I have a request, planet Earth. I have graced you with my presence for 27 years and I think it’s only fair you do something for me in return. I want everyone to stop using the word “gamer”.
I know it’s going to be tough. Language shifts always are. It’s going to be a hard word to let go of. It’s been a great comfort in all the years that hardship gamers – I mean, “people who play videogames” have spent battling for acceptance. To say one is a gamer is to belong to a group, and it’s human nature to want to belong, to know that there are others carrying the pennant alongside you, even if it they have acne and smell faintly of milk.
No, you probably don’t have acne and don’t smell of milk (although some of you almost certainly do) but “gamer” is a label, and whenever a label is used, an image of the stereotype attached to that label flips up unwarranted into your unconscious mind. Anyone who identifies as a “gamer” will create a very specific image in the mind of the layman. Probably something somewhere between one of the Columbine killers and that shouty German kid from YouTube. Or a sweaty, fat, neckbearded manchild weeping over their Aeris body pillows (or is it Aerith? I can never remember).
It is frustrating that this image exists, but it’s nothing anyone can help. It’s a status quo thing and a mass media thing and those are always hard to shift. But people who completely aren’t helping the case at all are the ones who take an almost revolutionary pride in their “gamer” status. “I am gamer”, they say, “hear me whine”. If you want an example of the kind of person I’m talking about, click on the comments link down below, and there’ll probably be a few who fell for the bait in the last paragraph and are now arguing over the correct spelling of whatever that flaky bint’s name was. These are the people who hurl abuse at film critics who question the artistic potential of games and send death threats to Jack Thompson – which only proved his point. Whatever happened to that guy, by the way? I guess after he got disbarred he slipped back down to the “strange man yelling from porch” level on The Sims career track for Moral Guardians.
I’m not saying you have to be ashamed of playing videogames, but I’m not saying you should be proud and shouting it from the rooftops either. It’s not like being a gay vicar or a female boxer or a quadruple amputee ping pong champion. Being a player of games does not make one a minority or part of an elite club, as employing a label like “gamer” wordlessly implies. Games aren’t important. Well, they are for me, because they’re my job. I am professionally obliged to critique, analyze and catalog games, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But that’s just me. I’m like some esteemed professor of pizza-making who aspires to know everything about the process of pizza and devotes their life to finding the greatest pizzas of all time. Society does need these people because you never know when some pizza issue will come up that requires an expert’s consultation, but they’re not exactly changing the world, and they don’t expect their customers to call themselves “Pizzarillas” and run around wearing pizza-themed T-shirts.
And as for people who call themselves “girl gamers,” they’re the worst of them. Not only does the word “gamer” give the unconscious segregation effect I’ve adequately ranted at above, but the word “girl” also implies that playing games and possessing a double X chromosome is something particularly worthy of note, what with the majority of gamers being twitchy manchildren fantasizing about shooting up their schools and everything. Anyone who calls themselves a girl gamer is basically wearing a sandwich board saying “LOOK AT ME.” Then, in smaller letters underneath, “POSSIBLE DADDY ISSUES.” Then a semi-colon, then “WAAA” in brackets.
The point I’m trying to reach is that playing games, as entertaining and fascinating and beneficial as it might be, is just something people do, not something they should be defined by. People don’t call themselves moviegoers, or TV watchers, or book readers. That’s the job of marketing agencies.
Perhaps I should explain why I’ve been thinking along these lines lately. As regular followers of my misadventures should know, I am one of four owner/investors of an experimental drinking establishment here in Brisbane called the Mana Bar (420 Brunswick Street, just past the Judith Wright Centre, listen for the noise of happy young people and MC Chris). A small venue where a bunch of TV screens and consoles are set up so that people can play videogames (for free, mind) in a social setting and get a few drinks down them. It’s doing well enough that we’re already looking into additional venues in other Australian cities, and possibly worldwide.
But the whole image of a gamer bar is something we’ve frequently come up against. I tend to prefer calling it a “bar where you can play videogames.” Even now, with the success of the idea proven and our intention to expand advertised, we see a lot of people on forums and comments saying “Huh, I wouldn’t want to go there, I bet it’s full of sweaty neckbeards constantly hogging the Guitar Hero machine so they can play Dragonforce faultlessly on expert, intermittently glancing over their shoulder to see if anybody’s impressed.” I’m actually willing to bet that the people making these comments are not a million miles away from this description themselves.
But you’re welcome to come down on a Friday night and see this for yourself: Our clientele, while there may be one or two of them on the whiffy side, are just normal, fun-loving people. Not “gamers.” Normal men and women, who have all sorts of interests, amongst them playing videogames, without feeling they have to form political parties about it. Not casual games, either.
So this is what I want. I want people to stop saying things like “I’m a gamer.” I want people to say things like this:
“I wake up in the morning. I take a shower. I get on the bus to work. I play Doodle Jump on the bus. I go to work. I work. I play a bit of Team Fortress 2 at lunch break with some colleagues. I go home. Some nights I see a movie. Some nights I go for a drink. And some nights I stay in and play Modern Warfare. I am normal.”
This is your warning: I am going on a week’s holiday. In fact, assuming nothing has gone heart-rendingly wrong, I should already be on my week’s holiday by the time you read this, no doubt hanging around some South Pacific island looking for dark people to oppress. What this means to you is that there won’t be a ZP or an XP next week. Now, you only have a right to complain about this if you are actually paying money to watch and read this stuff. And even then, only because someone appears to be pulling a fast one on you.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.