What Is a Gamer?

I hear a lot of self-identification as a gamer. I encounter it often, usually as either a badge of pride, or a signal of commonality with another. This seems a little nonsensical to me. Games are everywhere, they are constantly being made and released. They are as ubiquitous as they are common. They represent dozens and dozens of countries in the world, for development alone, they depict dozens of cultures, hundreds of ideas and concepts, across numerous genres and sub-genres, and even sub-sub-genres.

I may call myself a gamer, and have nothing in common as far as gaming goes with the next one hundred people I meet who also call themselves a gamer. When I say video games, I don’t think of Secret of Mana, Peggle, Battlefield, or Gears of War. I also don’t think of Dirt, Street Fighter, Tetris, Full Throttle, or World of Warcraft. The term gamer is so broad it is useless. Do we identify as film watchers and announce it?

Just check out this list of Video Game Genres from Wikipedia. Or IMDB’s list of major genres. Never mind music… Yeah we have people who call themselves music lovers, but that usually boils down to passion about a genre. We have film buffs, but they tend to be people who have particularly exacting expectations for a movie. Then there are gamers. Being a gamer doesn’t connote a particular degree of passion, a specific level of expectation, or anything pertaining to genre or platform. As games become more and more popular, the term becomes completely meaningless. I interact with dozens of gamers a day, but I can go weeks without the conversation drifting toward a franchise or design I care for.

I think that is what gets to me, the term is obviously a very large umbrella, pertaining to at least a billion people, and yet it is used as an identifier for a specific group. It is used as a marker of being outside of mainstream society. That was the case certainly in the 70s and 80s, and partially in the 90s. But not anymore. Not being a gamer is becoming the outside group. Not having an interest in playing some form of video game is becoming odd.

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I hear a lot of expectations of games being taken seriously, treated with respect, and these expectations backed up with numbers as to the success of video games. That is fine and good, but you can’t make that argument while simultaneously using the term as being part of an exclusive club, a niche subject, or an outside group. Gamer does not mean geek anymore, or loner, or nerd. It means you play games, much like you watch movies, or listen to music.

You know what? I’m not a gamer. I am someone who loves thinking about, discussing, developing, and playing games. But some of those individual items are more indicative of my quality as a person than the fact that I play them. Before I am a gamer, or even a game commentator or anything else, I am a husband and a father to two specific women in my life. Stop seeking an identity of marginalization and start finding who you are, and enjoying great games along the way. They are a part of the world to enjoy and embrace. Stop and smell the roses, get a frag, get fragged, respawn, try something new to eat, and live your life.

I plan to play video games for the rest of my life, and spend a lot of time with, around, and regarding them. But never will it succinctly sum up my existence or my personhood.

2 thoughts on “What Is a Gamer?

  1. Andrew

    Fisherman = someone who is interested and passionate regarding fishing. Usually they are at least mildly knowledgeable about techniques, locations, tools, limnology, fish biology, etc.

    Gamer = Someone who is entertained by games.

    Now that is certainly generalizing, but is unfortunately also a reality. Liking games, enjoying playing them, and being knowledgeable about game news is fine, but it is a very different thing to be interested in the science, philosophy, and development of games.

    For instance, a person can love and play Quake for ages and ages without understanding or even caring about aspects of the game design, the engine technology, hit boxes, X, Z, and Y level design, the ideas behind the various enemy AI, etc.

    This isn’t a knock on the former type of person. I actually think we just need a separate term for the latter kind of person. And bouncing off your former post, game journalism is effected by this as it largely caters to the first category of persons: fans. It is largely a very surface take on game news directed at fans, rather than a deeper take on the core design and science of games.

    1. Nathan

      Yeah, “gamer” doesn’t have so much meaning today. My aunt played Farmville for years, but I’m sure she would never consider herself a gamer. I see design patterns from games showing up everywhere; likely to make whichever particular service more engaging. If someone uses an online service that’s been “gamified” and really enjoys it, how long before you could consider them a “gamer”?

      A few months ago I started using a site that encouraged you to write every day. They awarded badges for various achievements. I wrote every day, but it wasn’t about the writing. It was about collecting the prettiest badge by writing well. There was a goal to strive for. Was I gaming?

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