Gamer Identity

So, are you a gamer?

I probably am, but the answer is easy for me: I am what has been the target demographic for games since their birth as a form of commercial entertainment, a straight, white male. I’m also in my 30’s, which makes me a representative of the current core of how gamers are usually identified.

I’d like to note, however, that ‘gamer’ does not equal ‘player’. While the word ‘player’ denotes somebody who plays the word ‘gamer’ has a more specific meaning. It refers to people playing games, and identifying through that activity.

So the question of “Are you a gamer?” is not so much a question about your habits of playing games, but whether you identify through that activity. I find this distinction important because it is often overlooked in discussions on gamers. It is important because in growing numbers, players are not the people that have been traditionally identified as gamers. (See for example the Guardian or the Independent.)

Some people that don’t fit the stereotypical image of what a gamer is have embraced the gamer identity, for example in the Twitter campaign #GamerGate. People of color, queer people, and people of different genders who play games tweet in defence of the campaign, announcing that the term ‘gamer’ applies to them, too.

However, the active players who identify as gamers don’t necessarily talk in behalf of the players that are increasingly the largest demographic. Women have been playing games in increasing numbers, with the most active peak being in the mobile gaming market. According to the Finnish survey on games, 73,6% of all Finnish people sometimes play digital games, with the most popular digital game still being Solitaire. Players of Solitaire, Angry Birds or Hay Day may not necessarily see themselves as gamers, but that doesn’t stop them from playing.

This seems to be at the core of the quarrel over the gamer identity. While some adapt and adopt the gamer identity, showing how it can be stretched beyond its original meaning, a large number of players are just playing games without using them as a building block for their identity.

Some gamers see this as a dilution of games, flocking around traditional forms of games, like PC games, and seeing mobile gaming as not a “true” form of gaming (compare this to the “No true Scotsman” fallacy). This is often framed through the concepts of ‘casual’ and ‘hard core’ gamers, which have more to do with genres of games than the amount of time played or the intensity of play. Mobile gaming, despite its popularity, is not true gaming, the mantra goes. Yet, games have never been just one thing.

In a controversial blog post, Dan Golding argued that the gamer identity is becoming obsolete because of this change in player demographics and forms of playing. #GamerGate has partially shown this to be false: people of different backgrounds, genders and identities have accepted this identity, showing how it can be flexible and inclusive.

Yet, I think Golding had a point: the people who identify as gamers on #GamerGate are not the only ones playing; they are only the ones that adopt the identity of a gamer while also playing. While they are tweeting, people are using their smartphones to play Hay Day, completely oblivious of the identity politics that their play signifies. Golding was right about the identity becoming obsolete in the sense that it is no longer necessary to be a gamer in order to play games. It is not obsolete in the sense that many people still wish to adopt that identity.

I’m still a gamer. Games are a part of my identity, and not just because of the time I spend playing them. I also read about them, discuss and critique them. The current zeal to defend games against any and all critique makes me wonder whether I need an another identity that is also able to deal with the negatives that games are and have. I also wouldn’t mind if that identity would encompass the people that prefer mobile games, Twine games, or Sims, over the latest Call of Duty.