Leveling Up Our Vocabulary
Illustrated by DYLAN COONEY
The movie had been geeky and awkward so far and showed no sign of letting up when Knives Chau attended Sex Bob-Omb’s practice session. The band played in the background while Knives spoke to Young Neil:
“What do you play?”
“Wow, ummm… Zelda… Tetris… that’s kind of a big question.”
I’ve been playing video games for 14 years. When this exchange popped up in 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, I was able to immediately connect with the joke, and to this day it still gets me to chuckle. It wouldn’t be until years later that another layer of the joke would be revealed to me, and for that I must thank my mother, who brought on the biggest change of my view in recent memory. One evening I had brought up the then current topic of King.com wanting to copyright the words “Candy” and “Saga” in respect to all videogames due to the success of their gaming app Candy Crush Saga. However it wasn’t her stance on the subject – to be entirely honest I don’t even remember what her stance was – but her reaction when I mentioned King was what changed everything for me. She smiled as she said “I know them from my Candy Crush.” Just in case you were wondering, my mother doesn’t own Candy Crush, but it was still her Candy Crush. I’ve never claimed ownership of any of the games I’ve played, but I understood what she meant. She felt an attachment to the game. It had become her game. It was a platform for her to have accomplishments and to be proud of them. On top of all this, I had come the realization that my mother is a Gamer.
At first I was ready to dismiss the idea- after all it was silly to think my mother would be a Gamer. She wasn’t the type of parent that couldn’t tell a Nintendo from a PlayStation. In fact, she probably still remembers most of the first generation of Pokémon just by osmosis, but the only time I ever remember playing anything with her was Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour, which lasted for about twenty minutes (a high estimate.) But to tell you the truth, it wasn’t just my mom I started wondering about. A few years ago she had the idea to get both my grandparents onto Facebook and teach them how to play Bejewelled Blitz. Sure, it’s what’s known as a “casual” game but I’m positive that there are days where each of them spends more time playing games than I do. I started questioning myself too. Did I fit this name? I’ve been playing games since before I could read, but am I a Gamer? A friend of mine thinks not, and he meant it. It’s silly but his comment actually made me self-conscious. We were talking about games and he asked if I had played the Portal series – I hadn’t at that time – “oh,” he said “I thought you were a Gamer.” Understanding what he was saying about my gaming-manhood, all I could think was “Oh, I thought I was too”.
This all had me trying to figure out the game name. Why aren’t my family members Gamers, and where do I fit? We clearly have the required hobby, but this identity crisis started a Cartesian-style skepticism of this entire strange category. Once I stepped back from the whole concept of “Gamer” I could see it. It’s not a matter of them not fitting the category, it’s a matter of the category not fitting them.
It’s clear to me that we must redefine the term Gamer. Gamers are no longer one group of overweight males sitting in their parents' dark basements. People are gaming on the go and playing games that promote healthy living now. There exist extreme stigmas on both sides of the term ‘Gamer’, one side believing that only lonely people with violent tendencies are Gamers, while on the other side of the spectrum the people who self-identify as Gamers believe that what they play gives them this title and that you don’t fall into the category if you aren’t ‘hardcore.’ The latter example even goes so far as to label occasional players as “filthy casuals” and while statistics show that females represent just under half of all players, if you ask them, Gamers are a proud group of men. To them there is no such thing as a female Gamer, only girl Gamers or, as they’re sometimes called, “Grrl Gamers”, a term which is often followed up with the questioning of said person’s “legitimacy” as a player of video games. As I said, these are extreme ends of the name game, and in our everyday lives we’d never think of using labels like these (imagine a world where we had grrl doctors and hardcore lawyers.) The biggest problem in my mind when it comes to these names is: where do I put people who play like my family does? They certainly aren’t “hardcore” and call me old-fashioned but I think calling them “filthy casuals” is a little rude. The title is in need of repair, and it’s our job to fix it because right now its negative connotation far outweighs the positive capacity that it can have.
According to American statistics from the Entertainment Software Association, 36% of people playing are over the age of 36. 34% of all people play puzzle, board game, trivia and card games more often than any other genre. These numbers aren’t insignificant. The fact is that more than a third of games played are most often what would be considered outside of what a “Gamer” plays, and that just seems wrong. The third genre on the list – with 19% – was categorized as casual or social games. Added up, that’s over 50% of the games people play most that often fall into “non-gamer” games. While the percentages add up, our naming doesn’t tell the same story.
