I play video games. I play a lot of video games. Most days I will find myself playing video games by myself, or more often than not with friends. Sometimes it will be a quick game for a few minutes to unwind; some weekends it can be an entire day to the activity. On the busiest days running around taking care of errands and exchanging my time for a bit of cash, I could be spending a few moments of downtime playing a mobile game of sorts. Most weekends there are hours dedicated to spending time with close friends playing grand tabletop strategy games, or during the winter the occasional scary game in a dimly lit room. Some of my closes friends I met playing video games online; and last year I even found myself in attendance of the very first Playstation Experience convention. Despite all of this however, I do not consider myself a gamer.
Before I jump into explanations, let’s first jump into the heart of the issue. What exactly is a gamer? The term has existed for decades, describing those who simply play video games on some level. From individuals who dedicate their time to learn, collect, and complete games in their entirety to those who simply play casually in their downtime. Admittedly, that is quite an ambiguous term, one that strings together people from all lifestyles because they share one thing in common: they play video games. There have been numerous studies over the past few years that have provided an insight on who gamers are (as a whole). One particularly robust poll performed by the Entertainment Software Association (PDF link) found the average “gamer” to be 31 years old, and nearly equally split between genders (52% male versus 48% female). Even women who play video games over the age of 50 have been increasing dramatically year after year. Taking this into account, playing video games is something that is becoming increasingly more popular and accessible to anyone of all ages. In a spread across the board most people from the millennials to generation x can agree: most people play video games.
Back in the earliest days of video games, looking back into the late 1970s and into the 1980s, accessibility to video games was low. The first Atari home game system the Atari 2600 (originally Atari Video Computer System), often regarded as one of the first home consoles, retailed for $199.99 in 1977—a whopping $786.48 in 2015 with inflation. Video games were expensive, just as were computers during the same period. Rather than being introduced to video games at home, many people would flock to arcades to play the latest and greatest offerings when home video game ownership was low. With lower numbers of people playing video games as a hobby, let alone regularly, the term gamer could easily be used to describe those who have a genuine passion for playing video games. Those who are dedicated either to the craft, making a name a serious enthusiast or as someone who frequently plays to pass time as a hobby. Both of these groups I would argue find themselves involved in a restively niche culture at the time. But that era has died—
Rather than having limited access, a study in 2000 found that 67% of homes with children have at least one video game console of some kind. With the rise of personal computers as an essential device in every household, that number can only have ballooned in the last 15 years. Add the fact that nearly every cell phone has some basic form of video game loaded onto it, and that there are approximately 6.9 billion mobile phone owners worldwide (that’s 96% percent of the world’s population). Add in the fact that in Europe and the United States there are more phone owners then there are people makes an argument to accessibility a moot point. Accessibility and availability of technology has fundamentally changed the world around us, and with that the idea of terms to describes groups needs to shift with it. Calling someone a gamer in the 21st century is like calling someone a reader—most people do it and it really does not hold significance anymore.
It is not just in the realm of video games where the core of this argument lies. What about other once limited trades that now are available to everyone? In one period the idea of being a photographer came a great dedication to an art. Dedication to understanding light, optics, and chemistry was essential, and the process itself was incredibly time consuming, delicate, and of course expensive. With the rise of digital cameras and free photo editing software, everyone with a smartphone or point and shoot camera can call themselves a photographer—so what about those who practice the older chemical processes involved? What distinguishes those who just take pictures to true enthusiasts, hobbyists, and professionals?
There are new terms on the horizon, ‘casual gamer,’ ‘hardcore gamer,’ and of course, ‘pro gamer’ which are helping to distinguish different groups of people who fall into different categories. The people who play video games on the side and just use them to unwind might fall into the designation of a ‘casual gamer’ whereas the more dedicated and skilled gamers might be better described as ‘hardcore’ or ‘professional’ depending on what they are competing with their skills. However, I still have a problem with this designation. It still fails to ascribe those who are dedicated toward gaming culture, those who are fully immersed and actively follow news and events in the industry. What about those who are in love with the culture and have memorabilia scattered about? What separates a casual game player who follows the news and loves the culture from the casual gamer who plays solitaire and Tetris on their mobile device? This is where the use of gamer to describe someone falls short. There are many of us who play games; there are many of us who are not gamers.
I play video games; I am not a gamer. I do not watch E3 Convention broadcasts. I do not follow or pre-order games with gross excitement. I do not follow all of the new events in the industry. I do not buy into fandom or watch fan made videos or buy game related merchandise. I play countless hours of video games a year because I find them to be relaxing, a great social pastime, something that I greatly enjoy as most people around the world do too. Those who have an unfettered passion and love for video games; those that partake in the culture surrounding it; all those who genuinely make video games part of their lives. Let them have the term ‘gamer.’ Let the term have meaning, let it carry more weight and be something that people can own. Let us give the term back and understand what it really means to be a ‘gamer.’
- “Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry: 2014 Sales, Demographic, and Usage Data,” Entertainment Software Association (April 2014), http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/esa_ef_2014.pdf
- “Atari History: 1972-1984,” https://www.atari.com/history/1972-1984-0
- Kaveri Subrahamanyam et al., “The Impact of Home Computer Use on Children’s Activities and Development,” Children and Computer Technology 10, no. 2 (fall/winter 2000)
- “Global Mobile Statistics 2014 Part A: Mobile Subscribers; Handset Market Share; Mobile Operators,” MobiThinking (May 2014), http://mobithinking.com/mobile-marketing-tools/latest-mobile-stats/a#subscribers