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?
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.
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?††
People who frequently play and really genuinely enjoy video games: