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In Defence of Gamers

The hip thing to do at the moment is apparently to reject the use of the word 'gamer' and tell people not to identify themselves that way. Maybe I'm just not fashionable, but I have some reasons for standing up for the label (though not without limits).

The first issue is a lack of alternatives.

When I named this blog I accepted that including gamer in the title has its problems, but it is still meaningful. Game can mean all kinds of things, but gamer is probably going to be about video games -- or possibly pencil and paper roleplaying, which is also accurate in my case.

Now, I could have tried to come up with a clever name without needing to include games as a term at all. I could have incorporated something people might recognise from gaming culture, perhaps. "Giant enemy crab set us up the bomb" isn't very personal really. More seriously, I doubt I could have come up with something to fit.

My other option was to not worry about referencing games at all, and just use a blog title I happened to like. Since I write for myself first and anyone else second that could have worked, but I still wanted to say something about what I was trying to do here.

Trying to use terms people will recognise... that's a marketing decision. This is where some of the venom against the term gamer comes from. These labels are designed to sell or promote stuff, and that makes them evil, right?

Marketing is only evil when it's trying to sell you something you don't really want. Directing people to the things they are genuinely interested in is just sensible, and helpful all around. Also, directing people away from things they don't want, for that matter.

Another major argument directed against identifying as a gamer is stereotyping. Yahtzee covered this one recently on his Extra Punctuation column. So, punks kick rubbish bins, goths want to eat your babies, and gamers are neckbearded manchildren. Everyone knows these things are not really true (don't they?), but arguably the associations still flash up in people's minds.

(For the record, there is nothing wrong with a neckbeard. That's just another meaningless beauty standard, like the people who expect me to shave my legs and armpits. Screw the lot of them, and just be yourself.)

That stereotype doesn't enter into my head. Gamer is convenient shorthand for someone who plays video games, and that's rapidly becoming everyone. It's good to avoid over-using any term, but I don't think it's worth getting too worked up over this one specifically.

Maybe that's expecting too much from the general public, but I'm not writing for everyone. I'm writing for people who are already understand. I don't need to debate whether games can be art, because I am already past that point. And I don't need to defend myself or worry about how I look. I can just get on with things.

You can assume I'm a manchild if you like, but it's probably going to make you look like an idiot.

I do have my own pet disagreements about terms I'd like to see people cutting back on, particularly 'gameplay' and genre labels. That's a matter of clarity and ease of discussion. Sometimes there is still a use for a term for a collective of people who play games, so I am happy to leave that in my vocabulary.

Rather than encouraging stereotypes, I think the main issue with calling yourself a gamer is exclusivity. If gamers exist, so do non-gamers. Then battle-lines can be drawn and we can start saying that those millions of Farmville players are not real gamers. Not terribly constructive, but it hints at the reason behind the desire to group ourselves.

Video games are still fighting for recognition equal to other media. That can make people defensive, and inclined to identify similar individuals, as well as create safe spaces where we can talk about our hobby without fear of disproportionate judgement. Except from Yahtzee.

I'd like to say we are past needing that, and I hope we soon will be. I think the harshest critics of the label gamer are the ones who most want us to be past that point. I sympathise, but have to accept the reality of broader society.

Currently, I can't completely discount the value of a tribe. Gamer can mean belonging to something, and that being okay. Subcultures gets a bad rap, but there's a good reason they exist. The critics might want to take a hard look at why they want to attack various elements of society. Perhaps deciding not to be 'us' is seen as the decision to be against us?

We disprove that easily. Taking a label doesn't mean excluding others. At Freeplay speakers could admit to not playing games and still be considered an equal. We are constantly on the edge of new innovations, and broadening culture. I am not going to be ashamed of the passion involved in labeling myself part of that right now -- though not at the expense of other elements of myself, naturally.

Having said all that, I now need to admit to a possible double standard. I'm still trying to nut this one out in my head, but 'girl gamer' I really hate, even though the same arguments could be made. I suppose I'll defend the right of others to label themselves girl gamers even though the thought of using it myself is vile. That's fair, and they don't threaten me by choosing their own categories.

This is the point where I have to wonder where some people get off on telling other people how they can and can't identify themselves. I'll defend a designated girl gamer's rights even though I don't understand her need personally.

If you don't want to identify as a gamer that's cool. Do those of us who do use the label sometimes really threaten you so much you need to tell us not to?