Quick quiz time kiddos. What is a gamer? Well, any reasonable person would probably say “someone who plays games” and is the world were ruled by dictionaries, that would be the end of our discussion. But the world is more complicated than that.
Here are some examples of people who play games: Call of Duty bros, chess champions, MTG players, the girl on the subway who won’t stop playing Candy Crush, poker pros, the weekly basketball game, your grandmother who is always playing solitaire, your three year old cousin that plays tic-tac-toe all the time, crazy hobo Lenny who constantly tries to fleece people with a shell game, and that annoying guy at work who constantly wants you to get in on the Super Bowl pot.
All of these people play games, but you wouldn’t necessarily call them “gamers” would you? So what is a gamer? Is it someone who plays a game of skill? If so we can weed out lottery addicts and compulsive gamblers, but at the same time we end up weeding out people who play videogames with lots of random number generation. There are also plenty of games out there, like Telltale’s The Walking Dead or Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain that don’t really require much skill at all. They are just cinematic experiences that tell a story. Are the people who play these games not gamers? Similarly, Rock-Paper-Scissors is a game of skill, but you wouldn’t necessarily call competitive Rock-Paper-Scissors players gamers would you?
An obvious definition for “gamer” is “one who plays video games” but even this doesn’t particularly cover it. Often you hear people say that people who play casual games are not real gamers, even though they are clearly video games. So if we go by that definition we can weed out the Candy Crush and Farmville players. But then others define a gamer by the amount of time you spend gaming. Most wouldn’t call a newbie who picked up Call of Duty once a gamer. So you might say it is someone who plays non casual games regularly. Then again, many of these gamers take breaks or even find new obsessions, like the many Call of Duty fans that will play Titanfall soon. Are these gamers no longer gamers when they stop regularly playing Call of Duty? Do they become gamers again when they begin playing Titanfall? Does your regularity have to be constant or do you get to be a gamer as soon as you have passed a certain threshold of playtime?
Then there is the question of skill. Do you have to be good at games to be a gamer? There are plenty of fighting gamers who will say that the 99% of people who play fighting games are not gamers as they aren’t doing any research into combo optimization, frame data, move properties and much more. But then again there are more casual fighting game players who just call these pros “hardcore elitists.” So are the more casual fighting gamers the real gamers? If that’s the case and casual gamers CAN be called real gamers, do we have to look at the Farmville players again? Are they gamers and are the rest of us elitists?
Then there’s the problem of genre! There are plenty out there who say that real gamers play shooters and action games. However, there are others who call “real” gaming strategy gaming, like Starcraft. There are others that swear that speedrunning is the only type of real gaming. There are gamers who say the only real type of gaming is multi-player. There are gamers who say you can’t be a real gamer if you haven’t heard of Chrono Trigger, or if you haven’t beaten Super Mario Bros. 3, a JRPG and a Platformer which are not some of the more popular genres of today.
Once again, in a simpler world you could say that a gamer is one who supports the values of the gaming community. But what are those values? You look around the net, and you find people constantly disagreeing on what being a gamer means. Is vulgarity or online abuse OK? Do we have a problem with the way we treat newbies? Do we have problems with racism, sexism, or homophobia? Does being a gamer go hand in hand with being socially awkward or outcast or can popular kids be gamers?
Who are we, as a community? Are we the people who donate to Child’s Play and raise money through Awesome Games Done Quick? Or are we the people in the news who commit acts of violence over lost games of Madden? Are we the scholars who have begun integrating game study into college courses? Or are we the businessmen who constantly try to maximize profit on every title? Are we the indie developers who are trying to push the lines of interactive narrative on a small budget? Or are we AAA developers looking to bring you the latest in graphics and processing? Are we first party console makers? Or are we the guys who made the Ouya?
What does gamer mean? Well, in most flame wars, gamer tends to mean “anyone who agrees with my point of view and not anyone who disagrees” but that’s probably the most worthless definition yet. Maybe there aren’t really gamers out there, but just, as I said before, people who play games. If there is an objective definition, frankly, I don’t know it, and I don’t think any of us know, though I’d be interested to hear your own personal definition of “gamer” in the comments.
Former Contributing Writer