Saturday, March 23, 2013

Gamer and the Community Gate Keeper

‘Gamer’ is an ambiguous label placed upon those few who... what? The amount of time invested in games to be labeled a ‘gamer’ cannot be quantified. There is no specific list of games that must be played to be given the title. Yet, it is also clearly not just a division of those who have at one point played games and those who have not. The investment of time, the video game knowledge, the amount or variety of games, cannot be regulated to allow use of the ‘gamer’ label.  Some members of the video game community are very adamant about the use of the ‘gamer’ label to incite a sense of community. “You’re a gamer, well, I’m a gamer, too!” The idea of being called a gamer means they have a group of fellows to fall back on and a certain information set they have at their disposal.  For some it is a badge of honor; they love games and to be called a gamer affiliates them to the thing they love and invest time in.

Gamer Tag: A Label to be Called or Call Yourself?
Many members of the gaming community though, including some of the community’s well known media outlets, want the use of the ‘gamer’ label to die away.  Game critic Yahtzee posted a very opinionated piece, Don’t Use the Word “Gamer”, where he explains his take:  “The point I'm trying to reach is that playing games, as entertaining and fascinating and beneficial as it might be, is just something people do, not something they should be defined by.”  And while I, and many but not all the community members I know, do identify ourselves as gamers, I can see Yahtzee’s point.  Playing video games is not as intense an identifier as, perhaps, being a mother or being a Marine. Also, other hobbies don’t share such a direct identifier. Train enthusiasts, model builders, moviegoers, they all have an action of work or affection in relation to the desired object of the hobby; none is identified in straight relation to the object itself.

Rounding back, the idea of the ‘gamer’ community may also be a problem. Not having a decisive border to create the ‘gamer’ and ‘not gamer’ lines creates a constant questionable belonging.  And for a certain subset of the community, their label comes with an addendum. This, sadly, is the ‘girl gamer’ or ‘gamer girl’.  As part of the label given to us female video game players by the community, gender is included. Now not only is the gaming community separated from the ‘non-gamers’ but also the community of ‘gamers’ is split by the gender lines. I hear it from both female and male members of community that the ‘girl gamer’ label is not wanted. In short, women don’t want to be defined by their sex and men don’t want women to use their sex as a strategy or crutch.  It is an anomaly that, in a community where everyone wants this segregation gone, it persist so strongly. But there may be some reasons why. As the population of female video game players grows it is slowly encroaching on what has been a man’s world for eight generations of consoles. (It is important to remember that not all male members of the community think this way and may only be passively ignorant of these barriers.) Resentment for the change in the gamer culture causes some male gamers to throw up a wall separating the mass of female newcomers. While some women have been in the community since the beginning, some as very important pieces of game development, the amount of women playing video games has boomed in the last few console generations and with the rise of the casual game market (such a mobile app games).
Why does this Distinction Persist?

The idea of the ‘gamer’ label is both inclusive and exclusive. It labels someone as part of a community, but also creates a separation to those who are not. ‘Gamer’ also brings to mind a stereotype of a young white heterosexual male, and the walls are mostly created around these stereotypes. This leads not only to the exclusion of females, but the exclusion of people of different races, gender identities, and sexualities.  I want to clarify that the word ‘exclusion’ here does not mean the absolute lack of any or complete rejection of any, but that these identities are marginalized within not only the community but also in depictions within the video game media.  The idea of separate markets for ‘girl games’ or even games meant to appeal to minorities has arisen. Adrienne Shaw, of the University of Pittsburg, wrote an engaging article on self-identification as a gamer that examines gender, race, sexuality, and gamer identity (as well the stigma against gaming that affects if someone chooses to identify as a gamer). Within her article she clearly states: “The solution to the invisibility of gender, race, and sexuality in gaming is not the creation of a plurality of video game markets, but instead an insistence on diversity in the construction of the market.”  Inclusion, the breaking down of walls by both the players and the developers, will not only expand the community by taking away the negative stigma or white hetero male stereotype but also make the label of ‘gamer’ more appealing.

To be associated with something you enjoy, to be identified as part of a community of shared interests and shared knowledge, is a very satisfying feeling. But when that association takes on a name that is easily mistaken for an exclusionary, abnormal, and/or stigmatized community, less of those who would fit into the community comfortably and happily will choose to self-identity as a ‘gamer’.  I wear the gamer label with secret pride. I don’t flaunt it, but when I see someone else flashing a subtle gamer tag (a ME Paragon bumper sticker, an Aperture Science polo) I feel I have a conversation starter, a connection.  While the gaming community may not be entirely inclusive to my identity, I want to change that.  By choosing to identify as a gamer I hope to change people’s general idea of what a gamer is. It does not have to by the white hetero male, a gamer can be me, it can be my associates, my friends, most of who do not conform to every stereotypical criteria.  Whether or not someone chooses to identify as a ‘gamer’, they still have the capacity to expand and diversify the gaming community.


For the Shaw article:

Shaw, Andrienne

2012    Do you identify as a gamer? Gender, race, sexuality, and gamer identity.  New Media & Society. February (14): 28-44.

No comments:

Post a Comment