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Game Culture, Play

I play sometimes, but. . .

I’m not a gamer.

Recently I was re-listening to Game on Girl’s great interview with author Genese Davis (episode 62) and was struck by their conversation about the term “gamer.”  They were discussing how culture often perceives “gamers” as anti-social misfits living in their parents’ basement and playing non-stop.  This is a fairly common discussion in gaming circles – how do we explain that not all people who game are addicts, just as not all people who drink are alcoholics.

However, here’s my radical thought: is the real challenge we’re facing here a problem of linguistics or language?  We’re fighting to have society in general recognize that a gamer is just someone who plays games, not someone who’s addicted to gaming, right?  So let’s take a moment to look at other terms of addiction:

Someone who drinks occasionally or in a reasonable, controlled manner is socially acceptable.  Someone who is addicted to drinking and lets it control their life is not – and we call them an alcoholic.  Someone who gambles occasionally or in a reasonable, controlled manner is socially acceptable.  Someone who is addicted to gambling and lets it control their life is not – and we call them a gambler.  I think that perhaps the average person’s resistance to self-identifying as a gamer is a version of this: Someone who plays the occasional video game – generally thought of in terms of Facebook or mobile games – is socially acceptable.  Someone who is addicted to gaming – generally thought of in terms of console or PC games – and lets it control their life is not – and they have traditionally been called a gamer.

If we accept this idea – and feel free to disagree with my premise – then is it any wonder that the general populace is reluctant to self-identify as gamers?  Now I’m not saying that we can’t – or shouldn’t – redefine the term gamer.  I’m just suggesting that redefining the term of addiction has left a linguistic gap.  If a gamer is just someone who games in a reasonable and balanced manner, then what do we call someone who is addicted and allows gaming to destroy their life?  And if we could come up with a new noun to indicate gaming addiction, would that make the term gamer more acceptable?

I don’t actually have an answer – just wanted to throw the question out there and see what you think.  Feel free to offer alternative addiction nouns in the comments.

5 thoughts on “I play sometimes, but. . .”

  1. HI,
    I think this is a great article. I feel as a gamer that we shouldn't fear the term. Addiction has many stages and if we let the term Gamer becoming synonymous for an addict then we lose the ability to define our hobby or we forever leave it with a negative connotation. I call myself a gamer. I game a lot, but I manage it, between marriage, work, and spending face time with friends. Be proud to be a gamer! And do not become an addict. 🙂
    "With all great things comes great responsibility." -Uncle Ben

  2. I'm not sure I agree that "gamer" implies addiction. After all, people identify themselves a "golfers" or "runners" or "footballers," and this is generally seen as a positive thing, even if golf or football take up a controlling interest in those peoples' lives. I think that changing the way that people view nerd "games" (particularly video games, but also card games like Magic, wargames like W40k, or RPGs like D&D) will be a more effective way of removing the negative stigma from "gamer."

  3. I am with you, Jake. I find the title gamer empowering but I also like the comparisons Amy makes here between our favorite hobby and some of the other life destroying activities like gambling. It's important to think about gaming in a larger, more complete context. 🙂

  4. I too agree that this is an issue but I'd add the problem is somewhat ironically exacerbated by the gaming community's repeated attempts to address the situation. On the one hand, it's true that we should seek to defend ourselves whenever external media feels like making an example of its latest popcultural whipping boy again. On the other, the very fact that so much of gaming journalism is preoccupied with either defending or attacking the worst aspects of the cultural image gamers present can actually undermine our attempts to "carry on business as usual" where we play games for healthy pleasure and enjoyment.

    Thus, it's far too easy for people to forget that, by and large, gaming fans are not that different from film buffs, avid book readers or tv devotees. That said, gaming addiction does remain a badly understood issue that the community struggles to get to grips with due to the fact it's one of the most subtle of all addictions lacking significant external indicators though still demonstrating serious psychological effects.

    Speaking linguistically the whole conversation is muddied by the fact that the terms 'hardcore' and 'casual' gamers [that used to merely denote the the type of player] have been confused by the emergence of the 'casual' genre of games making it harder to differentiate those who play recreationally and those who do more so. .

  5. Thanks for the feedback :).
    Adam – you make a good point regarding the hardcore and casual terms – as Regina and Rhonda have demonstrated in many an interview, those terms have a wide range of meaning depending on who you ask ;). I think I see how gaming addiction could be less blatant than say alcoholism, but don't think it's entirely without external indicators – wouldn't an extreme addict visibly disappear from external obligations and possibly even have visual signs like those resulting from lack of sleep?

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