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Identity
by Christian Nutt on 05/03/13 04:20:00 pm   Editor Blog   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutraís community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Leigh Alexander's blog has a FAQ. The FAQ, by its nature, answers questions which are frequently asked. Recently, she added a new question.

Why do you sometimes mock ‘nerds’ and ‘gamers’ so virulently? Isn’t that the same kind of bullying you rail against?

Well.

The answer is long, and you should definitely read all of it, but I find this excerpt most piquant:

The fact you got a Game Boy for Christmas and liked it so much you stopped doing anything else doesn’t entitle you to a revolution. Your fandom is not your identity. Your fandom is not a race.

I had mixed feelings when reading her overall answer, and I thought about those feelings. Then I briefly talked to Leigh about my feelings while editing her article on the stupendous-sounding talk she attended last Friday evening, and, later, I thought about that conversation a little bit. And then I was driving home from work, and decided to write about this.

Gamers

I don't really like identifying with groups or cliques. I never have. It's inevitable that one does, of course, but it doesn't sit well with me. I wasn't a big joiner as a kid. Circumstances did not allow it. I am still not a big joiner, despite the fact that things have worked out well for me and there are, in fact, plenty of groups which would now have me.

Of all the groups that would have me, the so-called "gamers" set my teeth on edge.

(Now, please understand. I adore grouping with people who share my interests, including video games -- enjoying them together and celebrating them -- so don't get angry just yet. I'll explain this better a little later.)

When I bought my Game Boy at Toys R Us in 1989, the nice lady in the plexiglas cage told me that it was the first one that store had ever sold.

All this proves, really, is that I was a spoiled brat and I was born early enough to buy their first Game Boy. I don't think it says much about the man I am 24 years later.

In 1990, I used my confirmation money to buy a TurboGrafx CD, which cost $300.

All this proves, really, is that about a year later I did something even more intensely nerdy. This time, the man in the plexiglas cage did not even have to tell me I had bought the first TurboGrafx CD that Toys R Us had ever sold. I already knew.

I don't think that a similar experience makes you an anything this much later, unless you decide it does.

Many people do, of course. I don't consider it a weakness. It's a human instinct. It's also a lot of fun, since we're talking about games.

I remember a moment of joining so profoundly emotional that just thinking about it over a decade later brings an intensity of emotion that outmatches a lot of what I might feel on average day.

That memory accurately incorporates a conversation about Dragon Quest.

But since then, I learned an important lesson: Groups can empower you. They can also hold you back.

To go back to what Leigh said, I didn't actually "stop doing anything else," which I think is a huge part of why I am a professional writer and editor in the game industry and not just a dude who buys a lot of video games. Still, I never did forget those formative experiences. I guard them tightly. Ys Book I & II, which I played when I was 13, is still my favorite game all these many years later. It's a little bit sacred to me.

I mean that.

My "shrine," circa 2000

I certainly haven't stopped doing that which I was doing at 13, even if I supplemented -- and, in some cases, supplanted -- it.

Here's what I'm trying to get at

When I spoke to Leigh about her FAQ, what I said to her was that I felt I was in some kind of no-man's land as regards it: I really love that stuff, and it means a lot to me. I still pursue those kinds of experiences long after many others have moved on to whatever else they've moved on to (different kinds of games, not games at all -- whatever.)

I genuinely love Kid Icarus: Uprising. The "adult" part of my brain will tell you that it's a high quality, well made, cohesive, and clever game with a lot of heart and a great deal of finesse. It's also a lot of fun. The "13" part of my brain, so to speak, loves it because it's an extension of all of the games I've loved all my life.

I don't bring up the "no-man's land" to suggest that I am in some way special. Conversely, I actually bring it up because I think a lot -- a huge swath! -- of people live there, and they deserve to be acknowledged.

People will surprise you.

I certainly don't consider myself special for having read difficult books as well as having played difficult video games -- in my opinion, everybody should be reading difficult books and playing difficult video games, whatever "difficult" means in their specific case.

To wit, there's a concept called the granfalloon, which Kurt Vonnegut expounded in Cat's Cradle.

Wikipedia defines it like this: "it is a group of people who outwardly choose or claim to have a shared identity or purpose, but whose mutual association is actually meaningless."

Read the fucking book -- seriously. But to save time now, ultimately, it's suggested that all groups are granfalloons: your clique, your high school class, your national identity, whatever.

I hold truck with this.

The granfalloon is also a boss in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which I know because I am a gam... Ha-hah! You thought you had me there. Nope.

Look. It turns out that, in my opinion, that we aren't anythings.

All the same, Leigh's answer is true. Or at the very least, there is truth in it.

It's not true because she's simplistically lumping people together in a kind of mental shorthand, like we all do. Yes, we all do it, and we all know it's reductive, but we do it anyway.

