When I wrote my post about “Who gets to call themselves a Gamer”, I quickly realized, as I was reading the comments, that I only talked about the will of others on the individual. It was meant to be a post on gamer identity, and I totally left out the concept of self identity. Oops.
Yet, even though I spent the entire last week reflecting on the notion of identifying oneself as a gamer, I’m have a terrible time writing this paragraph. So I’m going to start with something general, then ramble on and see where it leads.
Self-Identity: Something General
I’m going to assume that most of us around here (in my mind, this blog post takes place a virtual party in my virtual loft and if you’re reading this, you’re there) come from individualist societies, where the individual is a separate and complete entity (since we’re all geeks here, think non-borg. Or what the Geth aspire to toward the end of Mass Effect 3, if you make the right choices).
Individuals who are separate entities need to define themselves, and the only benchmarks we really have are other people.
I identify as a gamer (and even, A Gamer) because I like video games (I actually don’t like other kinds of games… I can’t stand situations where my winning isn’t an eventual guarantee. I know, it takes away from my cred), more than most other people in my life.
I also identify as a gamer because (as Vik pointed out in the comments of my last post) I feel a lot of affinity with other people who like video games more than most people in their lives.
If I lived on an island with no other people around, I don’t think I would feel the need to identify as anything.
Identity: It’s not black and white
My mom is from Toronto, my dad is from a Scottish family established in New Brunswick. I grew up in a very “pure” (pure-laine!) French semi-rural area North of Québec city (the area is now hardcore Québec city suburbs but at the time it was semi-rural). This was during the 80s and 90s, where separatism was strong and the language wars raged. I sometimes describe my childhood as growing up behind enemy lines in a warzone, but that’s not exactly accurate and it disrespects a number of my friends who are actual war refugees.
My parents, obviously, never fit in. So I grew up as a cultural chameleon, talking English at home and using English values, and talking French at school and in my friends’ homes and using québécois values. It was relatively easy for me – I had to tell off a couple of racist (linguist?) teachers and I made sure I never showed any trace of an English accent (English accents during the 80s and 90s in Québec were like picking your nose. You NEVER EVER let it be noticed publicly), but for the most part people just treated me like a “show and tell” object, much to my amusement.
But it always left me wondering how I identified. My family upbringing was important to me, but so was my social upbringing. I was born in Québec, I went to French school until the age of 21, I got hit by a nun teacher (in public school no less), I wrote with impeccable French grammar, I won Québec history competitions, I watched Passe-Partout, La Princess Astronaute and, later on, OMG, Dans Une Galaxy Près de Chez Vous. I had L’Album du Peuple Tome 2 memorized. I read Belgian comics (no Marvel or DC for me, I was all about Le Journal de Spirou!). Yet, I was missing the most important element of all: a French ancestry. I also had an embarrassingly English name (which no one was ever able to pronounce or spell).
So, to this day, I don’t know how I identify culturally, except maybe, as “from the internet” since I did spend most of my life online.
All that to say, identities are complex, and there is a large personal component to it (how you feel) as well as a social component (how others see me).
The title “Gamer” also comes with another title, that of “Geek”. A “Geek”, is someone who really likes something, or some things, that is/are unpopular.
Thus most (and especially older) Geeks have faced the consequences of being enthusiastic about something unpopular: isolation, having to hide their interests, harassment, bullying.
This creates a solidarity among “childhood geek survivors“, but it also leaves the door open for a mentality of “in my day, we walked 5 miles in the snow with no shoes to play video games“.
Is liking video games enough to earn respect as A Gamer? Or do you have to be so passionate about your interests that in order to be respected, you need to prove that you fought for your right to like video games?
Escapism: Why Do You do it?
Some time back, there was a blogger who went on a rant against female gamers who were campaigning for better female representation in games (I suspect he was just trolling, but it still makes for a great example). His rationale was that he spent his youth picked on by girls, and used video games and fantasy worlds to escape from his real life struggles.
Escapism can be a wonderful coping mechanism. But not everyone escapes because of suffering. Me, I fell in love with fantasy worlds out of boredom. To this day, I still find the real world extremely boring.
Being a very shy person, and because my imagination has always been something extremely personal (notice how very rarely I show my fictional writing?), I did experience a bit of isolation and felt the constant need to hide everything I did. But the bullying, the harassment, the suffering? I got none of that.
I never earned my Gamer title through fire. I’ve only ever gamed because I liked to game. I still call myself A Gamer.
Consumerism: You Can’t Escape That
In all my passion and fire, I’ve left an element out of the equation. Quite possibly the most important element of all: consumerism.
My good friend Clockwork Bard did an excellent write up on the topic. In my fantasy worlds (and this is also why I use escapism!), buying and selling doesn’t make the world turn, but in real life it does.
As CB points out, it is those who spend the bucks who affect the direction gaming takes. And elitism is encouraged by the businesses producing the games, because ultimately it earns them more money (I’ve always considering Magic the Gathering to be one of the most brilliant and most annoying business schemes ever.)
It becomes important, then, to periodically stop and think, do I really want this or am I just being tricked into forking out money?
In Closing: Identity vs Taking advantage of an easy market
After I wrote my last post, I came across a post by Burek on Professor Beej’s blog, which was a response to a post by someone named Joe Peacock who doesn’t like “posers” as his conventions. Burek horribly misquoted Peacock (who, by his post, actually seems to advocate for girl geekdom but is exasperated at not being able to escape “sex sells”), but his post is still a great reflection on what it means to be a geek.
My good friend Oestrus, has been on a crusade against “posers” for some time now. It’s not something I really understand – I don’t consider celebrity status to be something particularly desirable and if someone is trying to sell me a mediocre product because they have no idea what they’re talking about, I just won’t buy it – but her rants do make you stop and think “wait…what am I REALLY investing my time and money into?”
So this post went from a reflection on personal identity into a reflection on money makes the world go around, world go around, world go around. This is what happens when you want to fit all your thoughts into a single hit of the “publish” button.
What it did make me realize, though, is that, in the fluffy, feel good notion of self identity, consumerism is the cradle rocking you. And it’s a double edged sword. If you avoid buying things, your voice doesn’t matter anymore. You don’t matter. If you do buy things, you open yourself up to exploitation.
Thus, the happy conclusion: be passionate about what you like, share your passion, put your money where it belongs, but be wise, ethical and responsible about financially supporting your Gaming identity.Internet Anthropology