“Gamer” has long been the status quo label for those of us who partake in the past time of electronic leisure. And no, I don’t mean vibrators.
Video games came about at a time when they were thought of as toys. Much like other artistic pursuits of other eras (ragtime music, early filmmaking, skateboarding), they were kind of shrugged off as a joke, or exploited as a passing trend. This is the kind of behavior, belittling or segregating something, that leads to an enthusiast culture. Skateboarding people became “Skaters”, because the mainstream’s abandonment of serious skateboarding led to a homegrown skate culture, with it’s own magazines, and lingo, and products. The idea of “gamers” has taken much the same root.
Unlike “Skaters” though, whose subculture has remained largely removed from pop-culture (sans the 80’s and 90’s, and select icons like Tony Hawk and Ryan Sheckler), Video Games have become every increasingly shoved into the spotlight as part of the mass consumption of media. Or, in short: video games have become popular. Not that they were ever unpopular, but now, they are popular for everyone. A 30 year old man tells you he spends his spare time playing video games? Even 10 years ago, that would have raised some eyebrows. Now, it’s perfectly acceptable behavior. “Gamer” subculture has recently been put under a microscope, as now, mainstream media and consumers are paying attention to video games more than ever before.
During GamerGate, a large amount of discussion actually ended up redirected to the idea of our subculture as a whole. Most in the GamerGate camp were all for keeping the term they had grown used to (unsurprising, given that it was part of their movement’s name). Some in the opposite camp disagreed, and believed what they were seeing was “the end of the ‘Gamer'”. This debate has continued. As games have become more mainstream over time, why do we still use the label we had before, when we were looked down upon? Why do we want to hold onto the time during which we were “nerds”?
So, is the “Gamer” dead? No, I doubt that. Should it be? I don’t know. I’m personally inclined to say ‘no’. Don’t get me wrong, I see the reasoning behind those who say the term is obsolete, but I think the danger isn’t with the term, it’s with the identification.
For some context: I’m in film school, currently. There are lots of film school kids who believe that to be in movies you have to “eat, breathe, and love film”. I think this is a, at best naive, and at worst, destructive, view of being involved in a medium. Nobody should define themselves by what they do. Categorize, maybe, but never define themselves. People who say “X is my life” are people who need a wider scope in their life. I want to make movies for a living, true, but those movies are made irrelevant if not backed up by other interests. I love history, so I can make historical movies, or documentaries. I love literature, so maybe I can do book or story adaptions. To see all of life in only one context, though, is disadvantageous. As Extra Credits once expressed, and I’m paraphrasing, good game designers are technical, great game designers are well rounded.
Now, this applies to all titles. “Nerd” is the same way. If you have no interests in anything that isn’t nerdy, or look down upon “mainstream” things, that’s an ignorant view. Or, if you are a “retro gamer”, and you snub all modern games, you need to extend your horizon. I consider myself a gamer, but that is only a facet of me as a gamer. Within that subtext, I am also a shooter player, a Nintendo fan, a PC gamer. None of that is exclusive! Outside of that, I am also a Triviaddict, a soda enthusiast, a film buff, an actor, and a traditional pop fanatic. On even more general terms, I am an American, an Alabamian, and so forth. You’ll never see me, however, trying to fit everything I do within the context of being from Alabama. The only danger in labels is the difference between self-categorization and self-definition. If you consider yourself a gamer to the point that you have almost no non-gaming interests, or you look down upon non-gamers, that’s an issue. If you just use it as a description, I’d say it’s rather benign.
You have to ask yourself: if tomorrow, video games were wiped away from the face of the earth, It’s a Wonderful Life style, how would it affect you? If you feel like it would be akin to an identity crisis; that you wouldn’t know what to do with yourself, you probably need to reexamine whether “Gamer” is a damaging term to you. Myself, as someone who spends his time writing about gaming: I would be upset, invariably, but it wouldn’t destroy me. I have other things to write about and express my thoughts on. So, the debate over labels is not as much an issue of words, but an issue of self.
So: Are you a gamer? And if so, what does that mean?