Welcome to Geek Word Wednesdays, where we feature common terms relevant to geeks everywhere. This is also where we venture into a more critical discussion on geek identity, geek culture, and geek discourse.
If you’ve ever got a word that you’d like us to study, let us know!
What is it to be a gamer? In short, if you play a game – you’re a gamer. It’s as simple as that.
I would be happy enough to end the article here with no further recourse but it just logically follows. If you play a game, you’re a gamer. In the same way, if you go to a movie, you’re a moviegoer. If you love reading books, you’re a book reader. Games are a medium, not a genre. As games as a medium ages, more people will engage with it. As the population of gamers and creators grow, we may start to differentiate between types of gamers. But we’re not quite at that point yet.
While terms like ludophile (“someone who loves games”) exist, they’re not really in popular use.
Bibliophile is still in vogue for someone who loves books. Cinephile remains popular as a means to refer to someone who loves movies. Maybe ludophile should used more often for someone who is dedicated to the art and craft of games.
Let’s follow that logic for a bit. Yes: your neighbor who plays Facebook games is as much of a gamer as the person who has every current generation console and the latest Triple A game. What differs is the level of engagement that people have with games and their significance. Your neighbor probably views Facebook games as a way of passing time, a way of dealing with itchy fingers when you have an idle moment. On the other hand, the person who has every current generation console has one or several levels of engagement. Games for these sorts can see them as storytelling, or a way to engage with people socially, or something to be awed and inspired by.
Neither view is better than the other. That’s the point that we avid and eager and entrenched gamers should keep remembering.
When you’re knee deep into something, it’s sometimes difficult to look at how it appears to the inside.
When Pokemon Go had its moment of explosive popularity in 2016, my mother eagerly called me while vacationing in Boracay. She said she was having her “gamer moment” as she was catching “a starfish type thing with too many arms” on the beach. My mother was pretty adamant that this was as far as she was going to go with gaming. True to form, once the craze died down, her gamer moment died along with it.
Bless her heart, she tried. This was her way in trying to connect with me, an avid gamer, because the world of cartoonish animals with superpowers was a little bit beyond her. In that moment, though, she understood what was going on. Which I was grateful for, but it felt weird. It felt like a part of me didn’t want her to have any part of this. I had to check myself. Was my urge to keep my mother away from my hobbies due to the fact that I had some issues with her scoffing at games while I was younger?
Gatekeepers will always exist. But we have to be wary of them and be aware of our own gatekeeping habits.
Just as people who love books and cinema have their own culture, gamers have their own culture to engage in. A “lesser” lesser level of engagement shouldn’t mean that they’re not gamers.
What gaming tends to offer is a route of escape, similar to other forms of entertainment. But unlike being passive in the way reading and watching tends to be, gaming often offers an interactive element which gives a strong sense of agency to the player.
This sense of agency is one of the reasons I believe gamers tend to be very opinionated about gaming in general. It is, in some sense, personal to them. But that was just my personal opinions on the subject, so I felt like doing some first hand research. I thought I might talk to someone who engaged with a large and varied community on a regular basis who frequently had gatekeeping issues.
I contacted Nick Thorpe, long time writer at Retro Gamer magazine in the UK for his thoughts on the subject.
Kimi Lim (KL): Hi Nick, thank you for talking to me. What are your thoughts on gatekeeping in gaming in particular, as someone who has a lot of contact with particularly opinionated ones?
Nick Thorpe (NT): Ah, gatekeeping. I think at the end of the day, it’s a weird and destructive thing to do.
I see people arguing from the perspective of “oh, these people made fun of me through high school and now it’s okay and cool to be a geek and to play games, well fuck you – I’m shutting you out”. While it sucks that they had to go through that, but by shunning any wider acceptance of gaming, they run the risk of perpetuating that misery for the geeky kids of the future. Maybe it’s just because I like involving people in my interests, but it doesn’t make sense to me to turn people away from my hobby. Why would I want a smaller pool of people to play games with? Why would I want fewer people’s ideas?
KL: Is there anything about the retro gaming community in particular that has led you to this conclusion? I know it has its own particular quirks, shall we say.
NT: Yeah, actually there is. The big thing about the retro gaming community is the debate around “What is retro?” It’s a question with no right answer, because everyone has their own definition.
But there are some people who insist on their own definition – “retro stops when the 1980s end” or “retro stops when 3D games become mainstream”As an individual, it’s fine to have that sort of outlook. But for Retro Gamer, it’d be death.
KL: So really it’s personal at the end of the day and people choose to engage with things differently?
NT: Absolutely. And we have to move with the audience’s expectations of what retro is, no matter how much it annoys some of the old guard.
KL: Because at the end of the day having more people in the community is good and having more people in the community means you get to keep writing for a magazine right? So it’s as good for business as much as it is for the actual future of games?
NT: Absolutely! I mean, I’m in my early thirties – I see the people I grew up with settling down, buying houses and having babies. Their nostalgia is the PlayStation – Crash Bandicoot and Final Fantasy VII. Their nostalgia isn’t invalid because someone older says so, and we’d be cutting out huge slices of our potential audience if we didn’t cover those things.
And although it’s retro, it has an impact on the future of gaming too. There are plenty of games that rose to fame after poor initial market performances – if we shut out newcomers, those games don’t get rediscovered, popularised and made available again.
KL: Excellent. Thank you so much for talking to me!
It’s clear that these issues are widespread and there’s no common solution to solving them. But what seems to be the case is that changing our approach can change the way that gaming is perceived.
Though this article focused on video gaming, there’s a load of points that can apply to analogue gaming. Overall, if we consider gaming to be as lofty an interest in cinema or literature, we may be able to start looking at it more critically. Furthermore, like video gaming, board gaming, tabletop, card games, and the like all have communities centered around them. Gatekeeping has many elements to consider beyond passion and personal investment. Some of these elements, like the sexist side of gamers and engagement, deserve their own article.
Ultimately, being a gamer means being a part of one or several communities, and having a shared interest in something. It’s in our best interest as gamers to keep playing, keep sharing and most of all – keep welcoming people into our spaces.
This article was edited by Pamela Punzalan. Featured image and edited stock photos provided by Sinta Posadas.