I’ve been chewing on this post since the Calgary Expo back in April and hadn’t gotten around to writing it down because…um… was April really over 3 months ago? Time just goes by so fast. Feels like the Expo was yesterday.
There’s something I’ve observed a lot in my time hanging around other gamers: a certain behaviour. A behaviour you see from gamers, from game-related marketers, and, shamefully, occasionally from myself. Maybe a tad more than occasionally, even.
The notion of what makes someone A Gamer.
Who is allowed to call themselves A Gamer?
My mother thinks video games make you stupid and lazy. But she plays an embarrassing amount of Mahjong on the computer. Is she A Gamer in spite of herself?
What about those who play Farmville, and only Farmville? Are they Gamers? They are playing a game! What if they were playing Farmville, and only Farmville, for several hours every day? Would that make them more of A Gamer?
Or perhaps being A Gamer has more to do with your past than your present. Can you be A Gamer if your parents didn’t allow you to spend time in front of a screen as a child? Can you still be A Gamer if your first game was World of Warcraft? Or what if it was even more recent? What if the very first game you played was SWTOR? Can you still call yourself A Gamer?
Maybe video gaming doesn’t cut it either. Maybe you need to play at least two TYPES of games. Can you be A Gamer if the only kind of game you play is screen-based? Or do you need to be playing video games and, say, Magic, to earn the Gamer title?
A Theory on Gaming Elitism
The notion of “elitism“, as we call it on the internet, isn’t unique to gaming.
Back when I did a lot of freestyle downhill skiing, the “I’m more of a skiier because my skis/goggles/edges are better than yours!” or “I skied out West so I’m better than you!” attitudes turned me off hanging out with other skiers. I’ve seen similar attitudes in the outdoorsmanship community too. My parents even have a friend who’s elitist about football fandom. According to him, you’re not truly football fan-ing if you’re not watching the game a certain way, with certain foods, in certain places.
So what’s up with the weird attitudes?
Well, in the skiing world, when you’re part of organized competition, you’ve got medals, awards and race histories to brag about. Success is measured and the hierarchy is easy to establish. Those of us who weren’t classified by external forces (no matter how much I begged my mother, she refused to spend tons of money to become my personal chauffeur, so competitive skiing was a no-go for me… to this day that feud still stirs up hard feelings) had to find different ways to prove ourselves. Those ways became knowledge of brands, became the level of gear we were willing to pay for, became the ski centers we frequented, became which teaching/coaching certifications we aimed for.
I suspect gaming is kind of the same. Gaming is a vast, vast world, and it’s only getting broader. Game genres like MMOs, iPhone/Android, Rock Band/Dance Central, and Facebook reach out to previously untapped markets. Certain sub-communities have official competitions – think Starcraft or Magic the Gathering – but for the most part, there’s no way to compare gamers in a hierarchical format. So each Gamer makes up their own criteria for “good gaming”, involving games played, time spent playing each game, in game achievements, gaming history and so on.
Since those criteria are totally arbitrary, one person’s criteria unavoidably clashes with someone else’s criteria, lighting up the flames of
hate discussion all across the interwebs.
What makes the Gamer title even more arbitrary is how easy it is to lie. While modern games tend to track and advertise your every move to the world, your profile can’t determine whether you were carried in an MMO raid, can’t speculate how often you cheated at a puzzle game (as a huge fan of puzzle games, it often saddens me that puzzle gamers get little respect because, while puzzle games require a lot of skill to play properly, they are the easiest games to cheat at), can’t tell if your best friend ran you through all the hard levels, and can’t measure the degree to which you enjoyed your gaming experience.
“Gaining respect as A Gamer”
One of the posts within the past year that I found most thought provoking was Lynesta’s explanation of why she choose to compete in Maxim’s Pose In a Ridiculous Outfit with a Controller (that’s what the competition was, right?).
As much as I mock the contest (it’s all in good nature – I even considered entering, not because I gave a damn about winning, but because I had access to a good photographer and it pleases me to receive complements on my figure), I loved her post. She wrote from the perspective of a marketer of game paraphernalia, who works in a style of marketing where the salesperson is chosen exclusively based on their sex appeal toward a select market (horny young and creepy old straight men). Everyone assumes that actual knowledge of the product is irrelevant in that style of marketing, which, I can imagine, causes a lot of frustration to the marketer who has both the sex appeal and extensive, first hand knowledge of the product.
Her post made me think of how I like to be perceived as A Gamer. My career has nothing to do with gaming and I make no money off the blog, so any “respect” I receive as A Gamer is purely for my personal self-esteem. I thought about it, and thought about it some more and came to the conclusion that I game because I enjoy gaming. At some points in my life, I may have gamed more in order to make or keep friends or to attract admiration, but these days I play for me and only for me. If I make friends along the way, all the better, but I’ve no interest in proving anything to anybody.
I can remember a time where I thought “I’m a special snowflake! I’m an athletic chick who plays video games! I must announce this to the world!“. Even though my first gaming community (nearly 15 years ago!) was about 50/50 gender-wise and our membership included acrobats, dance instructors and bodybuilders who must have rolled their eyes at me more than once.
I like to think I’ve gotten over caring about the arbitrary gaming hierarchy, yet, sometimes I do feel a little pride when my guild, a fantastic 25s 2 nights/7 hours total a week guild, kills progression bosses faster than guilds who raid twice as much as we do. Maybe I secretly think “na-na-na-nah” to competing guild. Or when I’m guesting on a podcast and we get to the question “how did you get started as a gamer?“, I feel like I’m submitting my Gamer resume, instead of just throwing a bone to fellow old school Sierra fans who’d like a friend to geek out about King’s Quest with.
For the most part, though, for me, acceptance within the gaming community happened without me making a conscious effect. Actually, I believe that if you have to work at being accepted as A Gamer, you might not be hanging with the right sub-community. When I meet other Gamers, either at conventions or through the internet, I talk when I have something to say. When I don’t, I listen and learn. It’s simple and my gaming resume, age, gender, boob size, difficulty speaking and/or social awkwardness don’t seem to matter at all compared to the impact of how much I enjoy gaming, talking about gaming and learning about gaming.
When I walk away from an interaction with fellow Gamers, I want to think “That was so much fun!” not, “I hope I impressed them.“
Conclusion “I’m more of A Gamer than you”: All Bad, or Friendly Competition?
So, what, to you, makes someone A Gamer? And, more importantly, does it matter?
I certainly believe that a little competition adds spice. There is a lot of fun to be found in playing on your own for yourself, but, as humans, we’ve got social urges too, and the pleasure of winning against other humans feel really, really good inside.
But when discussions turn bitter and someone is denied the right to talk about character leveling in World of Warcraft because they don’t do heroic raids (because character leveling has SO MUCH to with competitive raiding), or game writers receiving extreme harassment because they suggest skippable combat in games, then the whole concept of Real Gamer just makes me sick to my stomach.
As for gaining respect as A Gamer, especially for my fellow girls who, like I did years ago, feel the need to use the term “gamer girl” to define themselves, the advice I have is this:
“Forget about the gaming hierarchy and play. Play with all your heart, love what you play and let the rest happen. Passion is ageless, genderless, apparent, contagious and magnetic. Gaming passion just as much.“