DreamHack Atlanta is unlike most video game conventions. You hear similar noises: chatter among thousands of people, thunderous cheers whenever beloved esports heroes emerge victorious, and beats emanating from booths dotting the perimeter of the expo hall. However, there’s a welcome sense of comraderie amongst attendees, who join in solidarity to celebrate competitive gaming. Within the space designated BYOC (Bring Your Own Computer), for example, players game on their PCs for hours, pausing to watch a live tournament, eat, and inevitably succumb to sleep, opting to get some shut-eye at a hotel or a designated area at the Georgia World Congress Center.
People are here to make friends and offer expertise to fellow gamers in need, be it a can’t miss tip for SoulCalibur 6, to troubleshooting issues on someone’s PC. People helping people, at the center of which is Red Hat, the open source solutions company that visited DreamHack to show respect to the people who descended upon Atlanta to enjoy Halo, Smite, and Super Smash Bros. Celebrating 25 years in business, Red Hat arrived at DreamHack to discuss the benefits of playing video games in open source, Linux specifically. Well, that and play games, of course!
Beneath the company’s signature red fedora is a group of people who are as passionate about open source as the games that they play, employees who stay late to take part in the After Hours Gaming League after the 9-to-5, where the company sponsors them in different tournaments.
“We want gamers to know that we are one of them,” said Technical Support Engineer Scoots Hamilton. “It’s easy when you work for an enterprise company to have this mental barrier where the company is indistinguishable from its product. Red Hat is about the culture and the people. That’s what we love and what makes our company wonderful. We want to take what we have and share it with others so that they say, Red Hat loves open source and they love gaming… can I get into that?”
Hamilton spoke enthusiastically about games. Her first was 1991’s SkiFree, which came installed on the family computer. She then spoke about playing the original Need for Speed with loved ones. To some, these might be odd picks in a world dominated by Call of Duty and Mario Kart, but these two games (and the memories of enjoying them with people) left a lasting impression.
Today, she plays a key role in a successful company and bonds with her fellow coworkers through video games. What she didn’t expect was the warm welcome.
“I had never played Overwatch before or been part of a gaming community,” she said. “It was really nice to get in there and not be shamed for being new. Sometimes when you’re one person trying to get into a certain game, it can be intimidating when you don’t have a group of allies there to support you.”
This level of support is what attracted Hamilton and other gamers to open source.
“The open source community is all about sharing knowledge. I can’t afford to be a professional student all my life, but I always want to learn. That’s what open source is, people helping people get into things that someone has core knowledge about,” she said.
Get Help and Play On
We spent considerable time in the heart of the BYOC, a spot that Red Hat routinely staffed around the clock to assist people with IT challenges. Their passion to educate and help fueled their decision to make DreamHack 2018 their first convention.
“Our main priority was to make sure we got things right at DreamHack, because this community is very passionate and we wanted to be helpful,” said Brand Manager, Vykky Howard. “We didn’t want to be another company that shows up to an event like this one and throws its logo everywhere, but doesn’t connect with the people.”
“We asked ourselves, how can we communicate that we are also passionate about gaming? How can we make this experience better for the gamers? We presented a handful of people with comfortable gaming chairs that they got to take home and some cool swag. We tried to give them things that would make their DreamHack experience better, like a sleeping bag.”
A welcome comfort, without question, but Red Hat also communicated passion through education. The message? That gamers can enjoy their favorite titles on LINUX, and become part of something bigger.
“It all comes down to learning,” said Hamilton. “Personally, I love open source for that reason. You get to go under the hood and see what there is. You tinker and learn, then you also have access to a world of human beings who have that same passion and want to share knowledge.
“I can read about Nvidia drivers all day,” she said, “but until I have a system where I am troubleshooting an Nvidia Driver, I’m not going to necessarily appreciate what it is that I am learning about until I am interacting with it. With proprietary software, for example, you’re reliant on what is provided in the driver packages. That’s all that you get. With open source, though, you can go in and fidget with the driver, adjust settings with memory allocation or the paging index. You can make your computer work better with the game.”
Etched in Digital Stone
One of the core themes we overheard while speaking to Red Hat is the idea of leaving behind a legacy.
“In open source, you can go back to the beginning of many projects, and you can see the commit history, who made contributions from the very beginning,” said Skip Wyatt. “The Linux kernel, for example, is one of the largest projects in human history. You can see the names of people who made those commits. Their names will be etched in stone. It leaves a legacy of contribution of code and product.”
We viewed legacies at the Red Hat booth through ProtonDB, a software program that lets people produce play reports for PC games running on Linux. Each game receives a score (based on an average) that communicates how well it runs, from bronze (runs but often crashes) to silver, gold, platinum, and then the pinnacle, native. The coolest part? You can see every user who made changes to a game to improve its performance, along with their graphics card and other interesting bits of information. You can follow a game’s history from being unplayable to perfect, with each person’s contributions visible to the world.
Red Hat employees consider ProtonDB a wonderful example of the open source community at its best, but the theme of sharing knowledge extends beyond the Internet, offline in the home.
“Right now I am playing Okami HD,” said Wyatt. “My six-year old daughter won’t let me play that game without her. She sits next to me on the couch and we play the game almost like a story book. Whenever there is text on the screen, I read it to her and we make decisions in the game together.
“Games are about stories, and the stories that you build. It’s about sharing something with other people. What better way to play Okami and work on my daughter’s reading skills? She works on her sight words when we play the game, and she also gets to make some of the in-game decisions.”
This is where we left Red Hat at DreamHack 2018, where the company’s employees continued assisting gamers well past 1AM each morning. By the time the final tournament concluded and sleepy-eyed gamers went home, it was clear that the company made a positive impact.
“In the end,” said Wyatt, “we are a legacy in our contributions in code, knowledge, and the stories our children carry with them.”