Thursday, April 03, 2008

Eliminate the word "gamer" from your vocabulary

"Gamer" gets 51 and a half million Google hits, which is more than John McCain and Hillary Clinton combined.

The most common discussion involving the word involves the following:
  • What is a gamer? (Usually becomes an argument about who deserves to be called one, as if it's an honor)
  • What kinds of gamers are there or how should we classify them? (Usually gets weak grunts of approval and humorous anecdotes about furries)
  • Does such and such a category really apply? (More interesting, usually ends with a call for extinguishing or redefining the category)
The two common answers to the first question are either "someone who plays games", which comes from a prescriptive dictionary, or "someone who prefers to use free time playing video games more than anything else", adopted from popular usage within and without gaming circles. Well, this doesn't give us much to work with. It doesn't actually define much of anything.

I'm a Latter-day Saint (Mormon) and I can identify with the next step that was taken: adoption of the word "gamer" as an almost holy moniker of sorts. For those not in the know, Mormonism's largest denomination, the one with the missionaries with the little black name tags and that have control of Utah, etc., is the "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." The word "Mormon" comes from the Book of Mormon, a book they believe is additional scripture to the Bible, which makes them vastly different from other Christian denominations. "Mormon" became an epithet, an insult against people of that religion. The days where it became a slur are long gone and it is simply the name that has gone throughout the world. And we don't mind too much: you're not being insulting, and the word literally means "more good", anyway. So, throughout the common masses, what you hear from Mormons is: "Well, we call ourselves Latter-day Saints, but no, Mormon's not offensive."

Gamers did the same. "Gamer" was probably an insult that rose from gaming's prepubescent beginnings and the rather primitive need to classify our classmates. Even if it was a gamer who invented it and it wasn't originally an insult, it soon became one. There is no doubt that the word gamer had acquired a certain negative stigma (first link NSFW or your ears).

But like Mormons, gamers adopted the name as a sort of official title, one that is automatically supposed to mean something when there's nothing to see. I've looked, and I've gamed over 20 years, and I've been committed to more than one kind of gaming scene, and there is nothing that is guaranteed to make a gamer have something in common with another gamer besides the fact they both play games. It's almost like meeting someone from Tanzania and saying "oh, that guy's from Nigeria, don't you have something in common with them?" (I've seen that happen, and the answer was "no".)

So I propose we eliminate the word gamer. If you're not convinced, please follow me a little more. If you play games seriously, you likely want general recognition that games can be art, that games are going to be the 4th great storytelling tradition (oral, written, and film being the preceding three), and that there is nothing wrong or weird about playing games. But by using the term "gamer" so religiously, you are saying there is something special or unique about it, and it won't work. Not only is it unaccurate and elitist, it's harmful and will tell everyone who doesn't play that we are separating ourselves from them, which is not what we want.

Do people who primarily like TV, film, or books have such a designation? Moviegoer? That's only used once, and for a purpose that's entirely different. TV watcher? Yeah, but they have no common ground. A reader? I've never heard that used before, ever. Even if it were, what would it mean? Someone may read a lot, but one person may read mostly historical nonfiction while another reads romance novels. Remember the argument about grandpa playing Yahoo Bridge and Hearts not being a gamer? The real reason we say this is to make a statement about games themselves. Literally, though, he is still a gamer. Someone may call romance novels trash, but the person is still reading. "It's not literature," your professor or Barnes and Noble cashier will say. But they won't say she's not a reader or that it's not a book, will they?

And of course Hearts and Bridge don't represent anything great in gaming, either. But by now the discussion has already moved on. We're discussing the merits of the games themselves now and what they mean. If we want people to respect gaming, keep the discussion on the games, not the people playing them. Because gaming isn't usually done in public, the only people non-gamers can think of are the awkward teenagers and recluses that are an embarrassment to all they associate with. Again, not what we want.

It's time to move on. Drop the word gamer. Don't say "I'm a gamer." Say something else, like "I game."


Blogger ambrosia ananas said...

Great post. I love your comparisons in this. And I would love it if removing the stereotypes by removing the label would encourage more "normal" people to play.

Also, I would classify those people as "readers," "couch potatoes," and "film junkies." And your analysis is spot-on--classifying them as anything is only going to be misleading. I laughed when I read your example. Because every time I meet someone who reads a lot, I think, "Oh, boy. We'll be great friends!" And then find out that they only read Grisham (or Austen), only read two books a month, or hate sci-fi/fantasy.

Not, of course, that I'll be able to break myself of the habit of calling people "gamers."

2:54 PM  
Blogger bawb said...

Yeah, fantastic post. I think that for our generation forward, people who never play games will be as weird as people who never go to movies, and as 'Brozy suggests, they'll only be noteworthy if it's all they do or if they consider themselves connoisseurs, as with other media.

3:15 PM  

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