Is The Word "Gamer" Really a Problem?
Posted on Friday, April 11 @ 16:30:00 PST by Nicholas Tan
In the past several years, more than a handful of prominent video game journalists have urged their readers to drop the term "gamer" from their vocabulary to discontinue the separation that the label inherently creates. Ironically, this has caused a separation between those who choose not to use the word "gamer" for its negative connotations and those who consider themselves gamers proudly. The debate may have caused more harm than originally intended.
No one relishes being called a stereotype since it narrows all the aspects of a human being down to a cut-out. Labels label people, yes? There's an improper association of gamers being obese, unhygienic, antisocial couch potatoes screaming and raging at a screen in the basement of his parents' house that's not terribly far away from the outdated typecast of the nerd. Some people despite playing hours of Flappy Bird, Words With Friends, or Mario Party will refuse to downgrade themselves, apparently, to being called a gamer.
On the flip side, those who identify as gamers tend to be more specific about what kind they are. Casual or hardcore? PC or console? Xbox One or PS4? PvE or PvP? There's an underlying sense of competitive elitism beneath the classification system, which comes with the territory when players are ranked on leaderboards and in legitimate eSports contests. Unlike other mediums, games also require a substantial investment of time and money, which naturally creates divisions between players who can only afford one or two platforms, are into one series more than another, or don't have the skill or the interest to play certain genres of games altogether. So it's natural that the term "gamer" has a parallel number of distinctions, despite what critics might pretend not to understand about why the word even exists.
The core problem I have with nixing the word "gamer" from the lexicon is that I self-identity as one, because by definition I'm a person who plays games. And if we're talking about a matter of degree, then I'm a person who actively plays games, talks about games, writes about games, thinks about games, dreams about games, and would probably eat games if they were part of a complete and balanced breakfast. Despite what some editorials might say, we do have words for fans of other mediums like "movie buff," "car junkie," "book nerd," "Trekkie", "Whovian", etc. If you're a person who describes himself or herself as someone who merely plays video games on occasion, then I see no reason not to do so. But I'm someone who's dedicated to games much more than the typical person so "gamer" works well enough for me.
More than that, when I use the label "gamer," I mean it descriptively, not derisively (and actually, I mean it positively). That's the basic function of a label in the first place. Now, I can't control how the mainstream press or "normal Americans" think about "gamers," but I can embrace the term and have them gradually change their minds by showing that I'm not the stereotype they might think I am. I don't parade around the fact that I'm a gamer, but I don't deny it either. I don't become irritated when people use "gamer" around me unless they mean it negatively, in which case they are the ones with the problem, not me.
Maybe it's easier to come up with a better word, but I haven't been able to. Have you? If I'm to discard the word "gamer," what about the derived word "gaymer"? Am I supposed to let that go too? Am I supposed to deny that I'm "gay" too just because other people have a negative cookie-cutter perception of the label? Should I just continually call myself "person who is sexually attracted to the same sex and plays video games more habitually than others"? That's just the kind of inelegant mouthful that labels, or shall I say concise nouns, are supposed to take care of. Welcome to the English language. There will be sacrifices.
I've been labeled far worse than a "gamer" over the course of my life whether it has to do with my sexuality or my race and besides, it's not like words have fixed meanings. Over time, the term "gamer" can have positive associations or just become a word that's as neutral as "movie-goer," "book-reader," and "music-listener." Time is on our side in the matter, as video games become normalized and generally accepted across the younger generations. Just within the last decade, I think "gamer" has come to mean something more general or at the very least so vague and nebulous that it's difficult to define since we have a generational gap between perceptions of the word.
I'm just a gamer. No more. No less.
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