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Games

Opinion: What is a "Gamer?"

OpinionTrey TakahashiComment
Image:  Haley Rae

Image: Haley Rae

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.

Wait, what?         

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).[1] Even women who play video games over the age of 50 have been increasing dramatically year after year.[2]  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.[3] 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.[4] 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).[5] 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.[6] 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.’

  1. “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
  2. Ibid.
  3. “Atari History: 1972-1984,” https://www.atari.com/history/1972-1984-0
  4. 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)
  5. “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
  6. Ibid.

Travel: The Pinball Hall of Fame - Las Vegas, Nevada

TravelTrey TakahashiComment

Rows of Pinball Machines, both new and old, line the walls of the Pinball Hall of Fame. Photo: Trey Takahashi

Las Vegas, home to some of the world's greatest resorts, a place where people come to blow their fortunes and live in excess. In a neon oasis, there is a flip side to all the glitz and glam, the underbelly of the facade. Everything here in Vegas is not about extravagance or excess, somethings just match the setting of an impossible city in the heart of wasteland.

Off the strip by several good miles and a couple blocks away from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, a dimly lit warehouse stands along Tropicana Avenue. Lacking the stereotypical neon sign, there is not even lit sign with basic lettering. Rather, a plain text on yellow banner stretched over the front which read nothing more than:

"PINBALL HALL OF FAME"

It's not just Pinball, vintage arcade games from the 80s and 90s are also on display for play. Photo: Trey Takahashi

Despite being in this strange spot that would be entirely missed by any passerby, the parking lot remains partially full with the occasional small tour bus parked out front. Something good must be going on inside, and something good enough for people to seek out this odd little warehouse in the scathing desert heat. 

We approached the building, doors blacked out with few people outside and opened up the doors. With a sudden blast of cool air, bongs and bells blasting, and flashing lights coming from every direction. It was immediately what this whole place was about, and why so many people just had to stop by.

Inside there are rows of pinball machines by the dozen, new and old, rare and common. The Pinball Hall of Fame markets itself as a museum, yet it is a museum that walks the line between a place to see old artifacts from a different era, and a social place to play arcade games and socialize with friends. Essentially, the whole place is a museum, taking machines that date back to the 1930s and allowing anyone to stop by and drop a few quarters inside.

It is not the fanciest of places by any means, there are some panels missing from the ceiling; the bathroom door does not always close all the way; some of the stools scattered about are ripped and torn; and there are piles of junk and equipment stacked in the back on a workbench. Yet, despite all of this, I could not imagine it any other way. The Pinball Hall of Fame is something that the Las Vegas is not, where everyone there tries to sell itself as something picturesque, this place keeps itself authentic. It has undeniable charm and character. It is simply a place where people can come and enjoy what the machines were always meant to do, rather than seeing them behind glass.

The famous  Fireball  machine from 1972 in action, ready for a round of play. Photo: Trey Takahashi

The famous Fireball machine from 1972 in action, ready for a round of play. Photo: Trey Takahashi

This is not saying the place is a dump, after all, it still is a museum. While there may be a few roof panels missing the machines themselves are kept in astonishing shape. It's a good thing too, as some of the machines they have in the collection are astonishingly rare and in breathtaking condition.

One machine poised right up in the front row, as if a crown jewel of the collection, was one of only two ever produced. A pinball mecca that has several stories of play on the inside composed of winding metal ramps mimicking a circus trapeze. 

There is nothing quite like the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, let alone anywhere. With many of the large arcades in the casinos closing their doors as Vegas shifts away from the days of a family oriented town, and the new Gameworks leaving much desired, there is something that the Pinball Hall of Fame offers that nothing else can: character.

Both tourists and locals alike try their hand at winning a replay and beating high scores. Photo: Trey Takahashi

-Trey Takahashi