I was watching the VGA awards last night. Except I wasn’t really, I was watching the so called ‘Pre-Show’, the equivalent of hounding the stars on the red carpet, complete with annoying presenter and stupid gimmicks. Essentially, they grabbed whoever was remotely famous (had been in a film or sung on a CD), asked them why they were there, and made them play the first level of Super Mario Bros. without dying. In all fairness, it wasn’t as stupid as it could have been, except that the presenter (a woman who couldn’t seem to shut up… ever) immediately opened with the question ‘Are you a gamer?’ This would seem to be the main problem preventing gaming from becoming as accepted as film or music.
We’ve managed to reach the stage where pretty much everyone, from your grandparents to very small children have played, or are often playing, games. Of course this varies from person to person, but with the revolution of the Wii (see what I did there?), it’s become much more prevalent then pretty much any time before. My mum, who has often condemned my brother and myself, and even my father for playing far too much on our consoles/PCs, now plays Wii Sports and the like often, and I’m pretty sure she enjoys it. But I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t call herself a ‘gamer’.
So what does this moniker now represent? Is it talking about the modder who spends hours upon hours painstakingly recreating the bar from the opening of Desperado so that he can play it in Counterstrike? Or perhaps they’re talking about the sort of person who spends an entire day in their room playing an RPG. Again, these are isolated stereotypes that really don’t occur that often. I’ve played games for entire days. I’ve messed around with Hammer trying to create a workable Team Fortress 2 map. But that doesn’t make me either of the above. Yet I’m pretty sure I’m a ‘gamer’.
Instead, it perhaps refers to anyone who is enthusiastic about games. However, this again brings up the problem of relativity. ‘Enthusiasm’ is a subjective term, unquantifiable to any serious degree. My mother can be extremely ‘enthusiastic’ when playing Wii Sports, but, as we have established, she is not a ‘gamer’. So, while enthusiasm is a far stronger argument for catagorisation, it again falls short of being satisfactory.
Perhaps it is a social thing. Perhaps we’re talking about social defunct individuals who turn to games because they can’t operate in the usual social spheres. While I’d argue quite strongly that this is a miniscule amount of people who play games, it is certainly the stereotype that has formed around the form. The ‘nerds’ and ‘geeks’ used to be the primary audience, but that certainly isn’t the case when looking at the people who frequent the retailers.
Like most words, I’d argue that the meaning of ‘gamer’ has shifted with time, broadening until it’s begun to encompass a large chunk of the populace. A majority of teenagers now play games regularly. 2 million Wii consoles sold over the Thanksgiving holiday in America. Xbox Live has over 11 million subscibers. Outside of the Third World, most homes have a functioning PC that can play games. Just look at the numbers for Steam. They have over 16 million active members. That’s huge. I’d say that for every platform (PC, consoles, etc.) there is at least one person tied to it who can be called a ‘gamer’.
You’re probably wondering where this is going. I do have a point, I’m just laying down a lot of framework. My point is thus; games are (as we’re constantly being told) slowly approaching the scale and scope of film and music. However, there is still a (diminishing) stigma associated to playing them. They’re seen as a frivolity in a way that watching a film isn’t. This could well be because there aren’t enough games that can be classed as ‘classics’ in the same way something like The Godfather or Star Wars can. Even those that can, such as Psychonauts and Portal, haven’t reached the ‘mainstream’, instead holding back slightly, not managing to appeal to enough people to garner the financial success required.
You would never refer to someone as a ‘filmer’, or a ‘musicer’. There are those in both those fields who could be considered fanatics, the film buffs and audiophiles of the world, but they are an elitist group within the acceptance that everyone listens to music and watches films. Someone who doesn’t is considered a little strange. Both these forms have so permeated our culture that to think of something without them is counter intuitive.
The associations of the word ‘gamer’ are diminishing, it’s true. They are becoming less obvious as more people play games, but the associations are still there, obviously, when someone at the Video Game Awards asks people at the awards if they play games. That’s like asking people who go to the Oscars if they ever go to the cinema. I mean, really?