What do we mean when we call someone a ‘gamer’? Some suggest a gamer is anyone who plays games frequently, with dedication and passion. Others suggest that a gamer is anyone with a love and appreciation of games and the gaming community. Many more suggest that there are sub-groups and tags to be considered: casual, professional, hardcore, n00bs, etc. Most seem to be able to agree that a gamer is someone who plays games and thoroughly enjoys them.
Someone or anyone?
In the recent Gamergate controversy, one of the most popular arguments from the movement has been the threat SJWs (Social Justice Warriors), feminists and varying social factors pose to the gamer identity. This identity, while ambiguous in its form, seems to be focused on younger, white, male gamers who feel that larger game development studios have shifted their focus from their previous target demographic, i.e. the previously mentioned gamer identity candidates.
The market has deviated from this template in recent years as some games have attempted to shake up those old video game formulas. The community is now seeing protagonists that defy the dated ways we used to define heroes. Game designers are getting more experimental and bold with what they produce, and some of these productions have come under heavy fire from parts of the gaming community.
As a case in point, Bioware recently released Dragon Age: Inquisition. Aside from being praised for its beauty, story, technical prowess and overall presentation, critics have noted that the love interests seem heavily biased. Featuring two females for a straight, male Inquisitor, three for a straight, female Inquisitor, two for a male gay Inquisitor and two for a female, lesbian Inquisitor. The argument withstanding is that this seems to pander to the LGBT community, without consideration towards fans who are within the “classic” demographic of young, straight male gamers.
This isn’t a new argument. Plenty of games have come under fire for supposedly pandering towards SJWs. The fear is that feminist issues are influencing design choices in video games, as more and more titles tackle topics such as sexism, mental illness, fat shaming, and more. Supporters of Gamergate have declared that this not only feels like pandering to demographics, but is an insult to what used to be a community focused on having fun, and threatens the escapism aspect of gaming. The gamer identity, to them, has been forgotten.
Which comes back to the question: “What is the gamer identity?”
The supporters of Gamergate seem to feel it harkens back to a golden age of gaming where the community composed of outcast young males banding together. The argument is that certain groups weren’t into gaming until it became a popular activity in mainstream society. The “poser” argument, in a sense, as well as the “fake geek” argument.
The problem with these arguments is simple. First, outside groups from the supposed identity have been playing games certainly as long as the larger demographic. Women, LGBT, feminists, pretty much anyone who actually enjoyed video games has, by default, been gaming for as long as they’ve enjoyed it. This doesn’t seem congruous due to the exclusivity of said community, as well as the general portrayal of a gamer at that time being the stereotypical fat, white nerd living in his mother’s basement. Other groups weren’t as recognized as a demographic that games could focus on because those groups weren’t as recognized, nor talked about, as they are today. Trying to state that games were not played by, or made for, various groups in the past is ignoring that games are generally accessible to everyone. Perhaps that stands as a point for the gamer identity, however. Games were made to be played by anyone and everyone who wished to, not targeted towards a specific demographic. Why should that mean that they are exclusive now?
Admittedly, some players might not want to embark on a journey that emulates depression or think heavily on what constitutes sexist portrayal in video games. Politics is an abrasive and volatile subject for many people, and it can be disheartening to see debates dragged through into video games. It can be equally frustrating to see a company jump on the bandwagon and make games that are less accessible to everyone. Most people out there just want to play good games without reality interfering, going back to the escapism element that is a dominant aspect of the games industry. Most of us don’t want to feel like we are being shamed either for playing as a protagonist that might fall under the standard or cliché for a video game hero or heroine.
On the other side, there are many loud, angry voices wanting to push out any form of alternative expression, subjects or offensive things in games altogether. Like house mothers don’t want to see violence, sexuality and portrayals of homosexuality on television, games or any media form, some simply do not want to see, hear or think about heated or uncomfortable topics while they take part in an enjoyable passion or hobby.
The gamer identity crisis is just that; who is the real gamer that companies should be focusing on? Who should games be made for, ultimately?
The simple answer, I feel, is everyone who might enjoy them.
Change and progress are unstoppable. No matter how much we lament, moan or fight against it, social norms will ultimately move onward. The gaming community has proven to be one of the most open, innovative and even charitable communities out there. Gamers worldwide have been noted as defying stereotypes, promoting positive causes, and coming together in multiple situations. Whether you agree that games are an art form or not, it still stands that the same freedom of expression that applies to other art forms, applies here. However, that does not mean that a game company should feel the need to cater to every demographic possible to rake in more sales or to receive further attention.
In short, games should be open to those that would enjoy them, but there needs to be recognition on both sides that some games just aren’t for everyone, which is fine. Preferences are there for a reason. Lambasting games that do exist for others, however, gets no one anywhere. The choice to not play or to ignore the game is present for almost everyone, just like one need not get sucked into an argument. A game should not be a soapbox to scream from or to shout at others, but that doesn’t mean an honest discussion or two doesn’t need to be had concerning them.
If companies are boycotted simply because they make something that someone doesn’t agree with, what is really being accomplished? Gamers will miss out on games that do appeal to them while trying to argue against the existence of ones that don’t.
While the gamer identity might be going through a bit of an identity crisis of its own, some of us can only hope that it will emerge as the biggest, most badass butterfly with Gatling guns that ever lived.