Have you ever called somebody a "hardcore gamer"? How about a "casual gamer"? An "EA gamer"? A "girl gamer", or "gamer girl"? We've all done it. We do it every day. And it's killing our culture.
Gaming is more mainstream than ever now. People know what Legend of Zelda is. People play Phoenix Wright on their phones. I rack up multiple Streetpass tags on my 3DS every day, from people of all walks of life. The big old wall that was erected in the 80's that separated the people who do and do not play video games has been almost completely dismantled, brick by brick. Even folks who don't play video games are able to talk about them with a certain amount of confidence— Mario is a part of the world's culture now.
All of these barriers have been broken. It's not high school anymore. Nobody will laugh derisively at you for playing Bayonetta. We're the cool kids now.
So why the hell do we continue to impose barriers on our own culture?
There's this nebulous idea of a "real gamer". Everybody reading this post most likely views themselves as one. For you, gaming is part of your life. Maybe you're part of the PC master race. Maybe you're a JRPG nut. Maybe you can beat any team in Madden on All-Madden mode with the Kansas City Chiefs. Everyone's definition of what makes a real gamer is different.
But then you get the people that play Peggle on their mobile phones calling themselves gamers. Suddenly we have to clarify— "Oh, no, you're not a gamer, you're a casual gamer"— as if we're members of some elite club you need to make an investment of hundreds of dollars to join.
But nothing, nothing in our lexicon is more damaging to our culture than the concept of the "girl gamer". Let me put it this way. Why not just call people who play video games and happen to be female "gamers"? Are we not letting them in our exclusive club of real gamers either? Branding a gamer that happens to be female a "girl gamer" instantly calls to mind stereotypes and questions of whether or not she's a "fake" gamer or not (by the way, by this post so far, you probably know how I feel on the whole "fake" gamer thing). But more importantly, it's an exclusionary term. Girl gamers, casual gamers, and fake gamers are not gamers, in the traditional sense. They're not a part of the club. They need another specific designation so that people won't be confused and think they are a member of our nerdy-boys only group.
This is all to say that since gaming has hit the mainstream, it's kind of become really cliquey. You'd think that given the way many of us were treated for our hobby in middle and high school, we'd be more inclusive. Hell, the term "gamer" itself is quickly losing meaning. My grandmother beats me consistently at Wii Bowling. I'd call her a gamer.
I think it's time to face the fact that everyone's a gamer now. Which means nobody is a gamer. We're just complex people with complex ideas and complex feelings towards video games. And yes, we probably like them more than my grandma does. She probably won't be playing Dragon's Crown anytime soon. But when we use terms like "gamer", we boil our culture down to its worst, most exclusionary elements.
(picture via disneyscreencaps.com)