The word “gamer” carries an uncomfortable and horridly wrong tone. Why does it, and why can we do to change that?
Our culture loves labels. We say we don’t, maybe to sound like a half-decent human being, but we apply tags to anything that qualifies as a noun. Even people, especially people. If we show a passion for a topic or genre or certain media, we get branded, then scoured at if that person disagrees with our choice. Unbeknownst to us, we enter meltdown shut-off mode whenever see someone reading or playing or listening to a product we find revolting. It’s human nature.
Music lovers don’t have a label because, frankly, everyone loves rhythm. Written word adorers who spend their time absorbing knowledge from the deepest abysses in libraries get called bookworms. That one person constantly quoting films that can name any actor, director or producer (a job deserving more admiration) is branded a movie buff. Video game lovers, should they choose to display their beloved medium proudly, are dismissed as “gamers”.
All these names carry with them a connotation. Gamers, especially, because our wider culture reverts to the image of a fat and directionless male in his mid-twenties scarfing down junk food, pimply faced, glassy-eyed from sleeplessness, who leaves the house only every few days to grab more junk food. Who just also happens to be deeply introverted. They exist, sure, but every stereotype is based on some version of the truth. But for a society to associate one simple term with that picture is absurdly wrong. Frighteningly wrong.
And for gaming as a culture, we accept this perception uncontestedly. We prefer to live in an exclusive club of males and only males, celebrating hardheadedness as some form of accomplishment. It’s a deeply troubled persona because a video game is a digital bonding experience, to play with, to share and indulge in, and to understand and study. And with the bigoted idiots patrolling every major site for a chance to convey this stereotype further, the online policing isn’t helping anyone.
It should be understood that enjoying a game is a privilege, not a right, and definitely not sided to one gender. There is no exclusivity to playing games online. Especially when men barrage women in multiplayer sessions with sexist comments or pick-up lines. Or grope women at conventions because, unreasonably, guys think female cosplayers want more than to express their fandom. Even more so when the Internet attacks someone like Anita Sarkeesian because of her gender and her character, not because of her mishandled Kickstarter fund.
The word ‘gamer’ doesn’t need to carry a negative connotation. Yet the people claiming to fall under this banner perpetuate childish or elitist behaviour, thus accentuating the term to reflect terribly on everyone. They don’t want to represent an industry raking in billions every year and employing hundreds of thousands of people. They don’t care about a colourfully emerging indie scene. They prefer to cling to stereotypes and live with archaic viewpoints. Or, they are trolling masterfully. The Internet is murkiest where anonymity is concerned.
The word has real-world implications. That image creates a stigma by which public displays of game fandom are frowned upon. And even in politics, too: Last October, a Maine politician running for office was criticized by her Republican counterpart because she played World of Warcraft. Quotes from Democrat Colleen Lachowicz on the WoW forums were taken gravely out of context and the political right turned her remarks into a campaign point, creating a website and calling her gaming “a time-consuming double life”. Like it’s some seedy activity with a criminal background, not from a woman who spent the same amount of time knitting socks.
But she was attacked for being a gamer. Politics is a dirty business anyway, but the point remains because her political opposition only understood her hobby as the typical gaming persona. It’s misunderstood by the establishment, perhaps feared by them, and to shield their curiosity they stick to the stereotype. If at any point we needed a wake-up call, it was this.
I believe the term can and will find some footing in the decency department. That the word won’t sound derogatory or antagonistic. The average gamer is thirty, sure, but they like to hide in the shadows. At least until media shelves the notion that games infiltrate the brain and cause twentysomethings into thinking about mass murder, the term will carry this unsettling reputation for the time being. But soon, gamers, we shall rise.
(That last sentence sounded cooler before I wrote it.)
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