Nobody Should Self-Identify As A "Gamer."

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

The Escapist just posted their editorial stance on “Gamergate,” which boiled down is essentially this: There’s a difference between “Someone who plays games” and “A gamer.”  Gaming’s gone mainstream, and lots of people twiddle about with Candy Crush – but there’s a difference between dispensable games like that and the sort of deep richness that you have to devote to World of Warcraft before you become a Level 70 Warlock.
So The Escapist focuses on stuff that Gamers care about, man.  The hard-core segment.  The gearheads.  And they will be unapologetic about loving Gamer stuff.
Except I’ve read The Escapist on and off for years, and I don’t recall them devoting one fucking word to Scrabble tournaments.
“But Scrabble isn’t hard-core gaming, man!” to which I say, “You clearly don’t fucking know the hard-core Scrabble players.”  Watch Word Wars.  These fuckers memorize entire dictionaries, spending their days hitchhiking from tournament to tournament, living off the spoils of their gaming – cursing the luck-based segment of this game, trading bad-beats stories, dreaming of the world championships.
What did you do for your World of Warcraft, man?  Sit in a room?  These guys spent $300 they didn’t have on a trip to New York, hoping like hell they’d win the $10,000 prize so they could not lose money on this week’s tournament.  And some of them went home broke.  Some of them couch-surfed for months so they could keep chasing their dream.
That’s hardcore gaming.
…oh, wait, that doesn’t have anything to do with videogames.  And as it turns out, The Escapist will discuss Scrabble, but only if it’s related to videogames.
See, and the issue with co-opting the Gamer tag, as though playing lots of videogames somehow elevates your goddamned soul to the next level of Bodhisattva, is that people are trying to covertly reduce the world of “gaming” to “videogames only.”  If you’re a Gamer, you play lots of videogames.  Because, in this myopic fucking world, videogames are really all that exist.  We get to covertly erase all the other styles of gaming around, to act as though Gaming only involves the shit we want to play.
…except it’s not even really videogames that exist when we’re discussing who gets to be a Gamer.  It’s the right kind of videogames.  Depression Quest, some nerdly little text-based thing, isn’t a videogame!  It doesn’t have bearded guys stabbing people.  No, videogames only really count if they involve hulking dudes slaughtering lots of people in a constant stream of bloodshed, relying on quick reflexes and a smidge of strategy.  You can’t be super into the Sims and be a Gamer – if it’s not violent, it’s not counting, man.
…but wait.  You not only have to play these games, but play them in a certain way.  Because shit, you can’t just pick up Call of Duty with your bros and be a Gamer.  You have to play hard-core – no, not hard-core like Scrabble, but hard-core as in “dedicating a certain amount of your time to beating the game in socially-acceptable ways.”
All these hierarchies and narrowed definitions to become a term that encompasses all of gaming.
Look.  I get the issues we’re dealing with here, because to be honest, beating Shadows of Mordor involves more skill than getting to a high level on Candy Crush.  And if you’re worried about your style of gaming not being catered to, well, shit, I feel you.  I’m a huge pen-and-paper RPG fan, and I’ve just spent a decade watching that hobby die.  It sucked, not having anything new published – and thank God to Kickstarter for reinvigorating that process!  Nobody should have to love a game style and see no one new creating it.
But… Gamer?
That’s the word you’re self-identifying as?
Get the fuck out of here.
The Escapist defensively goes, “Well, look at gearhead culture with cars!  That’s the same thing as gaming!”  And it isn’t, mainly because they’re calling themselves “gearheads.”  They are not walking around accusing each other of stupid goddamned terminology like, “You aren’t a real Driver, man.”  They aren’t, in general, trying to wave off the very existence of all the other people who just get in cars and bop around by claiming they’re second-class citizens who don’t deserve to discuss what they like in cars.
But Gamers?
Oh, they fucking are very much waving off the existence of all other game styles.
See, when I discuss Gamergate and why I don’t think it’s about journalistic ethics – especially since, you know, the core “scandal” that kicked off Gamergate was supposedly about a woman sleeping with a guy to get a good review of her game, even though that guy never reviewed her game, and wrote literally half a sentence in his entire career about her game and that was before they started dating – I have people telling me, “Well, you don’t understand Gamergate because you’re not a Gamer!”
And that’s how Gamer gets used.  To exclude.  To go, “You’re not as deep into this culture as I am, so I am better than you are.”  Except, you know, I just purchased the Ps4 after months of anguishing between that and the XBox One, because I have like 25,000 achievement points on the Xbox that I didn’t want to lose (or 35,000 when you count my adjusted True Achievements score), and I made the wrong choice in purchasing the Atari 7800 way back in the day and so I didn’t want to pull the switch too soon, and I’ve been gaming for the better part of thirty years and apparently I just don’t count.
Look, you wanna call yourself something that indicates a distinction, like “Achiever” or something like that, okay, fine.  But your very terminology is poisoned.  You’re standing in the center of a vast and broad continuum, one that literally spans human history, of all the games that have ever been played, and trying to do a land-grab for that one term so your pathetically myopic vision of How Gaming Works can own everything.
You’re not.  You are inherently a subset.  There is nothing true about your insistence that you are a Gamer.  What you are is a dude who’s decided that these kinds of videogames are the best, and that’s perfectly fine – but you’ve become increasingly strident whenever someone suggests that maybe, just maaaybe, there are other ways to enjoy games and they are just as fulfilling for people.  Even equally as valid.
Except you’re so tied up in your self-worth, because videogaming in this style is really all you have to offer, that the concept that someone else might be having fun in a non-approved way challenges you.  You don’t see other people having fun; you see other people threatening this teetering pillar of your sad accomplishments, because if they haven’t strived all their lives to beat Dead Space on the hardest level, they’re not as good as you are.
To which I say, fuck your definition.
Though I have often lived the Gamer lifestyle (as witness the many hours I put into beating “Green Grass and High Tides” on Rock Band Expert), I reject the hierarchy you’re offering.  I reject this embedded idea that if I can’t game the way that you like to play, then my enjoyment is somehow lessened.  I reject this toxic nerd idea that love is somehow measured in obsession.
I realize that magazines make money off of catering to their clients, and the Escapist is no different.  The Escapist claims that hey, all games are just as good, but then proceeds to devote a lot of time to the sadness of how it is that this culture cannot last as it is, and talks about how great these Gamers are.  And in doing so, they perpetuate the soft idea that hey, This Gaming is the way things should be, just the way that gearheads in car culture are the true worshipers of the flame of fandom, and you should be proud to be here.
No.  You should be happy to be here.  You should be happy to find fellow people who share this narrow-minded vision of how you view games, and can share your opinions with them.  But you shouldn’t be proud, any more than you should be proud to stand next to a guy who also drinks your brand of beer at the bar next to you, because you drinking beer indicates a preference and not a superiority.
Now get off my damn lawn.

