Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Universal definition of the gamer identity

Recently there have been thousands of words written in the blogosphere on what exactly is a gamer. I don't get why there is any need for that discussion. The definition of what a gamer is is so simple:

Anybody who spends as much time and effort as I am in playing games is a gamer. Anybody who spends less is a casual n00b. Anybody who spends more is a basement-dwelling unemployed l00ser.

Note: The "I" in the above phrase does not specifically mean me, Tobold. It means everybody, or whoever is trying to define what a gamer is. It is an universal definition.

Gamer is simply someone whose primary hobby activity is playing video games.
Nice touch with the mispelling of "loser".
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@Gevlon serious?!? Wouldn't have thought that you need extra sarcasm-tags
I always wonder why "gamers" need to claim their hobby as their whole identity. It is something engrained with the culture, but I find it such an oddity. I've never experienced people entrenched in other hobbies who proudly identify themselves as their hobby like its the only thing they do that matters.

Imagine a stamp collector who goes around in stamp collecting t shirts and degrades anyone who has a less pristine stamp collection then they do. It sounds absurd when you take what self-proclaimed gamers do and apply them to any other hobbies.

I love video games. Everyone who knows me personally knows that. I don't call myself a gamer though. It's just a hobby I enjoy, not who I am.
Is there any value in identifying oneself as a gamer, beyond being able to separate oneself away from those you do not consider gamers?

My sense is that claiming group identity is almost always a negative thing. It makes you feel separate from other people, creating an us-vs-them mentality. It would be better to approach other people as individuals; who they are, not what they are.

I'm not a gamer or a non-gamer, I'm Michael.
I suppose you could be a "Baseball fan" and denigrate all the other sports as lame and people who like them as inferior. I bet people like that do exist, and that no one wants to spend more than 5 minutes in their company.
The important part is "playing games I LIKE."
You know, farmville isn't a game, kinetic novellas aren't either, neither are interactive Walking Dead-style movies nor walking simulators. Puzzle enthusiast? The Sims fan? JRPG? "But it's not even a game!"
Gamer - someone who plays or has played, vidya games. That’s it.

It's like the old silly casual v hard-core debate MMO communities used to indulge in. Really, it's about trying to set arbitrary boundaries – and for some policing those.

Sure, I love computer games but there’s times in my life when I can only play a few hours a week. Other points in my life I could game more. I have an interest in games and gaming culture. However as far as I see it a gamer is anyone who plays WoW, Candy Crush, CoD, LoL etc. is a gamer. Anyone who plays causal games on their phone on the train to work is a gamer. I played vanilla WoW from launch – but never raided original Molten Core as I was not interested in that aspect of the game. Does that make me a OG hard-core or a filthy casual? Who decides?

There's no magic formula that states "X hours per week/day - gamer". It's not limited to the genre of game or platform the person plays.

“But, but…!!!!!!” I begin to hear some people splutter with mounting rage “… Candy Crush is not a game!1!2!#!!@!”

“But, but!!!!!” I hear “…you’re a filthy causal!()#!!@#!”

Gaming and "gamer' is now so mainstream that the term has lost all meaning. It’s an attempt at demarcation that’s unnecessary. Gaming franchises such as CoD and GTA are as big, if not bigger, than many Hollywood movie franchises. Gaming also has it’s indie/alternative culture as well.

Gaming culture resembles movie and music culture, and embodies a broad spectrum of genres, play styles and communities. Within those communities people attempt to set up arbitrary boundaries in order to affirm their own identity, most commonly in opposition to others.

“I only listen to obscure indy bands and watch Wes Anderson films, so I’m soooo much better/cultured/intelligent than you”. Mhmmm. Knock yourself out is my response to such people.

That’s an argument no better than: “I’m no filthy causual, I raid five nights a week I’m such a gamer RAWWRR!!!!” Orly?. Knock yourself out is my response to such people.

I feel this argument resembles the “fake geek” argument.

I classify myself as a fan of both the horror and sci-fi genres. I can quote Buffy and Breaking Bad but I’ve never watched Star-gate or seen “Saw”. I read comics and graphic novels, but have no interest in the Marvel and DC franchises. And yet I love films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers. I enjoy heavy metal and hard-core music, but have no time for bands like Megadeath and Metallica (well maybe earlier Metallica, but anything post-2000 isn’t up to scratch IMHO). And by the way, I enjoy sport and being active. I love reading history and politics. So I’m a history buff as well.

