Obtaining and Using the Title “Gamer”

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.

Does this make me 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.

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15 Comments on “Obtaining and Using the Title “Gamer””

  1. Viktory Says:

    High-five on the post, a fun read that also provoked a few thoughts as I went along.

    I think the best answer to the original question of “what makes you a gamer” or “who is a gamer” is as simple as this: when you are around other gamers, do you feel like “ah, these are my people”? I don’t feel like your Aunt Sally who loves Farmville shares many of my other cultural likes/dislikes, but maybe she does.

    Perhaps I’m being stereotypical in thinking that, regardless of other activities, membership in gamer-hood has a prerequisite of appreciating popular “geek” culture as well.

    That said, you do make a very good point. Many aspects of our culture can be very accepting, and sometimes we just don’t know the right way to say “hey guy, you seemed cool but your interests don’t really fit with ours”. There are certainly different folks I play different games with, and a lot of it hinges on their attitudes towards the game and towards learning/improving than towards a place on a hierarchy. After all, a core tenet of gaming is the idea of banding together, “leveling up” and killing the big bad against all adversity, right? However, some folks can use help understanding when to walk away instead of forcing someone to reject/shun them. If we don’t jive, neither of us has to be a bad guy or a bad gamer, we’re just on different pages. You do your deal and I’ll do mine and we’ll both rock once we’re with like-minded folks.

    • Ophelie Says:

      Ah, you just reminded me that, in that nearly 2k word post, I utterly forgot to write about the notion of “identity”. Oops!

      I love what you say about “ah, these are my people?”. I hadn’t stopped to think about that, but on a personal level, that’s when I started identifying as
      A Gamer: when I met other gamers and discovered I wasn’t the asocial loner I thought I was. It still blows my mind how quiet little me spends Blizzcon running from group to group, talking to everyone and not getting to bed until 6 am.

      And there are a lot of sub-groups within us gamers. If I met up with a group of Halo or of hardcore pvp-type game players, my eyes would probably glaze over right away and they’d be all “GTFO n00b”.

  2. Vidyala Says:

    This was a great read! You always think of the most thought-provoking topics. I personally have always identified as a gamer (like you, for a period of time I thought of myself as a “girl gamer” but really, I have been a gamer since I was little and am a gamer now, gender has nothing to do with it).

    I also tend to take a pretty wide and loose definition of gamer as being “people who enjoy games.” My Mom was a really HARDCORE Farmville player for awhile! To the point where when she talked about it she would have been talking about WoW, things like the “friends” she had made who helped care for her farm or vice versa. I admit to laughing out loud when she told me derisively that she was thinking of dropping some friends because they weren’t pulling their weight around the farm. My Mom has always been a gamer though; we played Bubble Bobble together and she played all the Myst/Riven games along with 7th Guest. My stepdad played Diablo (he’s loving Diablo III) and I used to sit and watch my brother play through the original Final Fantasy. We played Super Mario Bros. together on my SNES when I got it, and later we played Tekken against each other on my Playstation. Hero’s Quest and King’s Quest and The Island of Dr. Brain and all those classic games are so much a part of my childhood. I played Magic and later the WoW TCG and also D&D with a group of friends. I love and enjoy most varieties of games.

    That said, I don’t consider a “gaming pedigree” to be a requirement for gamers. I have friends who play mostly X-Box, mostly board games, mostly D&D and they are all gamers. Someone who started playing games with WoW but thinks of themselves as a gamer is plenty legit to me! I remember reading a study once that stated people who play games together are more likely to bond closely (duh, I know). My concept of gamers is rooted in that idea; that we all share a love of camaraderie, challenge and playfulness that is more important than which games we like to play, how long we’ve played them, or why.

    • Ophelie Says:

      *squeal* ISLAND OF DR BRAIN!

      Actually, I mostly played Castle of Dr Brain. Played Island a little bit at a friends’ house but her computer kept crashing and I couldn’t figure out how to get the game on a disquette without causing the machine to steam.