10 Comments

  1. John Wiswell
    Oct 12, 2014

    “Gamer” has been a confusing term for me ever since I first encountered it in college. At the time, it meant somebody who would spend a lot of money to play videogames.
    A month later, it meant people who enjoyed D&D and/or LARPing. Why? Because those people used the word to describe themselves.
    Then there were PC gamers and console gamers. It was a strict separation, except for all the people who played on both.
    Then there were tabletop gamers, who saw anyone who played videogames as sad. Then I met tabletop gamers who loved videogames.
    Which is all to say that, today, I have no idea what people mean when they say “I’m a gamer.” I just know they’ve gone tragically if they say it angrily.

  2. Some great points here. People who self-identify as gamers often DO act like there’s only one sort of die-hard, obsessive fan out there. Obsessive Sims fans who write novels about their characters, Scrabble players who’ve memorized the scrabble dictionary, LARPers, D&D (or Call of Cthulhu, or White Wolf…) gamemasters, campaign writers & players, board gamers who own every obscure board game ever made, people who spend hours playing old-fashioned text-based moo’s & mud’s, heck, obsessive Poker and chess players…arguably, they’re all gamers, even if they’ve never picked up a video game and have no idea what an “e-sport” is. And as that infamous girl who prefers Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons to video games and can’t play a first person shooter to save her life, whose 50+ year old parents are into Scrabble and Machiavelli, I obviously have a vested interest in making sure every flavor of gamer is recognized and appreciated.
    But I’m not sure the answer to this problem is saying “no one should identify as a gamer.” People can be enthusiastic about all sorts of games to the point of obsession, and have every right to be proud of it, especially as most of the world still ridicules them for putting that kind of time and money into “just a game.” That’s why we identify as gamers, to celebrate that level of single-minded passion, and maybe thumb our nose a bit at people who’ve given us a hard time about “wasting our time” on it. Maybe the solution is for all of us who love games to be more welcoming and accepting of every sort of gamer. Because if we can’t welcome our fellow game fanatics, who will?
    Sorry Ferrett, but if anyone tells my boyfriend (a video-gamer & MMO player) or me (a roleplaying game/Magic the Gathering/occasional LoL player) that we can’t call ourselves gamers if we want, I’ll be telling them to get off my lawn.

