Let’s ALL be gamers, OK?

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.

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