By all accounts I’d be a gamer-metal-head-hardcore-punk-comic-fitness-fanatic-film-buff-sci-fi-and-horror-movie-history-buff.

Pretty term meaningless huh?

Who determines you identity? Arbitrary voices on the internet or yourself? Those are all aspects of what I enjoy doing in my free-time. Why be defined by a single identity? Why let others define it for you?

Sure, people should feel free to call themselves a gamer but they don’t get to police others by their own personal, idiosyncratic and ultimately random criteria.

@Michael / @The Guilty Party / @Bigeye - People cheerfully set labels for themselves, define themselves, by their primary hobby all the time and have been for years.

Just ask anyone who calls themselves a petrol-head or a metal-head or a raver, goth, 'foodie', whatever. Defining yourself by your passion is nothing new or unusual. Even WITHIN those groups, people define themselves by sub-groups. Some petrol-heads I know introduce themselves by asking, "Are you a Ford man or a Holden man?" (Even if you know NOTHING about cars and do not care about them at all. They expect you to have a side, that's what their world looks like.)

It's not about making yourself feel separate. That happens by default - go out to a work function sometime in upper corporate and see how many staff are willing to talk about video games (hint: practically none). It's about finding other people of that same identity and grouping together over it.

Tribalism is ancient and not going anywhere, and there's nothing inherently wrong with it if you can compartmentalize enough to prevent the 'us vs them' effect from preventing you being a decent human being, knowing when healthy rivalry crosses the lines from friendly competition into anti-social, destructive behaviour.

Compounding the problem, tribalism is probably more pronounced in America's very 'you're with us or against us' mentality, where their competitions are to the death. Their school system, for example, unlike the UK or Australia, doesn't use 'houses' for people to separate out the difference between friendly competition and then getting back to normality and living/working with those same competitors. In the US, it's school vs school and you only live and work with your tribe. It makes it much easier to demonize the 'enemy'.
Also, @Mike in Melbourne, your assertion that gaming is 'mainstream' is probably confirmation bias. The people you associate with most might be gaming-friendly, but if you move outside the circles you're used to, the age groups or income brackets you're used to, you might find a very, very different story.

My friends and relatives are all gamers, but when it comes to the folks I work with - coworkers, clients, vendors - folks who respond positively to the idea of being even AWARE of gaming as a hobby are a dramatic minority.

The nearly universal response I get to saying that my primary hobby is video games, when meeting socially with work-related people, is, "You don't look like a geek..." because I'm moderately fit and attractive and socially/conversationally competent.

The 'mainstream' impression of 'gamers' seems to be rooted somewhere in Big Bang Theory stereotypes.
@ Cam,

Some good points - my main point is the idea of a "gamer identity" has broken down. Games are now a mainstream consumer product. Gaming culture is diverse and contains many different types of players, genres etc.

“Gamer” is such a loose term that one could claim all children a “gamers” in that they engage in forms of play as a form of entertainment.

Games are a medium and mode of entertainment, not a lifestyle or identity. They may have been *once* but not anymore.

I agree that people with groups or sub-cultures engage in arbitrary classification and demarcation of their members. Most music sub-cultures have splintered into a bewildering variety of styles and sub-genres. Take metal for example. It includes such styles as thrash, death, deathcore, black metal, metalcore, progressive, sludge, doom, symphonic, progressive, power metal… there are dozens of sub-genres. The goth sub-culture is no different. Same with other music genres such as Hip-hop.

However within each you have the exact same phenomenon of a vocal and self-selecting individuals policing the boundaries and declaring others as “authentic” or “pousers”. Really it’s about people trying to distinguish their identities and proclaim their values: this is often achieved by defining oneself with labels *and* in opposition to outsiders. It’s like those who denounce “fake geek girls” or other derogatory terms.

Can one be a “True Reader” or “True Movie Goer” or “True TV watcher”?

Nor am I basing this on anecdotal evidence but hard data.

Gaming is now part of mass culture – in fact it is replacing older mediums such as TV and film as the primary source of entertainment for tens of millions of people.

Let’s look at this data from a recent ESA report:

- US consumers spent >$22bn on games in 2014 (software, hardware and accessories)
- 4 out of 5 US households have a device used for gaming
- 42% of people play at least 3 hours per week
- 155 million US consumers regularly play games
- The average age of male gamers is 35 years old
- The average age of female gamers is 43 years old
- 51% of US households have a gaming console

Gaming is mainstream. Gaming is fully embedded and embraced in modern consumer societies such as the US, Australia, Canada, UK etc.