  3. Carmel J.
    Oct 12, 2014

    John’s comment is beautiful and impossible to follow up. That said…
    If someone invites you to a game night and you have to ask, ” video, board, or tabletop?”
    You might be a gamer.
    I thought of this joke and realized it still didn’t work. Because the game could have been Bridge or even Bunko, which may not fit into our thoughts of “game” but are also done often and for similar reasons (socializing in particular). We’re really just following in their footsteps. My grandparents had a story about accidentally playing Clue with friends all night long. I can only imagine what they’d have done with Seven Wonders! (Now I want to play modern board games with my grandfather, dangit.)

  4. Mark D.
    Oct 13, 2014

    Ha, nicely said! It also always seemed a bit strange that the people that now want to exclude ‘non-real gamers’, are the same people that want their hobby to be accepted in the mainstream.
    How is your PS4 working out for you by the way? I haven’t really seen a reason for switching yet, since most games for that platform seem to appear on the PS3 as well. Plus I get the feeling that going from PS3 to PS4 is like going from DVD to Bluray, while going from PS2 to PS3 was like going from VHS to DVD, so that the difference seems less noticeable. Then again, I haven’t gotten the machine yet, so I might be off. Would be interesting to hear your thoughts.

  5. Excellent closing paragraphs there. I loved it.
    “No. You should be happy to be here. You should be happy to find fellow people who share this narrow-minded vision of how you view games, and can share your opinions with them. But you shouldn’t be proud, any more than you should be proud to stand next to a guy who also drinks your brand of beer at the bar next to you, because you drinking beer indicates a preference and not a superiority.
    “Now get off my damn lawn.”

  6. Meltem
    Oct 17, 2014

    Uhh… this blogpost has very little to do with misogyny in video gaming.

  7. Doesntmatter
    Oct 17, 2014

    Seriously? Since when has a Scrabble player identified themselves as a “Gamer”
    This post is pointless. The fact is we all know what “Gamer” means. It’s not different than “Sports Fan”. We know that people who once in a while watch the olympics would never identify as a “Sports Fan”. We also know most people watch movies but very few identify as “Movie Buff”.
    I really didn’t get what your point is. “Gamers” and we all know what that really refers to. Pretty much only people that play hardcore games identify as “Gamer”. Nothing you write will change that.
    Try again.

  8. Scott
    Oct 17, 2014

    This doesn’t make a lot of sense. In most contexts, especially the current one of #GamerGate discussions, gamer means an ardent video game player.
    Nobody is denying Scrabble players the right to call themselves gamers.
    ‘Gamer’ is the start of a conversation, not the end of it. “I’m a gamer” leads to “what kind of games?” “Video game / table top / scrabble / candy crush / whatever.”
    To assert the idea that using ‘gamer’ to refer to video games is somehow exclusionary is to misunderstand the use of ANY label used to refer to a group.
    It’s like arguing that any person who self-identifies as lesbian is waving off the existence of any other person who has sex with women.

  9. Mike U
    Oct 18, 2014

    As someone who has enjoyed video games for a long time, I just have to say… Great article. We should be able to agree to disagree and go have a beer. Somewhere along the way, we (as a society) have lost this ability and any amount of disagreement seems to be taken as a personal attack that threatens the other person’s sense of self worth. I think social media like Facebook has created this mentality that our self worth is defined by how many people agree with us (aka: like) rather than our actual beliefs or convictions.

  10. perlhaqr
    Oct 23, 2014

    I made the wrong choice in purchasing the Atari 7800 way back in the day
    *fistbump*
    I feel your pain, man. I shoulda spend that money on an NES instead. I ended up getting one anyway, and I coulda spent the paper route money I had to use duplicating that purchase on something else really important, like Garbage Pail Kids or comic books. :-/ Or fuck, Legos.
    Sorta ha ha only serious. 😉

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