What does “gamer” mean nowadays, anyway?

Deirdra Kiai, who I follow on Twitter and Google+, posted this question on Friday:

“Whenever I hear people talking about “gamers” as a demographic group, I keep wondering, what does that even mean these days? Of course, as we speak, I’m posting this to my “gamers” circle, but that contains such a diverse mix of people that I can’t make it fit any definition of “demographic” I can think of. le sigh

Someone responded that watching this Extra Credits video from September of last year might help: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/extra-credits/2005-Gamer

And this was the response I vomited out, which I just had to re-post here on the blog. So, without further ado…

I watched that Extra Credits video. Maybe “gamer” has meant that stereotype they talk about in the rest of the video to a lot of people, but that’s never what it’s meant to me, probably because I didn’t identify myself by it until last year.

My thoughts as to the answer arise from the 1:22 mark, where the narrator says: “Gamer is a tag given to almost anyone who plays games.”

Really? Says who? Because I am a gamer, and I sure don’t give that tag to almost anyone who plays games. Nor do any of the other gamers I know. I’m not sure who this implied giver of tags is.

My father-in-law’s business partner plays Farmville obsessively. He is not a gamer. No one would call him a gamer, and he would not identify as one. Some friends of my wife and I are hardcore into board games, but I would not call them “gamers.” My wife met them in the PAX East boardgame section this year, and told me stories of running into people there who, after talking about how much they enjoy board games, would tack on “Oh, but I like video games, too,” at the end, as if they wanted to show their bona fides for being at PAX.

The Extra Credits video implies that the word “gamer” is tied to video games being abnormal. I disagree entirely. Even when video games are as much the norm as books, or movies, or television, I still don’t think the word “gamer” is going to mean “someone who plays video games,”

The video says, at the beginning, that we don’t identify people by other sorts of media…but we don’t actually do that with video games, either. “Gamer” IS in the same league as “audiophile” and “bookworm.” It’s a denotation of devotion. I’m not sure why everyone is so confused about this! 🙂

“Gamers” back in the day of the Atari 2600 and the video arcade and the NES were devotees of video games, but we didn’t have a name yet. We were just “people who played video games,” and we were nerds, dorks, and outcasts.

Somewhere along the way, video games stopped being nerdy and dorky. They became acceptable, and then cool, and that’s when “people who played video games” took the word “gamer” to define themselves.

Now it’s like larger society has suddenly woken up to this huge subculture that’s existed under their noses for decades, but the veil has been lifted and “Hey, video games actually ARE cool! No wonder all of you have been playing them for so long!”

Yes, we know they’re cool. That’s why we’re gamers. We have handhelds and iOS devices and PCs and multiple consoles. We have as many video games in the house as we have books or DVDs. Our cultural touchstones are Zelda and DOOM and Wing Commander and Gears of War. We read magazines and websites about games, and talk about games with our friends all the time.

The question is not “What does ‘gamer’ mean nowadays?” but “What do we call all these other people who have suddenly woken up to how scary awesome video games are?”

The answer: we call them “People who play video games.” Things have come full circle. If and when video games cease to be amusements of equal value to them as television, books, or movies, and become the primary focus of their entertainment consumption, or if and when they develop expertise in multiple platforms or genres, or begin digesting the enthusiast press, or all the other ways in which someone, anyone, can join the club and become a gamer, we shall welcome them with open arms, and be one step closer to world domination.

The Extra Credits video doesn’t actually define what “gamer” means directly, but listen to all the “we” phrases. “We” need to do this, and “we” need to do that. “Game enthusiasts” seems to be the phrase that the video substitutes for “gamer,” which is precisely right.

The mistake in allowing ourselves to think of everyone who plays video games as “being a gamer” is to think we live in a world which is not entirely hostile to us, yet. Gamers are still not the majority, or even close to it. We’re just not as alienated from everyone else as we used to be, but we are still very much a special breed who are defined, in large part, by our relationship to playing, studying, or developing video games.

The other place where I think that Extra Credits video errs is in making the implication that “gamer” is some sort of monolithic culture, by using all of those “we” statements. “Gamer” is just one aspect of my personality, but it IS a distinct aspect, which does have a concrete meaning in my mind.

1 Comment

  1. I hope we come to think of ‘gamer’ as we do ‘film buff’. Someone immersed in the medium, who knows and loves it.

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