It's true because I know she's been subject to an unceasing stream of tweets and comments from people who represent this perspective -- or at least, as much anybody can tell, they sure do seem to.

People will disappoint you.

I have one other thing to say

I particularly despise how, primarily over the course of this console generation, "gamer" has had its definition narrowed, revised, and and, truthfully, fucking mutilated into a very specific and offensive marketing category.

In the mid 1990s, for example, some of us played PC games, some of us played PlayStation or Sega Saturn or the Nintendo 64 or Game Boy Color, and some of us went to arcades. Some even did all of the above. We sure did love video games.

The games on all of the above were actually more diverse and interesting than the small sliver that the 2013 Game Industry (and I am here now referring to the commercial "gamer"-targeted game industry, not all people who presently make video games, commercial or otherwise) considers commercially viable.

More to the point, while there was definitely a perceptible wall between Consoles and PC Games, it was really a permeable membrane, much more so than the wall between Triple-A Fucking Everything, and I Mean Everything, Is a Shooter or Looks Like One, Including RPGs and Fucking Star Trek, Can You Believe This Shit? and Everything Else that we have going right now.

The whole gamer thing has been shamelessly commodified by people who couldn't begin to understand what this medium means to you. Why would you want to be complicit in your own disenfranchisement?  

Gamer:

People who frequently play and really genuinely enjoy video games:

The end.


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Comments


Hasan Almaci
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Preach on brother, the so called GAMER does no longer exist.
If technology that can run electronic entertainment exists where humans live, games become part of their life.

Rob Lockhart
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When I think about categorization, I think about elbows. When I was a kid, I thought there was an official definition of an elbow. I asked people where exactly my elbow ended and my forearm began. Nobody I asked knew, but I was confident there was someone who did. Now I know there's no such thing as an elbow, in the sense of a discrete object, but there are parts of my arm that fall along a spectrum of elbowness, and in that sense I'd argue that categories still have some utility.

Christian Nutt
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Utility to whom, though, is the question. And what sort of utility?

Rob Lockhart
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Cognitive utility in referring to a concept. The same kind of utility as all nouns have. Think of a chair. Now think of a beanbag chair. The first chair you thought of was probably very different than beanbag chairs, but they go into the same category because they're something you sit on. If you sit on something, it practically renders it a chair, so why even have the category 'chair'? Well, because we understand it to relate to a whole bell-curve of chair-ness. We don't try to force beanbag chairs to have legs, but it's still a useful category. See my argument?

Christian Nutt
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So capable of being used, or understood, in a totally neutral way. Sure. But I'm arguing that the neutrality has been utterly drained away.

Nick Raymond
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Great article

I consider myself a gamer because I play video games but I dont feel proud for doing it. Its just something I do. I play niches games because I find games like Vanillaware's output or Super Robot Wars to be a greater experience then say a shooter (mainly because I despise guns) not because Vanillaware sold less copies in its lifetime then a Call of Duty game sells in its first week.

In recent years people have turned the term "gamer" into some ridiculous way to show a person's ego by saying that they are better than some random guy because they play video games while he doesn't. They are defining themselves not by who they are as a person but what they do in their free time.

Ryan Watterson
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Great article. I think it shows a lot of integrity and character and I have a lot of respect for it.

Josh Bycer
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"I particularly despise how, primarily over the course of this console generation, "gamer" has had its definition narrowed, revised, and and, truthfully, fucking mutilated into a very specific and offensive marketing category."

I was thinking about this yesterday, looking at the ads that would be considered "common" for gamers and game sites. The ones that I largely saw were either educational related, or advertisements for games like Evony or Scarlet Blade trying to sell games with T&A. It annoys me that advertisers see that as the best way to attract people who play games.

Even on my own site that I try to keep things at a higher standard I can't associate ads that would be considered relate-able to the game industry without getting ones that would belong on a M-rated site. And half the time those ads have no relation to the actual game are just meant to be used as "sex sells" arguments.

Kujel Selsuru
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When I think gamer I think nerd/geek. I'm proud to call myself a nerd, geek, or gamer and use the term to tell others what I am and what I'm about.

You seem to not like deviding poeple into groups which you are entitled to feel that way but I personally disagree. I've long found deviding people into different groups helps to get a general idea what they are and what they are about but I don't think those in these groups are all clones but rather sub-classes of a super class.

Justin Leeper
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I, like you Christian, never got into the whole groups thing. Just because I share an interest with someone does not make me similar to them in most ways, nor does it mean that we will be fast friends. I was probably the last person in my area to understand the concept of cliques; if you were a decent person and decent to me, then I considered us friendly and equals. Didn't matter what you wore or how attractive you were or how much money you had or how physically fit you were.

