‘Gamer’ Is Not a Bad Word

This illustration is only one conceptualization of the term "gamer."

This illustration is only one conceptualization of the term “gamer.”

I am a gamer because I like playing video games. You would think this distinction couldn’t be controversial, but misleading game journalism tries its best: writers like Simon Parkin and Dennis Scimeca claim the word “gamer” is a silly and bad word. My purpose here is to explain why the word is neither silly nor bad, with the hope to build a more positive gaming community (i.e., people who regularly discuss games) and direct our attention to more important and complicated matters.

The idea that “gamer” is a silly word primarily stems from ignorance and confusion. Arguments against “gamer” have claimed it is weird to identify someone by a single thing they enjoy. Scimeca goes as far as inventing silly terms in order to make “gamer” seem silly by association:

[T]he term “gamer” is idiotic. We don’t call movie fans “moviers” or literature enthusiasts “bookers.”

The ignorance displayed in Scimeca’s opinion is outstanding. When did common terms like “movie buffs” and “readers” disappear from our collective vocabulary? Parkin (apparently Scimeca’s hero) makes a similarly laughable statement when talking about “the gaming community”:

The idiocy of the term is only too clear when applied to other media such as literature (the ‘reading community’?), music (the ‘listening community’?) or film (the ‘observing community’?).

Has Parkin never heard of the literature community, the music community, or the film community? The wild ignorance in Scimeca and Parkin’s criticism thus makes an insulting assumption: we, the readers, are idiots. Their disgust with “gamer” can’t even be explained by concerns with proper English. “Game” is a verb as much as it is a noun.

Scimeca and Parkin’s quotes above also point to an inferiority complex that separates some gamers from readers, listeners, or filmgoers (the latter groups are a far more secure bunch, to say the least). Gamers like Scimeca and Parker feel a need to “legitimize” gaming and seek guidance from examples of other media such as movies and books. While this reactionary approach might have been necessary when video games were less popular, it seems out of touch and overly defensive in 2014. Only a desperate ignoramus would deny the proliferation of video games via home consoles, computers, cell phones, and Facebook. Games don’t have to live up to the success of books or movies; games have created their own success story. If someone doesn’t like that, that’s his or her problem, not ours. Guilty gamers like Scimeca and Parker should take note of this.

Perhaps the most compelling argument against “gamer” is that it’s a bad word that only describes bad things, such as laziness, elitism, sexism, homophobia, etc. Parkin says gamer “is a miserable legacy of the medium’s niche past, where video games were viewed as the sole preserve of white, western indoors-y teenagers.” Parkin cites unflattering media portrayals of gamers, hate directed toward Anita Sarkeesian, and an ill-advised Microsoft press conference, among other things, as evidence that “gamer” equals immaturity and bigotry. His specious argument overlooks that plenty of non-racist, non-sexist, non-whatever people were playing games back when they were niche entertainment. Parkin’s dismissal of “gamer” as a reminder of a corrupt generation is a pandering indictment of white male gamers and rejects the possibility of unity and friendly competition through gaming. One wonders whether Parkin was alive during the 1990s when people of different racial groups fought alongside and against each other in arcade shooters, beat ‘em ups, and fighting games.

Scimeca is also upset about what he sees as “gamer culture,” a truly unscientific phrase (how can Scimeca imply, for example, that fans of Call of Duty and fans of “shmups” are cultural equivalents?). Scimeca is delusional when he says “PAX [Penny Arcade Expo] is to gamer culture what Woodstock was to hippie culture,” as if “hipness” equals “relevance” (the average person disproves Scimeca’s statement by saying “I’ve never heard of Penny Arcade Expo”). Unfortunately, Scimeca is not alone in his liberal cynicism: last year L. Rhodes (who should have known better) used “the Penny Arcade generation” to describe an “entire generation of men.” This generalization is not only sociologically irresponsible but oblivious to basic reality: most people of any generation, gamers included, don’t subscribe to the unfunny and barely relevant Penny Arcade universe and all the nonsense (dickwolves) it represents.

In their attempts to vilify “gamer(s),” Parkin and Scimeca ignore social progress and the various groups of people that gaming has brought together. Rather than attack a word that can describe a male, female, heterosexual, homosexual, trans, young, old, married, single, immature, or mature individual, we should focus on the specific games that might foster or undermine the unity of gamers and the political standing of video games as an industry.


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