      … I think I kind of got sidetracked there.

      Your mom is awesome ^_^ I was very impressed when I met her about how easily she could carry on a conversation on gaming. So different from my family!

      Her attitude about Farmville is pretty interesting: Farmville is often shrugged off as “not a real game”, but it sounds like she approached with the attitude of a gamer. I wonder if what makes us Gamers has to do with how we play games, in addition to, you know, actually playing games.

      I totally get what you’re saying about the love of camaraderie, challenge and playfulness. I think that in order to enjoy games, you have to be able to get into a certain mindstate, where you let go of reality and become submerged in the fictional story/conflict/puzzle in front of you. Most people can do it to a certain extent (movies and tv shows would flop otherwise), but I think that gaming (and possibly the science fiction/fantasy genre) requires a lot more of that disconnecting ability than your average movie does. Perhaps the regular exercise of disconnection creates a certain something in a person that makes it easy to bond with others who also disconnect a lot.

      I’m getting into something I can’t word anymore, so I’m going to stop now and hope I wasn’t too confusing ^_^

  3. Redbeard Says:

    Yeah, this reminds me of Tam’s posts about people waving their e-peens around in Dal back in the Wrath days.

    Every group has this sorting-out-the-pecking-order type of behavior, whether it be for basketball, politics, gamers, or even partiers. (Back in my college days, I used to hear the frat guys down the hall talk about who had better parties than the others.)

    Competition is fine, but the sharper the competition, the more extreme people get. As much as I want to keep it from gaining control, I am a very competitive person, and I really hate losing. (Ask my wife about our Scrabble matches.) I’ve learned the hard way to dial it back, because I realize I’m just a few notches away from being that guy, the nerd rager in WSG.

    But as for gamers, I think that it’s more a self defense mechanism than anything else. “We’re not really that bad of a nerd; look at that LARPer over there!” While that sort of defensive stance is common in a lot of pecking order jockeying, geeks and nerds have been at the bottom of the pecking order for so long that we crank that defensiveness up to eleven.

    • Ophelie Says:

      I actually think of it as the other way around – we get competitive because there isn’t enough structured competition.

      I love what you say about self defense. That makes a lot of sense. I’m feeling that I’m going to have to write a follow up post on identity since I completely omitted that. I think being on the receive end of so much mocking, harassment and, in some cases, bullying has given us an attitude of “I had to walk 5 miles with no shoes in the snow to be a geek…and you, you just walk right in with your fancy designer runners and think you can take that title?”

      Though the interesting thing is that the same kind of identity defensiveness happens within groups of people who haven’t suffered for their title. Hmm. I’m going to have to ponder this, hehe.

  4. Jen Says:

    I’ve never really considered myself a “real gamer”. My brother is one: he plays pretty much every game that comes out in his favorite genres and he’s been doing it for 15 years. Me? I played a bit of everything when I was a kid, but then I dropped down to 1-2 games at a time (which I usually didn’t finish), and finally just WoW. That makes me a WoW player, but not much of a gamer in my opinion.

    That being said, I never cared a lot about who played what and when. Taking Viktory’s definition, I do feel at home with other gamers… but I still feel I’m not “true” enough because I haven’t played all the stuff they have. (And this is not because of anything they are doing – I’ve known my friends since forever and they never looked down on me.)

    • Ophelie Says:

      I am realizing that I left the most important element out of my post: the concept of self-identity.

      I don’t play a lot of gamers either. Mostly because when I do play a game, I’m extremely thorough, plus I don’t get that much free time. But I still consider myself A Gamer, because when I’m not playing, I’m usually thinking about games, talking about games or reading about games. Others may say I’m not “true”, but I think I am.

  5. It’s interesting that WoW players would consider other WoW players “non-gamers” considering the (somewhat deserved) reputation WoW has to the rest of the world. I mean, of all games to play – WORLD OF WARCRAFT. Imagine going up to a non-WoW player and trying to tell them that person A who plays WoW is a “real” players, and person B who plays is not. They’d be so confused, and probably skeptical.