Some of my passions are ones that attract a rabid following. I feel I'm as informed as anyone about wrestling or video games or my favorite bands, etc. However, I don't feel that I am "rabid." As you say, maybe it's the balance that it isn't the sole purpose of your life to be the ultimate fountain of game knowledge that keeps you from being "a gamer." You know me; we could go tit-for-tat on game trivia, or we could bypass it altogether and talk about more meaningful subjects.

I think it's also important to keep your enjoyment in perspective. It's cool that I got to meet the Deus Ex team, or have an autographed IGA poster (Harmony of Dissonance). It's cool that you have a signed Inafune Mega Man box. However, I don't geek out to those things. Maybe that's a reason why we actually got into those situations to begin with. I wanted to learn more, and in many cases be a part of the things I enjoy; I didn't just idolize them like a puppy to its master.

Great article, my friend. I expect nothing less, of course.

Simone Tanzi
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I do believe that most gamers are just elitist and hurtful over "lesser kind of gamers".
some other are just a little worried.
I too am not so comfortable with categories, but let's face it... I started playing videogames when I was 4 and it has been my main hobby for the last 26 years, the only thing that managed to distract me from that hobby obviously was..... being a D&D Dungeon master since I was 7...
Of my professional achievements the most prominent was becoming a Game designer and hosting a games and comics convention.
Let's face it ... I can try and say that I'm not part of the geek culture but.... I am...
And still... I don't get the Misogyny that is taken for granted when people talk about gamers, nor I get most of the blame that this category gets.
All in all I do agree... we are all just people, no category is really important and being a gamer or not is really not such a defining quality, we just have a common hobby.
Misogyny, racism, trolling, insulting, and even turning violent is not part of the gaming culture.
Or you want to make me believe that those things are confined to gamers and are not found at the stadium? political institutions? show biz?

Some classes of gamers are not spiteful over the "casual gaming audience". Just worried.
Worried because many people feel that Accessibility ultimately means destroying our hobby for the sake of a wider market that in the end really doesn't care that much.
I like complex games, I like to have many options, a learning curve that make me feel I am really improving at the game...
I'm not afraid of having to invest many hours before starting to even grasp the game.... because I'm a gamer... I'm going to invest most of my free time in it anyway.
But even when it comes to simpler games (is not like I don't play anything more immediate) I like games that challenge me. Because I like to overcome challenges. and most of all .. I like to play a lot.
Lately I can't really name many games that managed to engage me for months.
I learn everything there is to learn in a few minutes of tutorial, there is no imaginative way of using the tools given to you (actually, sometimes there is but the game spoils the pleasure of discovery by giving you a tutorial on how to do that) and I can play the whole game in less than 15 hours. That means one single day if your girlfriend is visiting her parents or some friend out of town and you decide to spend the day playing games.
When games didn't had this accessibility issue (because, if someone buyed a game he was a dedicated gamer by default) a non arcade game (arcade of course is another thing) was meant to be a months long experience.
I do get that some people just want some easy accessible game to kill some time with and then go on with things that are more important and engaging to them.
There is nothing wrong with that, really.
Why can't we just embrace the fact that we are gamers but we are just different kind of gamers.
What I don-t get is the constant chase for "broader audience". If your title sold well, and you did a good job, why chasing a broader audience.
Isn't the audience you have sufficient?
Why constantly alienating your audience maiming the gameplay for the sake of Accessibility?
to turn your backs from people that supported you for many years on favor of people that are not interested in putting any effort playing your games?
And I know that games become every day more expensive to make. But do they really need to be?
Do we really need 2 hours of cinematics in a game that offers a single hour of gameplay?
I'm not talking about business here, everybody talks about business... I'm talking about pride.
About making games you are proud of.
not because we, the "true" "dedicated" "core" or however the kind of gamer category I am part of, are better than the others.
Is just because we met our best friends playing games.
We made our best memories playing games.
We met our other half playing games.
They are an important part of us, and you cant replace them with "pastimes".
I want to quote a part of that faq answer too...
"Your fandom is not your identity. Your fandom is not a race.
If you think it is, then youíre in our way, and the work I do specifically exists to dispossess you of your sense of relevance. If you donít like it, good. Iím much louder than you. And we have an army."
That one of the most hostile reaction to the gaming community I ever read in my life.
But if we have to go down to that kind of hostility fine...
I just happen to be back from a tournament of the Italian fighting game scene... by scene I mean no more than 40 people.
I never met most of them before, but in just one day we were all like brothers...
Is this kind of community the ones I believe to, the ones that are brought together by common passion for gaming.
There are many more people like us, dedicated players that play games made to be fun to the ones that invest time in it.
We are few, we have no voice, but we will never stop fighting for what we hold dear.


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