Women contribute to 41% of every dollar spent on gaming (ESA report0 which pretty much destroys the stereotypical idea of a gamer held up by those identifying as gamers or those associating gaming with “geek culture”.

Gaming is so pervasive we don’t even recognise this trend. The gamer “identity” is now spread across such wide demographic spectrum and incorporates so many genres, platforms and playstyles to become meaningless.

People can call themselves “gamers”, but that is self-selecting and rather arbitrary.

It is based on idiosyncratic notions of identity and self - which are in turn mediated by culture and social mores.

Even those who that identify as gamers (and those who don't) aren't aware this distinction is meaningless. Some people may disdainfully associate gamers with being “geeks” and claim they are not a geek. However they themselves are gaming consumers. So what’s that? A non-geek gamer? How’s that different from a geek-gamer?

There is no single gamer identity. I’m not saying “gamers are dead” or “over” (nudge-nudge wink wink). It’s just that gaming has become a mainstream mass consumer industry.

It can no longer be associated with a single demographic, as the ESA report notes.

Sorry typos btw.

@Mike from Melbourne: I'd argue that the studies which say that gaming is mainstream are the reason why the term needs to exist.

To distinguish the difference between a 'gaming enthusiast' - the kind of person who reads gaming blogs, uses consoles/gaming PC, plays AAA and/or indies and knows/cares what the difference is between them.

Millions of people use cars, but don't identify themselves as petrol-heads.
Millions of people play games, but don't identify themselves as gamers.
That's precisely why 'gamer' is useful. To distinguish the enthusiast from the unenthusiastic. The distinction is the level of enthusiasm, using it to define it as your primary hobby; a community which you are invested in as opposed to 'just that thing I do every now and then on the train to work'.
(Also Mike from Melbourne - good talk, appreciate the references and stats)
I'd agree "gaming enthusiast" is an applicable and useful term.

So perhaps "gamer" could be short-hand for that.

Really we're talking about a spectrum of enthusiams for a particular consumer product.

And yes, thanks for a great chat :)

OMG, civilised discussion on the interwebz. I think we just broke it.
I like the term "gaming enthusiast". For me the problem with "gamer" is that people always use it to exclude somebody else from the club, even if that other person is just as enthusiast as they are, they just play other games enthusiastically, or play them differently.
It's a bit wanky, though... for me, 'gamer' has ALWAYS been the short-hand for gaming enthusaist. I really thought that was always the case for everyone. The idea that people are taking it over for nefarious purposes only makes me want to reclaim it more.
The way it should be is you talk to a stranger at the pub and mention what you're looking forward to over the weekend, casually mention spending some quality time with a new game for the PS4 or what-have-you, "Are you a gamer, too?"

Every now and then you strike gold and talk about shared interests, peg down favourite genres and platforms, find the common ground and talk about it like... pretty much anything else people talk about.
Sometimes you get, "Nah, I mean... I play a little FIFA maybe some Black Ops but that's about it." That's cool, too; all about setting expectations.
This conversation seems a little odd. I don't recall a lot of talk about the 'gamer identity', at least in the sites I frequent, until it started to come under a lot of attack.

As for 'not a real game', that's not really a genre or platform issue for me. I would probably use it to describe things such as 'gamified lectures' in which a weak interactive component is used to hold the attention of the audience, for example.
Nailed it.
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@ Cam & Tobold

I see your points Cam,

But you could also say "I enjoy gaming" in addition to "I'm a gamer". But I think thats semantics and splitting hairs.

I’m comfortable with the phrase “gaming enthusiast” or “someone you enjoys gaming”. “Gamer” can also be a useful shorthand for such concepts, provided it’s not exclusionary.

The main point, which Tobold states, is it's misuse as a label to exclude or attack others by using a limited concept of "gamer" identity.

In some instances it's used by people to de-legitimise someone they don't like or whose opinion/politics they disagree with.

"I don't like X person's argument because they're are not a "true gamer" (TM)"

"I don't like people who play Candy Crush because that's not a "true game (TM)"

What such people are really saying - inadvertently - is they can only accept or feel comfortable with people who are *just like them*.

It's about enforcing homogeneity within a community rather than embracing diversity.

@Mike - That's nothing new, or unique to 'gamer', it's just one of those growing pains that comes with any burgeoning community.

The habit's been around for a while in far more communities/hobbies.
@ Cam - absolutely mate.
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