The Video Gamers of the Year

Yesterday, Kotaku kicked off its look back on 2013 with our (and your) nominees for Game of the Year. Just as important as the games, though, are the very real people who play them. For the second year, we're also naming our Gamers of the Year, people who made contributions on behalf of video gaming's regular community, or reflect credit upon it.

You'll see that, yes, these are folks we have written about over the past year, people with stories others have found inspirational, or whose individual triumphs show that notoriety in video gaming isn't limited to hot shot developers or esports professionals.

By no means is this a comprehensive list; surely there are others you believe merit a mention as a Gamer of the Year. Feel free to add your nomination in the discussions below; we'll revisit this story later to recognize others who also are deserving of this recognition.


Pete Dodd

For: Drawing the Line for Video Gamers

Gamers can be a fairly idealistic lot, making it difficult sometimes for broad causes to stand out from the thousand things in a year that trigger petitions, forum lobbying, or boycotts. But Pete Dodd's #PS4NoDRM was not some petty personal wish. It was a call to gamers to draw the line on what manufacturers could do to the consoles they save so much money to buy. And it worked. It worked better than anyone could have possibly hoped.

Dodd kicked off the campaign two weeks before E3 and right after Microsoft's debut event for the Xbox One. Yes, all sorts of onerous restrictions—from used games to mandatory online check-ins—had been described for the Xbox One. But Sony had also been coy about its plans for digital rights management and other restrictions on the PlayStation 4.

Dodd organized a response campaign on NeoGAF to urge Sony not to go in the same direction. The message: "Hey Sony, we want to be able to buy, sell, and borrow our used games." He urged gamers to send it to Sony executives' Twitter accounts with the hashtag #PS4NoDRM. It received mainstream news coverage, including by NBC News' site and pulled public recognition and support from Sony executives.

One of them was Adam Boyes, who appeared at E3 in a video vowing that video games could be shared on the PS4 the same way they've been shared on every other PlayStation console. Sony's E3 presentation made blanket assurances their new console wouldn't bring new DRM with it. At one point during the presentation, a #PS4NoDRM made it up onto Sony's big screen. The message was sent, it was heard, and it was followed.

That would have been victory enough. But #PS4NoDRM hit the stretch goal of, at least indirectly, causing Microsoft to ultimately reverse its DRM policies on the Xbox One. "We weren't a collection of angry gamers screaming at Sony or Microsoft," said Dodd, who himself has battled an anxiety disorder for years and found therapy in pushing this cause. "The campaign was designed to talk to them in a very polite manner.

"What I've realized is that I am capable of much greater things than I thought was possible just a few months ago," Dodd said. For knowing when to draw the line—and for knowing how to draw it—on behalf of all gamers, Pete Dodd is a Gamer of the Year.


Steven Williams

aka "Francis" and "Boogie2988"

For: Getting Gamers to Laugh at Themselves, and Think of Others

When we first took note of Williams, in 2012, it was in his comedy persona of "Francis," the video game nerd with a vituperative, disproportionate reaction for every disappointment in gaming, large and small. Every time a game's servers screwed up or a publisher tried to slide some shady downloadable content past us, Francis ridiculed the culprits or the incompetents while reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously.

But the "Francis" persona, and the YouTube channel that now has nearly 1.5 million subscribers, has meant something more to its creator, Steven Williams of Arkansas. Williams, 39, is an overweight guy—more than 500 pounds, a result of an abusive childhood and more than a decade of adulthood lost to depression and self-destructive behavior. The validation he has earned through his success on YouTube—as honest-to-God a bootstrapped success story as any before—has helped him turn his life around. He is married. He's losing weight, though he has a long road to go.

But more importantly, Williams is using his platform not just for quick laughs and easy nerd-trope comedy, but to get people to think, and to think of others too. He turns serious with greater frequency now, and is regarded as an everyman's champion enough that both Sony and Microsoft went to him in charm offensives preceding their new consoles' launch.

Steven Williams is not some pitiable picked-on fat kid getting paid back in adulthood, though. He's an extremely hard worker who has captured what so many others—professional actors and media personalities too—spend careers pursuing and still may never find: a meaningful connection with his audience.