    Another one would be electronic poker. I bet when that started, people made fun of the players who spent hours playing a “worthless” online game. But now? When poker – online or real-life – has become such a global phenomenon? It’d be a hobby that might get you lauded, not scoffed at.

    I’ve thought about this some when comparing my friends in the WoW community with my real-life friends. I’ve seen this strange difference between gaming and “gaming” a fair bit, as only a few of us play MMO’s, and get a few good-natured, but undeniable odd looks. But the same people who find MMO play so strange and hard to understand love sitting down and playing a few rounds of Call of Duty or Battlefield on Xbox. It doesn’t make any sense, and yet, there’s a very real difference in opinion there.

    It’s pretty silly, in my opinion. You play video games? You’re a (video) gamers. You play Magic, or Pokemon, or other card games? You’re a (TCG) gamers. And if you play Warcraft, who cares what aspect of the game you like or don’t like. You’re a WoW player.

    • Ophelie Says:

      I’ve heard accusations of “so-and-so doesn’t even play the game”. When argued that so-and-so does play the game, the counter argument is “they don’t raid”, as if that’s all that mattered in the game! And sometimes it’s even, “they raid, but not heroics”. Once, even 10s raiding was sometimes looked down on as “not really raiding”.

      It actually put a lot in perspective when I started playing SWTOR VERY casually. Anyone who sees my SWTOR characters would think “some n00b” and probably wouldn’t believe me if I told them I spent 3 years of my life writing about WoW.

      I wonder if those who play the occasional round of Call of Duty or Battlefield don’t want to identify as gamer, and that, because of WoW’s reputation, they don’t really “get” that many people play WoW the same way they play their FPS games. Though, WoW, since it’s a fantasy game and a large one at that, does require a stronger disconnect from reality than a war shooter does, which can scare those who don’t like getting lost in their imagination.

      • Viktory Says:

        I admit that I probably said things identical to the quotes above. As a hard-mode raider and previous arena competitor, I don’t consider using WoW as a 3D chat room to be “gaming”. I think that we should not disassociate the root word from the connotation of it; to be a gamer, you have to attempt to win the game.

        We all have our degrees of commitment/achievement within the culture, but if we’re talking a binary identifier, it should be nearly impossible to argue someone’s not a “gamer” if they are actively gaming.

  6. Fimlys Says:

    Ok, I’m not going to leave a comment as long nor as good as the previous commenters. In fact, I feel a little intimidated. I will from now on denote them with the title “Commenter” since they are so amazingly awesome at commenting..

    Ok ok.. I’m done.. 🙂 Anyway .. I really enjoyed your post. Very good delve into a topic that has been hotly contested in many a forum.

    • Ophelie Says:

      Hehehe I wish I could edit that title into names ^_^ Or give them ranks the way forums do.

      Thank you for dropping by! I appreciate all comments, long and short, and it is always a pleasure to hear from you!

  7. theerivs Says:

    If you weren’t in a 24 hour Alterac Valley slug fest, from back in the day…your not a gamer to me. ;p

  8. Megacode Says:

    Great post Ophelie. It’s funny, but the idea of gamer vs nongamer has crossed my mind from time to time and you wrote it all out into a great post to read 🙂 What I’ve wondered, is the term gamer only in the mmo world or does it expand over to console games also. I’ve been playing games since I was like 5 years old from Ball Pong to Xbox 360 however I never heard nor considered the term gamer until I started playing WoW. I really don’t know what to think of the term “Gamer”, part of it sounds cool and part of it sounds elitist. It seems lately that people use that term for themselves while pounding their chest, sort of like those so called “Jocks”. I do know that I’m a guy who loves playing video games and making friends within the community. Do I consider myself a gamer, perhaps, but I’m also a husband and father of two little “future gamers”!! Thanks for the write up, gets you really thinking 🙂

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