I found the most interesting statistics in the ESA’s 2013 report to be about smartphones, as more and more are they becoming people’s platform of choice. After finding the report and going over the statistics I started people-watching. On my total of an hour and a half of public transportation a day. I’ve been averaging a spotting of five people playing various games per day, and while this isn’t the largest sample size to be working with I think it is worth noting that I have yet to see the same person more than once. The first two days were as expected: candies being crushed, puzzles being solved, a virtual board game here and there. Really, it seemed to follow what the statistics had said. On the third day someone flapped me the bird, and I was thrilled because of it. For those who aren’t quite sure what I’m talking about, Flappy Bird was the sensation turned catastrophe for a one-man development team of Dong Nguyen in Vietnam. At its peak it was earning him $50,000 USD in advertising a day, but due to the game’s frustrating nature and what many said was artwork ‘borrowed’ from the Super Mario Bros. series, this eventually led to him taking the game off both the iTunes and Google Play stores. So why am I bringing this up? Who cares about one little poorly controlled bird? The players did, and suddenly huge numbers of people were unknowingly making the jump from casual to hardcore players because of one game. A few years ago a game called Dark Souls came out, and one of the main draws of the game was that it was a break from the new norm. Where many games hold your hand and try to carry you through them, Dark Souls breaks your hand and throws you down a hole, and it was loved because of this. Then along comes Flappy Bird and inspires this same love-hate relationship, so much so that people were clamouring to find a way to get a copy of the game once it was said it would be taken down from the app stores. People were in a constant struggle to beat their old bests and those of their friends, and all the while the game’s unhelpful mechanics are out to get you to fail. People everywhere were experiencing the trials of the hardcore, so this supposed defining line of gaming had become blurred.
I don’t think that we’ve all become hardcore, willing to spend endless hours in a grind for progress, and yet many people may self-identify as such. What does it mean? As far as I’m concerned it really means people that play more consistently and more often than the average player. In reality people have their own levels of what hardcore means. The other day I was out with a group of friends when one pipes up about just beating a Candy Crush level. She said that it took her days and more retries than she could count. That was hardcore for her, and to be honest it was just a bit more ‘hardcore’ than I could handle for a mobile puzzle game. So does that mean I’m less intense about games than my Candy Crush crazed companion? It seemed ridiculous to me then, and I don’t think I’ve fully grasped it yet. I am not painting the best portrait of myself as a consumer of videogames so far.
All this comes back to our classification problem. Who are the Gamers? According to a statement from Call of Duty executive producer Mark Rubin “[Call of Duty players] aren’t hardcore gamers, or even gamers, but they play Call of Duty every night.” When I first read this statement, it changed my outlook on the subject, because it makes perfect sense: someone who plays one game, or one series is a Call of Duty player or a [game title here] player. That’s the closest thing to any solution I would actually propose to replacing the term Gamer: taking it more personally and making it about your interests. Are you a Gamer? Or are you someone who enjoys strategy games? Gamer? Or a fan of fighting games? Gamer? Or maybe you like to play a variety of things. When I open up Steam (a PC software that lets you buy games) on my computer and look at my game library I don’t just have one kind of game, so doesn’t it make more sense to have more than just one title? It seems like lunacy to group all these people under one umbrella of a title. Would you call someone who just watches action movies a cinephile? Someone who only watches golf a sports fanatic? Hopefully I’m not the only one who gives a second look to the golf-sports-fanatic, but something just doesn’t feel right about saying it. As user Spraypainthero965 from Reddit points out: “Most people play video games nowadays. It’s just that identifying yourself as a gamer is considered childish. […] Drop the label and people won’t look down on you so much.”
Really, I believe it is that simple, and though I said we needed to redefine the term Gamer, perhaps the term itself is the overall problem. Most people today play or have played video games. Not everyone plays the same thing and that’s perfectly alright (in fact it’s probably more interesting for everyone that way), so let’s get away from this broad title and start talking about ourselves. In the end, titles like “Gamer” just divide us and put forth a stereotype to others. I’m happy most of my family plays games in some form or another, but it would be wrong to say we’re a Gamer family. We may have a common interest, but that interest is so varied from person to person that it’s really absurd that we think to put all people under one name. So what do I play? That is a big question, and honestly I believe there’s a big answer for it, and that’s good. Maybe we’ll never boil it down to a one-word-cut-and-paste response, but that’s not game over.