"Maybe, just maybe, " Williams mused in this profile, "we can get that 14-year-old kid who picks on the fat kid, who picks on the gay kid, who picks on the weirdo in his class every fucking day, to stop and think. 'Wow, if Francis isn't really Francis, maybe my perception of that kid that I'm beating up and being shitty to everyday is wrong too.'"

For showing everyone of all shapes, sizes and lifestyles that it is never too late to become a success, and for giving back when he got the opportunity, Steven Williams is a Gamer of the Year.


José Muñoz

For: Making a Better Life Through Video Games

For several years, José Muñoz fit the clichéd description of the shiftless video gamer—homebound, idle, incommunicative, noncontributing. It was not by choice, or negligence. Muñoz was an undocumented immigrant, brought to the United States by his parents when he was a baby. The family overstayed its visa, never returning to Mexico, and Muñoz grew up as typically American as anyone born here.

When he graduated high school in Wisconsin, though, life seemed to dead-end. Without legal status, he couldn't get in-state tuition at a university; he couldn't renew his driver's license. He couldn't find legal work. Until he turned 24 he spent most of his time at home, caring for his younger brother and helping his mom around the house. And playing video games, with a cousin in Las Vegas online. It was his only real escape.

When the Obama administration a year ago offered what is called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Muñoz jumped at the chance to get a legal status that would allow him to work, to drive, to go to school and do all the things Americans do in the prime of their lives. There was one problem, though: he could not prove continuous residency going back to 2007, a requirement of the application. He had no document showing he lived in his home of Sheboygan, in 2007, 2008, 2009 and so forth.

His lawyer, a streetwise, old-school Tecmo Super Bowl player himself, asked Muñoz what he had been doing with himself all that time. Playing video games was the response. The attorney perked up, and asked if José had any kind of purchase history showing that. José printed out his Xbox Live download history. The two swore out an affidavit, using the history as José's proof of residence.

It worked.

José Muñoz, now 26, isn't on the couch anymore. He is working two jobs, making a car payment, and driving it with a current license. "Back then, I wasn't living," he said. "Now I am, and I'm working, and I'm feeling good. And I want more. I want to make up for those years I missed."

For finding this way, however unusual it was, to pursue his dreams of a better life, and to contribute to his community and be included in our society, José Muñoz is a Gamer of the Year.


Dylan aka "SuperDAE"

For: Talking Next-Gen Earlier Than Most

The young hacker known as "SuperDAE" emerged in 2012 seeking to apparently sell a development kit for what would become known as the Xbox One. He claimed he tricked Microsoft into sending him one by posing as a developer, though the claim never quite checked out. The sale went nowhere, but he clearly had something—at the very least knowledge about what would be in the codenamed Durango. Even as Microsoft launched an investigation into him, SuperDAE, also known by his first name "Dylan," started leaking what he knew about the next Xbox. And the next PlayStation.

While neither Sony nor Microsoft would acknowledge what most thought obvious—yes, they were building new video game consoles—SuperDAE started showing us development documentation for both units. We didn't know what his deal was at first, but soon we discovered an even more interesting story, about a guy who'd managed to hack Epic, Blizzard and numerous other major gaming companies. Why? Not to pirate games, he maintained. Just because he liked to know stuff.

SuperDAE's hacking came at a personal cost, though. The investigations of SuperDAE ultimately resulted in a raid by Australian authorities and, he maintains, the FBI. In November he pleaded not guilty to criminal charges filed against him—interestingly, none of the charges were related to his activities with the development kits nor his breaches of game developers' networks . Earlier in the summer, SuperDAE threatened to unleash a nearly 2-terabyte trove of data he had gathered in his hacking exploits.

For whatever motivation, SuperDAE pushed more unfiltered, unhyped information out about next generation consoles, helping the gaming public at large see more about what was going on with Xbox One and PlayStation 4 at a time when the companies making them wouldn't even admit to the consoles' existence. Other leaks sprang from Sony and Microsoft and set reporters, at Kotaku and elsewhere, on a course learn more, and essentially give gamers more say earlier in the development of these consoles. As the catalyst of that discussion, the controversial SuperDAE is a Gamer of the Year.

You're welcome to add your picks, too. Do so below. Who were your gamers of the year?

To contact the author of this post, write to owen@kotaku.com or find him on Twitter @owengood.