Here's something I'm sure every gamer has experienced before. You'll be sitting somewhere, maybe on the bus, the train, a park bench. Or maybe you're just casually walking along to work, down the street, anywhere where you're passing other people doing their own thing.
You don't notice these people for the most part. And then someone will say something that just makes your ears prick up immediately.
Final Fantasy. Esports. Overwatch.
It's always one thing, almost like a code phrase. Sometimes it's a sentence that sings through the hustle and bustle of daily life, cuts through the noise to find it's fellow people.
It's not even an active thought. As soon as you hear it, you know.
Those people are talking about video games.
It's an experience every gamer I've spoken to has shared. It happens in all types of scenarios and environments, as a quick thread on my social feed revealed.
I was at a cafe on Father’s day. Overhead someone say “five resources per turn” and spent the next five minutes trying to work out what board game they were talking about.
— Adam Wells (@TrjnRabbit) September 3, 2018
Last weekend I was in line to try and get a tattoo at a flash sale day behind two girls who talked about travelling to Vietnam (I’ve just been), Black Mirror (in fairness, a very popular show), and Naruto (which I was in the middle of watching). So hard not to butt in.
— gecko toucher (@Kermitron) September 3, 2018
You hear anything you love like that. Tabletop gaming, Tolkien, 40k... My ears just go PING!
— The Elf Respecter (@CptHollingworth) September 3, 2018
A sort of... gamer sense. *shoots web and swings away*
— ☆Cheshire☆ T3 MARIT LAGE SCOOP? (@CheshirePlays) September 3, 2018
A friend suggested that pattern recognition could play a large factor. A common focus for teaching children, for instance, is developing their phonological awareness. It's a key component of early literacy, which helps kid recognise not just patterns like rhyming and alliteration, but just the capacity to identify, think about and manipulate the individual sounds in words.
Humans are good at picking up patterns through things that are familiar to them - like their favourite songs, TV shows or movies. And because gaming is the preferred form of entertainment for many, surpassing the amount of time they might spend watching TV, it's possible that developing strong memories and attachments to a game or franchise - particularly if you're growing up, when you're still discovering the things that you do and don't like - makes it easier to identify or recognise things that are related to that elsewhere.
I'm not a scientist, obviously. So there's undoubtedly a lot more at play. But what's fascinating is the magnetic nature, the way your brain can pick a conversation about World of Warcraft classes or spy one-quarter of a phone screen walking past and immediately know that person is playing Ragnarok, or watching a League of Legends OPL stream.
And it's the kind of thing that works within a gaming crowd as well. Take PAX Australia. It's our crowd. It's our people. But amongst that, you'll walk through the booths, the queues, the crowds, and you'll hear bits and pieces that immediately stand out. That person's talking about why they love Fallout: New Vegas. Someone's just mentioned one of the classes in Divinity: Original Sin. Someone's talking about Pokemon and mentioning a specific area and moveset - I know exactly which Pokemon they're talking about.
I mention this because it comes to mind when, courtesy of Channel Nine, pockets of Australia are having conversations about what they think games do. And gamers always balance that out by pointing the social nature of gaming, the improved critical thinking, increased hand-eye co-ordination, the way puzzles and complicated simulators can keep the brain active.
But perhaps the most tangible skill that gaming has given me? It's some kind of bizarre, selective, Spider-Man-esque superhearing. There's been times where I've struggled to hear or understand a person five feet away. But on the other side of the office, if someone's mentioning Dota or piping up about EVE Online and I haven't got noise cancelling headphones on?
I mean, don't get me wrong. Being able to quickly find my people can be incredibly handy. But as far as gaming superpowers go, I can think of a few cooler ones. At least I know I'm not going deaf, though.