Those words come at a strange time. For lack of a more pleasant description, August was a fucking nightmare for gamers, gaming, and game culture. I don’t have a rant about journalism to give you. I don’t want to be yet another hype man for the thought-provoking and quite interesting Sarkeesian videos. If you are serious enough about gaming to read someone like me, then you have your opinions and you’ve likely drawn your lines already.
Part of me thinks this whole ‘I am no longer calling myself a gamer’ movement exists out of reaction to this past month. I relate to Robert Neville from Matheson’s book, I Am Legend, when he realizes that the world has change and he is its new monster. I too feel like my world has undergone catastrophic change. Now, a central part of my identity exists only as a nod to the bigots, hatemongers, male chauvinists, and inequalists.
But that view is too naive and too simple. Unlike so many, I have had the privilege of calling myself a gamer all my life without anyone trying to quiz me. I am a white male from an affluent enough household (at least when I was young) that could afford to ingrain the hobby in me early. Not everyone else has been so lucky, especially women.
There was some degree of nerd-shaming when I was a lot younger, but it wasn’t aimed at me. My cousins picked on my other cousin because he was fat, a lot smarter than them, and more into electronics than sports. Of course, there were exceptions if he had a new game they wanted to play. Still, I know what it’s like to feel different and receive different treatment. Being the geeky gamer sort was as good a reason as any to not be a member of the more popular, more accepted crowds.
If anything, games have always brought me closer to new people, helping me make friends despite the antisocial tendencies of my youth. Online gaming now can be an exercise in futility, but once upon a time it helped me interact with individuals living in far away places. While games functioned as escapism, they were better than other media at connecting me to like-minded fellow gamers. Unlike books, music, and movies, the social component of games is often a necessary part of the experience.
I tell stories of my mother and I playing SEGA Swirl on the Dreamcast or other games with other family that I otherwise had little in common. Talking about, playing together, and seeking out new games was the social glue for most of my life and that trend continues now. That’s not to say I never played gatekeeper or didn’t once refer to myself as a ‘true gamer’. But we were are all immature assholes at some point, right?
Now in adulthood, I believe that anyone and everyone can be a gamer, though I have a definition more specific than ‘someone who plays games’. There’s a certain passion to the term that I hope to preserve, but it is a passion completely independent of what you choose to play. My favorite example is old people playing Solitaire. If that’s the only game you play and you do it more to pass the time than for enjoyment, you probably aren’t a gamer. Yet, if you spend all day playing Solitaire, and all night discussing the game and your strategies with friends and strangers, then yeah, you’re probably a gamer.
Not that it matters what I think someone else is or if they have passed the correct tests and signed the right paperwork to claim the label. I believe in equality and letting people navigate their own course, so if you say you are a gamer, then it is my duty as a human-respecting human to take you for your word. If we can find some mutual ground to relate in the big, vast thing that is gaming, then sweet. Otherwise, we can both move on.
This whole labeling problem hearkens back to a similar moment in my life where my identity was under question. As a philosophy-loving Liberal Arts major, I thought I had a good grasp of this whole ‘equality’ thing. My favorite type of women are strong, independent, intelligent … not frail, subservient, and boring. I felt like I was post-feminism, especially since the word seemed dirty to me. For some, the word doesn’t immediately mean, “The belief that politically, economically, and socially the genders are equal.” That definition is likely too narrow, but it is almost impossible to define an entire school of intellectual thought in a single sentence. That’s why we must think for ourselves and come to our own conclusions. Otherwise useful and important words become narrowly defined in often ignorant ways.
I came to my senses when I wrote a draft that discussed gender equality; I bent over backwards in it not to use the f-word. I’m not a man-hating, women-worshiping, social justice white knight, I thought. When I gave the post to a couple of friends to discuss it, they soon became discussions about identifying as a feminist. My intellectual curiosity took over, and I decided to learn about feminism rather than allow others to define the word for me.
I learned a lot. Learning about feminism forced me to pay more attention to all women’s issues. There I realized that even with negative connotations, the world still needs feminism to help fix the balance. Are feminists perfect? No. Do we all agree on the same things? I hope not. The most important thing about admitting you are a feminist is recognizing the problem of inequality and that it needs fixing.
Why do I call myself a gamer then? I play games and I love games. I know what they’ve been, and I believe in what they still can be. I believe in my fellow gamers too, even if that is hard to do most days. There’s a fine line between passion and obsession – gaming tends to support and attract those who let that line blur. I enjoy knowing about new games, being ready for their release, or having a reason why I may be skipping or waiting on them. I like linking my identity with other people with similar levels of passion. I will talk books, movies, and music too, but talking about games takes me back to an even younger part of my being. Games take me back to reading through a new gaming magazine so I have something cool to share with my friends on the playground the next day.
Identifying as a gamer runs deep within me; deep enough that I do believe games can improve the world. Before you light the torches or grab your pitchfork, realize that I don’t mean that games alone will help anyone. For that, you’ll always need kind-hearted people with open minds and a will to lend a hand. Yet, how many mediums can engage, entertain, and educate like a game? Human beings are hard-wired to play; we love this stuff. Our traditions of storytelling and creating art run deep, but games tap into our curiosity. In doing so, they overtake our competitive spirit, and force us to cooperate in ways that don’t entail a risk of real death. A good novel can take you somewhere else, but even a bad game can take you there. These musings aren’t exclusive to self-described gamers, but don’t you think they go hand-in-hand?
Maybe not. Games are huge now and big dreams about what they can and will do for us as a species are dreamt anew each day. I felt lucky as a kid to have edutainment games like Gizmos & Gadgets, but now kids learn things with Minecraft as a chief part of the course. Not to mention the numerous cases where being great at a game got someone hired to work in games or esports finally getting some recognition. Games have become a major part of Western culture.
Perhaps it is true after all that the term ‘gamer’ has worn out its place in society. Games are so ubiquitous that we no longer need to distinguish who plays them. Then again, how long until another study or shooting tries to link violence to video games? How many more parents have to limit their child’s video games because they think they will melt their brains? Or inspire them to join a Satan-worshiping cult? Or teach them everything they need to know about guns? Have games finally become as important a cultural medium as that of movies, books, and music?
I often see people complain about big AAA releases, while celebrating games like Papers, Please, To the Moon, or Gone Home. Games like these challenge our perceptions of the medium, opening our eyes to rich story and subtle reflections of our world. I have nothing against any gamer who gets excited for Angry Birds, new Call of Dutys, or sports games. Those people are gamers too, but I don’t think they often buy the sorts of games that are truly advancing the medium. For that, you need those gamer types who are digging deep under the marketing hype to find their next great experience – the so-called ‘core gamers’ that Nintendo now wants back.
True, you don’t have to call yourself a gamer to really care about good games. It helps though, doesn’t it? Isn’t it convenient to say, “I’m a gamer” and have that be shorthand that says you are serious and passionate about the medium? When a female gamer says it, a narrow-minded male gamer will likely question their credentials. That is wrong, but is it wrong enough that we need to throw the bathtub out with the bathwater? For some, the answer is a definite yes. Their personal experiences have lead them down paths ending in closed gates or worse. As a gamer and as a human being, I want to change things. I don’t want video games to be a boy’s club any longer nor do I want to hide fandom behind a gate with a password that’s always changing.
Call me naive or call me stupid, but please keep calling me a gamer. You can’t change hearts and minds when you de-label yourself, trying to distance yourself from the herd. My hope is to change gamers from within. I will be a compassionate, idealistic gamer who believes that neither gender nor race have any bearing over playing games. After all, I have better things to do, like, you know, play games?
#Gamer, #GameCulture, #Gaming