted.

Internet café and online gaming: Blueskies Internet Gaming Network

Although a sense of community is present in Blueskies Internet Gaming Network, our informant clarifies that the idea of keeping to oneself is also present in the internet cafe. We can attest to this fact for upon entering Blueskies, no one even looked away from their computer screens to look at who was entering the cafe. Some players choose to mind their own business when they are inside Blueskies. The community can also be further categorized into smaller groups. These smaller groups are made up of people who enjoy playing the same game. Our informant refers to these groups as, “The DOTA 2 group” and “The Counter Strike group.”  He thinks that there are representatives or certain people found in these groups, for example people from the same school who play the same game, such as Ateneo High School students or Loyola School students who play DOTA and Counter Strike in Blueskies.

Gender in Blueskies

A huge majority of the customers of Blueskies Internet Gaming Network are men, not women. This is an unsurprising statistic given that the surroundings of the internet cafe alone is much more like a man cave than anything else. The informant suggests that perhaps the reason why men are more likely to get sucked into playing online games is due to that fact that the games themselves are specifically marketed towards men. Games like Counter Strike are designed to target a man’s machismo and pride. The components of the game itself mimic violence- a common theme used in many online games. Furthermore, the ideology of violence is often sold with gender specificity in mind- it is marketed specifically for males, in order to fully reinforce the stereotypical idea of what a man should truly be. Some research even show that the tactical strategy designed to work in the game is also geared towards the way a man thinks, the notion that he will choose to “go full charge with guns blazing,” is further justified for this is how most combat and shooting games are won.  

A female player we interviewed told us that when she first visited Blueskies, her friend who introduced her to the internet cafe noticed how most of the regulars were eyeing her when she was playing. She never noticed that because whenever she would visit, she usually minds her own business by paying for a slot and directly proceeding to playing, in effect getting distracted by whatever game she was playing. She never felt anxious or uncomfortable whenever she would play, even though she was surrounded mostly by men. In contrast to what her friend said before, she thinks that they are also too immersed in their own games, and too busy also to even care who enters or plays in Blueskies. It is interesting to note that it was not peer influence that made her start participating in online gaming. She has been playing online games, specifically Counter Strike, ever since she was young. She had an idea about Blueskies being a computer shop mostly for playing games, but because she could not play in the dorm, she asked her friends where in Katipunan a good computer shop for gaming could be found. Her friends recommended Blue Skies and so she visited and was fond of their set up.

The same perspective

We wanted to observe Blueskies as much as in the same way a regular visitor would. We first did this by choosing a time where both of us were free and spent the next few hours playing games as soon as we payed for a time slot. Before visiting Blueskies on our own, our ideas came from vicarious knowledge from friends who regularly play games there. If asked about the culture in Blueskies, we probably would not be able to give coherent descriptions, the first reason being that we had not visited it before then. We would not have been able to describe the whole process and experience of gaming, from travelling to Blueskies, going up to the counter and interacting with the employees to get a slot. In the process of preparing questions beforehand, we asked some of our peers who we knew were regulars in the place. They told us about the times it would be convenient to visit and how to watch out for ourselves and our belongings while getting lost in the game. Aside from this, what really made us more eager to participate in such a cultural phenomenon was the fact that most of the regulars we consulted spoke of the 24 hour computer shop culture as more of a community within a community; where people belonging to various social groups would come together, although actually being oblivious to one another. It was a silent but astounding insight to see how everyone in the internet shop community seemed to respect one another, out of one common past time: gaming. Playing in Blueskies, the possible who, what, where, when, how, and why, would come in mind sporadically. To prepare ourselves for the experience, we had a few prepared questions and expectations in mind, but as we participated, unexpected circumstances would come along the way, such as losing in a game, coming across new people like gamers and employees, and of course to enjoying ourselves. Keeping these things in mind did prepare us, but through our experience, it was the unexpected that made us truly lose ourselves in the world of gaming . We would miss out on stating how we would have felt during the experience, from the confusion in starting out with a game for the first time and the excitement we had during the intense games or so-called missions in Counter Strike.

 

In the Philippine context

Blueskies Internet Gaming Network has doubtlessly provided a refuge for gamers in the Katipunan area who are looking for a distraction from their everyday lives. For regulars, a visit to Blueskies has become a routine part of their day. Many gamers  across the country would agree with the notion that online gaming and playing in internet cafes has become an integral part of their lives. Even the smallest communities nowadays have their own form of an internet cafe. In this fast paced world that we live in now, our lives are driven by technology. The internet, Wi-fi, social media and online games serve as a connection to other people. All too often, we enable technology to take over our lives instead of the other way around. Though the internet cafe culture is not necessarily harmful in itself, it still poses a much bigger threat. It creates a rather large number of unproductive people in the population.  Instead of spending their supposed free time engaging in productive activities such as studying or finishing work, people tend to spend more time and money in these internet cafes like Blueskies. It is normal to want to blow off some steam but the addictiveness of these online games keeps the people coming back for more, time and again. We believe that these internet cafes should come with a warning sign- highly addictive and can be harmful to your health. Like with everything in life, too much of anything can prove to be harmful.

Nevertheless, these 24/7 Internet cafes like Blueskies Internet Gaming Network does its part in creating an avenue for gamers to create and foster bonds with other gamers and destress from the struggles of everyday life.

 

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