Defining “Gamer” 2

Listening to the latest bonus episode of Game Store Prophets got me thinking. (Actually, GSP usually gets me thinking, but this time it got me thinking so hard I blogged about it.) Early in the episode, it came up that there are 1.4 billion gamers worldwide. That can mean a whole lot of things to a whole lot of people. On the podcast they mention that it includes everything from people playing casual mobile games like candy crush through serious board gamers like Tom Vassel and professional League of Legends players. The term “gamer” also has an interesting connotation to outsiders as well, because to some people, it indicates gambling. It includes console gamers, PC gamers, people playing Magic: The Gathering at the local Grand Prix qualifier, every D&D group since Gygax and Arneson, and maybe even the family playing Monopoly (and trying not to let the game devolve intro fratricide).

The more precise part of me wishes there were more specific terms, but then I hear Galatians 3:28 (“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”) spoken in Derek “The Geekpreacher” White’s voice in my head and I reconsider. I think maybe having just one banner of “gamer” to sit under is like having one of “Christian” to sit under; it has the potential to unify, rather than dividing.

Still, like “Christian,” the label of “gamer” will give you some basics, but there is a tremendous amount of interesting specificity to tease out when talking to individual gamers. Before I continue, I’d like to call for comments on this one in particular. I’ve met a number of our listeners (mostly at Fear the Con) which has been a great experience, and I’d like to get to know our audience better. So in the spirit of sharing, here’s what it means to me:

Tabletop RPGs: We just put Grant’s Shadowrun game using Savage Worlds rules on hold, and I have started running a GURPS game, but I’ve also played a bunch of d20 variants, FATE, In a Wicked Age, The Trouble With Rose, Ragnarok: Fate of the Norns, and probably more than a few I’m forgetting in my day. I’ve gotten small entries published in two GURPS books and a couple of PDF d20 modern books that were made to raise money for charity after Hurricane Katrina. Most of my gaming these days is via Google Hangouts, and I’d really like to get a regular tabletop gaming group together again at some point, but for the time being, the current situation is what works with my schedule, and I also have an absolutely fantastic group, so I can’t complain too much.

Digital: I am one of those smug “PC master race” guys (no, not really – I just like tinkering and don’t have a traditional living room set-up with a TV, so console gaming would be a serious pain and is also more of an investment than I feel like making). I’ve built my own gaming PC from components several times over and I despair of even making a dent in my game library before I die, much less finishing it all. I enjoy a lot of smaller indie games and “second-tier” titles from companies like Klei. I’m a sucker for game bundles and sales, and I really enjoy games that let me take my time and think about my next move. I’m also a huge fan of story-driven RPGs like Bioware makes. The Mass Effect games are my favorite game series of all time, and I gave almost an entire weekend of vacation to Divinity: Original Sin when it came out. Most of the stuff I play is fairly “serious,” but I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ll play a round of Peggle or Bejeweled every now and then, and I’ll also fire up War of Omens and Card Hunter in my browser from time to time.

Non-RPG tabletop gaming: I played Magic: The Gathering a bunch back in high school (though never competitively) and got out for a long time. I recently got sucked back in by the Duels of the Planeswalkers computer games, and now I exclusively play the Commander/EDH format (though not nearly as often as I’d like). I enjoy board games when I get the chance to play them, but unfortunately, I almost never do. (Though I have convinced my wife and parents to play Dominion with me a few times, which is a lot of fun.)

Okay. That’s me. How about you? What does “gamer” mean to you, and how do you game?

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2 thoughts on “Defining “Gamer”

  • Mikel Withers

    To me, a “gamer” is someone who takes that label onto themselves to identify with a party.
    One of my favorite phrases is “sine qua non” which is Latin for “without which, not”, referring to an attribute that, if you didn’t have, would disqualify one from being something. If that isn’t clear enough, how about some analogies: a “chair” without someplace to sit, a “book” with no words or pictures, a dog that is called “human”, a “rubber band” made out of chain links, and so forth. Now, a lot of those things could be called such with a touch of irony, but they don’t meet the actual definition of the word.
    A Gamer, however, only needs a game, and it is pretty much up to the person who labels themselves a gamer to define what their game is. It might be D&D or Minecraft, Call of Duty or Monopoly, Yahtzee or chess, MMOs or RPGs, strategy or puzzle or adventure or shooter, fantasy baseball or guessing who the tribe votes out next episode of Survivor…if you have something you consider a game, you have the right to call yourself a gamer.
    But… will you?
    I played the game of rugby for awhile, but I didn’t consider myself a gamer because of that, likewise with softball, football, track and field… nah, those are “sports”. However, I also play a lot of World of Tanks, which some consider an e-sport and others a game… what is the difference? I don’t necessarily consider it anything other than a way to relax… Then there is the question as to whether it is enough of my identity to make me label myself a gamer?
    I lie, cheat, do all sorts of unpleasant things that I wouldn’t take on as my identity, and while someone else might label me a liar, I wouldn’t.
    Is gaming like lying, then? Well, in a sense… to someone else, a “gamer” might be an irresponsible man-child unable to cope with reality like they should. If Francis Chan called me a “gamer”, I might have cause to be offended at that… if Peter or Perna called me a “gamer” I’d take that as a compliment. If I was proud of my ability to tell a convincing lie, I might label myself a liar, and to me that might be a pleasant label, or a close friend might witness me telling a whopper of a lie with a straight face and, in awe tell me what a liar I am…again, a possible pleasant label…but if that is disgust, not awe, then my reaction might be different.
    Anyway, this rabbit trail is about over, lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a warning about letting our “gamer” tag be greater than our “Christian” tag. Where do we get our real identity from? If it is games, then I’d warn that our priorities are mixed up.

  • Kris Newton

    I’m all for the broad definition of “gamer,” because there’s a natural aesthetic and design continuity among all games and the ways they’re enjoyed. On the other hand, there’s such a thing as a “gamer brain,” and not everybody who plays Apples to Apples or Candy Crush has one. I love exploring rules systems, I invest in imaginary scenarios, and I care about the integrity of fiction; I think of all those traits as constituting a type of person. Conversely, I don’t know that “gamer” is a type of person, especially now that designing games for a broad audience is such big business.
    It’s probably more useful to categorize people based on their approach to media (including games) than to categorize them by the media that they consume. Approach is where the culture and the kinship is. At the same time, we’re all in the same boat as consumers, so having an inclusive term for a consumer group (such as a fandom) makes sense – and keeps us from getting myopic about our sub-culture’s way of doing things.