Take the Power Back
Why ‘Gamer’ is a four-letter word, and what you can do to change thaton July 25, 2013 at 8:00 am
A short time ago, a coworker turned to me for video game advice. His son was interested in a real-time strategy game in the vein of “StarCraft”. While that particular genre isn’t really my bag, I was able to point him to the best retailers and figure out what their hardware requirements were.
This is, I’m sure, a pretty typical conversation in America today. The non-gaming public comes to us, the gatekeepers, for knowledge when purchasing gifts or starting on their own. Who better to ask than the man or woman with a robust (if not fully played) Steam library or shelves lined with game cases?
The conversation was pleasant enough, though it didn’t start out that way (for me, at least).
“So Brian, you’re a gamer, right?”
I flinched at ‘gamer’. I hate that word.
It’s a true enough label, I suppose. The majority of my entertainment media are video games. I’m not particularly skilled. I don’t own that many games. Hell, I dislike just about any and all Japanese games. But hey, it’s something.
Like any label, it chafes when assigned by a third party. Yeah, sure, I’m a gamer. I’m also a designer, writer, editor, collector, geek/nerd, what have you. I don’t particularly care for those labels, either.
Despite how mainstream gamers have become, they have yet to shed pariah status. Little Timmy and his mom can walk into GameStop and buy “Sonic Colors” without anyone batting an eyelash. But when Captain Neckbeard waltzes in looking for “Dynasty Warriors 8”, smelling of the food court and B.O., we have a perception problem.
I’m not demanding that the good captain be some kind of ambassador. Just that he take a damn shower and shave his neck once in a while.
We can argue about the significance of stereotypes until we’re both blue in the face. The sad truth is that the minority of gamers control public perception. And what they perceive ain’t pretty. Racism, sexism, poor hygiene and grammar… I could go on. But you’ve seen, heard, and smelled for yourself already.
Think back 15, 20 years ago. What were the chances of seeing Mario on a t-shirt at a national retailer? Or a late night TV host promoting a new console on his show? That’s all new, kids. It’s called popularity. You know, what you weren’t in high school?
There I go, stereotyping again. But let’s be honest, there are quite a few threads shared by gaming and geek culture as a whole. A marginalized existence, where enjoying or being passionate about a game, manga, or TV series made you the “other”. Other kids were into football. You were into Dragonball.
Gaming’s a bit different. Manly men did and still do game. They also have plenty of other interests and associations. And after they bullied you in real life, you learned to do the same thing in a digital environment. You learned to confine your hatred to communication networks seldom patrolled by parents and law enforcement.
That’s all starting to change, now that games have been fully subsumed by pop culture. Your stupid invectives from a game rivalry spill over to Facebook, and BOOM! Your pale ass is in prison. Suddenly there are real-world consequences, and the news media have more than “Grand Theft Auto”-inspired crimes and “Mass Effect” sex scenes to whip up moral panic with.
Yes, video games are unfairly targeted. It’s a relatively new medium, and a convenient scapegoat for society’s ills. However, a subculture this insular, anti-social, and immature is, in my opinion, asking for it.