This recent article made the case that no one who likes games should want to be called a “gamer,” since the word is associated with all sorts of unpleasantness. To wit:
The term [gaming community] is a miserable legacy of the medium’s niche past, where video games were viewed as the sole preserve of white, western indoors-yteenagers. The cliché has proven indelible. ‘Gamers’ (a term that further segregates ‘players’, while adding unwelcome ghost notes that call to mind the gambling industry) are routinely represented in media as socially inept boys with poor hygiene and a proclivity for impotent rage, perhaps expressed down a Britney-style head mic while playing online shooters, or typed wrathfully onto an internet forum.
I confess I once mentally defined gamers the very same way. I thought of gamers as people who owned consoles, played first-person shooters (a term I didn’t even know prior to this year) and generally spent most or all of their free time gaming.
In my mind, there was a very narrow category of people who could rightly be called “gamers.” These people were first and foremost, really good at games. In my mind, they could pick up any game and play it well almost right away. They were really experienced, really knowledgeable and most likely younger and male. Games, I thought, were not for me, a mom of a toddler in her 30’s.
Then I got to know Brianna Wu, head of a game development studio that was working on an iOS game. We were both users of App.net for a time and I saw that she was looking for beta testers. She said she specifically wanted casual gamers. In other words, people who didn’t have any gaming experience need apply. She mentioned the game had a Choose Your Own Adventure element and that sounded appealing. I used to love those books as a kid. So, I signed up to test what is now the extremely well-received Revolution 60.
I liked the game right away and didn’t find it too difficult or stressful to play. It didn’t make me feel stupid. It didn’t make me feel like this wasn’t something for me. It was fun!
Is what games are like now? I started thinking. At that point, I hadn’t even played mobile games besides Bejeweled or Gold Miner. We had a Wii and I’d played plenty of Mario Kart and other fun, casual games, but that was about it. I had vague memories of being young and playing Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt on a friend’s Nintendo down the street, but I don’t remember the games grabbing me. I loved Tetris (and actually played it in the USSR in the late 80’s on a family friend’s computer) but never even owned a GameBoy and certainly not a console. We were immigrants of modest means and something like that would have been a frivolous and unwarranted expense. And besides, I wasn’t interested. I had no idea what was out there or why I should care.
After Revolution 60 though, I started asking questions. Were there more games like this I might like? Where are they and what are they called? I started realizing that there were all kinds of games and far from all of them involved shooting people. There was a lot of light, as it turned out, between games like Halo and Call of Duty on one end and Bejeweled on the other. It turned out that even “hardcore” gamers played casual games!
It wasn’t long before I got a Steam account. I started trying out all kinds of games there and on Android and iOS and the rest, as they say, is history. I still haven’t committed to a console other than the trusty old Wii. But I can see a day in the not too distant future when that may well change.
So I was a gamer now, as far as I saw it. What I learned is that anyone who likes and plays games, any kind of games, can call themselves that. Or at least anyone should be able to. Because alongside learning about games, I started learning something else. I started reading about the rampant sexism that was endemic to the industry. I watched the Anita Sarkeesian videos. I read admissions like this. I watched GTFO. I always innately felt that gaming had a big “NOT WELCOME” sign on it and I started to realize that this was partially because of my gender. I didn’t feel like I belonged there. I didn’t feel like I would be welcomed.
This, in my opinion, is one of the reasons sexism and other bigotry persists in gaming. People who are perceived to be the “real” gamers are seen by outsiders like me as owning the culture and being in charge of it. People like me feel like we don’t have any skin in the game so we can’t say anything. That mindset needs to change.
But instead of, as the article at the start of this post suggests, doing away with the word “gamer,” I say instead let’s ALL call ourselves gamers. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of gaming, start call yourself a gamer and own it. No one has to give you permission to sit at the table. You don’t need to own a console. You don’t need to have gone to PAX or E3. You don’t need to read Kotaku, Giant Bomb, Polygon or any of the other gaming news and reviews sites. You just have to like to play. That’s all.
If everyone starts calling themselves a gamer, the stereotypes will die out, the societal stigmas will fade and the dearly needed changes to games themselves and gaming culture will start to happen more rapidly. Let’s do this.
Mathew Ingram at GigaOm has recently published a piece entitled Making fun of Silicon Valley is easy, but the next big thing looks like a toy. It bothered me as soon as I read it. Today I saw a few people I generally respect tweeting it and my unease grew. I’ll explain.
The point of the piece is, as is the current fashion in online writing, entirely spelled out in the headline. It’s fairly innocuous, but the message is clear. If you’re making fun of moronic Silicon Valley startups like Yo, or startups in general, you could be stupidly mislabeling the next Twitter or Facebook. Take this line of thought to its logical conclusion and the result is that it would be a mistake to question any new product or service in the tech space. I say no.
The same day that I read Ingram’s piece, I read this one on PandoDaily about a startup called Secret. The author of the piece, Sarah Lacy, has numerous concerns about this company and what they have created, concerns that seem eminently valid:
If Secret continues to grow with everyone trying to profit off of its popularity willfully justifying and ignoring the social cost, there will be Secret suicides. As a community, we will regret this. It will make the Craigslist killer and the Airbnb meth head-gate scandals look like nothing.
Lacy is a close watcher of the tech space. She has been writing about technology for 15 years. She has written two well-received books about it. But I guess she didn’t get the memo that Valley startups can turn into amazing, wonderful things even if they start out as silly or, in the case of Secret, morally and ethically questionable. She is taking a critical approach and thank goodness, because she explicitly addresses in her piece that others are unwilling or unable to do so.
That being the case, that there is a clear dearth of critical thought about technology, do we really need another exhortation to basically leave Silicon Valley entrepreneurs alone? If even light comedy about a frivolous new app is to be frowned upon, what does that say about the more serious criticism of an Evgeny Morozov or a Sherry Turkle?
The reality is that technology, on its own, is neither a benevolent force, nor an evil one. Your MacBook or your Facebook account don’t have feelings and motives. However, the people who built them and programmed them do. To pretend otherwise is utopian foolishness at best. At worst, it is dangerously careless.