The United States of Gamer

A discussion of identity and culture.

If you have your finger on the pulse of the gaming community at large, you already know of the deeply troubling, perfect-storm of cyber-bullying that (one hopes) is clearly isn't yet beginning to calm. (I use the term "bullying" because I think it correctly describes the tactics employed, but the magnitude is more like thuggery. Here's a thread to more info if you need context.) There has been a great volume of anger expressed in Tweets, and blog posts, and website comments, and counter blog posts—in every digital form—and from all angles.

Anger is an understandable reaction to bullying. No reasonable person wants to see anyone chased out of their home by threats. No reasonable person wants someone's private life dragged before the court of public opinion. The injustice sparks anger because the just see common-cause with the bullied. It is self-evident that the tactic of bullying is self-defeating: for all reasonable people must, without hesitation, stand against you.

This storm has also sparked a defiant and brave message of positivity, and I don't want to ignore that. Tweets naming friends and colleagues, praising them for their accomplishments, thanking them for their contributions: these bring light in the darkness. Warmth in the cold. When bullies seek to disunify, we must strive ever harder for unity, for inclusion, for understanding.

It is in this spirit that I wish to discuss one corner of the debate which, while I sympathize with its origin, I nevertheless find disheartening in its consequences.

This is the assertion that "gamer"—as an identity, as a term—is over. Done. Dead. (For example, as covered by Leigh Alexander and Dan Golding.)

Emigration

Their argument is that "gamer" identifies an exclusive demographic (young, white, and male) whose primacy in the video game industry is due to historical consequence and the resulting marketing/development feedback loop. This loop sees young, white men as a profitable market, develops games and tailors advertising to reach them, and thus further increases the popularity of video gaming in the same demographic.

Much has been written about this feedback loop, but I think it's clear that it is changing. One of the gifts of the Indie Renaissance is that more games are being made by more people with more variety and inventiveness than ever before. This is a wonderful thing and is leading to an equalizing of the demographic representation, not only in video game developers but also in video game players.

Alexander and Golding point at this cultural shift as the root cause of the aforementioned vitriol being spewed across the internet. To me, this is attempting to rationalize the unreasonable. Mobs are not formed in a moment of rational thought. Anonymous harrassment and abuse is by (my) definition irrational, full stop. Lest I be accused of painting with too broad a brush, I want to be clear that not everyone who has a point of disagreement is part of the mob. I don't doubt some angry internet comments are the product of a person who simply isn't expressing themselves well. And at the same time I don't want to discount the hurt, which can be very real for the witnesses of these comments.

The common conclusion of Alexander's and Golding's articles is that because of all of this, the term Gamer should be cast aside and abandoned. That the atrocities committed under the Gamer banner are too great. This country should be fled in favor of more enlightened ground.

Abandoned homes

Language is important. It is the lumber with which we construct our ideas and it is these constructions we share with one another. You cannot build a strong house with rotten lumber, and you cannot build a strong idea if your words crawl with insidious connotations. So burning Gamer down and rebuilding seems tempting. The wounds we received here still sting. The anger we shouted here sunk into the timbers and weakened them. Rather than set about the work of repair, why should we not find new language to populate?

Gamers united

The problem is that in emigration we risk leaving people behind. I, for one, never tacitly accepted the power of the marketing gurus to define my identity, so Gamer does not mean to me what it means to you.

To me, Gamer means anyone who loves to play games. Anyone and any game, for any reason. This definition may seem so bland and general as to be meaningless. I disagree. This identity isn't befuddled by arguments about which games are good and which are bad. (That conversation can be had without subverting Gamer.) This definition doesn't care which demographic bucket you've been placed in. It celebrates our commonalities without denying our uniqueness. It turns no one away. It is elegant. Simple. It willfully chooses to focus on that which unifies us—the love of games.

And why must we limit ourselves to one medium? When I see a child learning how to make their vision come to life in Minecraft, I see the love of games. The love of games is there when a grandparent teaches their grandchildren to play poker. Friends come together to annihilate each other—whether the game is bridge or Halo. Pen and paper role playing games are the logical extension of stories told around a camp fire. Gaming is a fundamentally human story whether the execution is in dice or a silicon chip.

This definition can be real if only we make it so.

The history of video gaming can be painted in tones of commercial exploitation and regressivism. But its story is multifaceted. The failures live hand-in-hand with the successes. Video gaming, once widely considered to be a hobby for children, has blossomed into a multi-billion dollar, economy-moving industry and a culturally accepted and increasingly inclusive art.

If we raze the name of Gamer we turn our backs on history. We burn the good with the bad. If we raze the name of Gamer we don't distance ourselves from the abusive few, we exile those whose only crime is disagreement. Let us not forget that some day reason may triumph and forgiveness will be due.

The culture of video games is indeed changing. Change is inevitable. But I would urge you, rather than giving up this term and retreating from this intellectual ground, to redouble your efforts in reclaiming and reshaping it. Here we can form a united Gamer identity. An inclusive identity regardless of race, creed, orientation, gender, or any other categorical descriptive.

So I say welcome to the United States of Gamer. Welcome to our melting pot. Give us your casual, your hardcore, your art games yearning to be played. I pledge allegiance to the love of games, for I'm a gamer.