Thoughts on the Definition of “Gamer”

We’ve discussed different types of gamers before, but we haven’t really discussed the original term, itself.  It’s one of those words everyone knows the meaning to, but are usually unable to put forth a set definition.  That’s what we’re going to try and do today.

Generally, dictionaries tend to use the same definition.  Both Merriam-Webster and Microsoft’s Encarta have variations on defining the term as someone who plays games regularly, for just two examples.  Other dictionaries offer similar definitions.  Is that enough, though?  We’re building a culture out of the hobby—so is it enough to say that members of this “community” play games at least semi-often?

Where the console wars started.

I think it should be, and even is—but I doubt it will stay that way for much longer.  We can already see the beginnings of “elitism”—infamously seen in the “wars” of computers versus consoles and console versus console—and looking at our species’ history, elitism is actually important.  When a village has an “us versus them” mentality, where anyone not of the village is “them”, that keeps that village together, co-operating and fighting for each other.  They help each other and pool their resources for the betterment of the village, whether the individual villagers agreed with each other on this or that topic, or not.  That’s helped our species come as far as it has.

The problem comes when trying to apply that mentality to the “global village”, where everyone is connected digitally.  The problem is that such a mentality isn’t necessary—or useful.  In fact, it can become a hindrance.  Without clear boundary lines to mark off and label one side “us” and the other “them”, we turn to more ideological lines—and thus comes things like thinking one’s “type of gear” shows how “good” of a player they are, where normal terms gain derogatory uses and applications, and so on.

They don’t make sense, and everyone really knows it—but, again, elitism has helped our species grow and thrive.  We can’t throw off millions of years of evolution in just a few decades, even though as we move from a collection of separate communities into one large one, it’s no longer a boon.

So, we again are faced with just how to define the term “gamer”.  If you choose to bypass the dictionaries and ask actual people who play video games, you’ll get different answers.  Some give time-based definitions; if you play games at least a few hours every day, you’re a gamer.  Others define it based on what games you play; if you play more than a few “simple” casual games on Facebook, you’re a gamer.  You really get as many definitions as people you ask.

I still think “someone who plays video games regularly” is enough.  Well—mostly.  I suppose, if I have to qualify it a bit more, I’d say that a “gamer” is someone who plays games regularly as well as someone who has an interest in gaming, in whatever fashion.  The total stereotype of a soccer-mom playing a round of <whatever>ville before picking the kids up, who can hold a long discussion with her friends about the various aspects of the game—she’s a gamer, in my book.  Same with another stereotype, the young person who spends as much time after school as they can get away with perfecting their “frag scores”—they’re a gamer, too, to me.

Both played regularly, and isn't that what counts?

Again, I say that should be enough.  This hobby is a great one; there are numerous facets to it, a staggering number of ways people can enjoy it—people who enjoy it should be included, added to the celebration, not segregated.  Plenty of people are doing that, too—look at the millions of video game-related blogs and such around, and most are aimed at bridging a gap—a gap between old hands at a game and new players, a gap between genres, whatever else.  Most of us really are, in whatever way we do it, trying to help include everyone.  It’s only a select few who are really, avidly pushing forth ideological boundaries.

Yes, they seem numerous, because they’re the louder ones.  They’re the ones “screaming” in all caps some ‘Net slang or another that questions one’s parentage and sexual orientation—which makes it hard, sometimes, to remember that they are the minority.

For every player ranting about “gear score”, I’ve personally e-met plenty who just cared if you were good, accepting that good players don’t always have the time to invest in getting the best e-stuff.  For every player ranting about “n00bs”, I’ve e-met plenty who are courteous and helpful to new players.  I’m just one person, but I’ve heard of similar things by others, so statistics suggest such is the norm.

It makes some anecdotal sense, as well—think of the old phrases like “one bad apple ruins the bunch” or whatever geographical variant.  We know, and have known for a long time, that one person being a jerk isn’t inherently indicative of the rest—but we have such phrases because it’s sometimes hard to remember that.

“Someone who plays games regularly” should be enough of a definition of “gamer”—and here’s hoping it stays enough of a definition for a very long time to come, regardless of what the few and loud, or “bad apples”, have to say about it.


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