I’ll just say upfront that yes, the title is a little inflammatory. So let’s first talk about where this blog post’s inspiration comes from.
I see this often in social media, sometimes in news articles when someone like Dungeons and Dragons decides to update their rules. One such example is when Dungeons and Dragons removed negative racial traits from Dungeons and Dragons. These rule changes are often justified in the vein of social progress. In the case of the aforementioned Dungeons and Dragons rule change, these rules “reflect previous comments by the Dungeons & Dragons team that promised better representation and a movement towards giving the player characters individualism as opposed to forcing them to fit within cultural stereotypes within the game’s lore”. Long standing fans sometimes raise an outcry to such rule changes. These outraged fans are then accused of “Gatekeeping”. However, nowhere does ‘Gatekeeping’ seem to be applied than around the label of ‘gamer’. Why do alleged ‘gamers’ feel the need to gatekeep? Well, I have a few feelings about ‘gamers’, ‘gatekeeping’, and the application of these terms. So here we are.
Let’s start with ‘Gatekeeping’. What is ‘Gatekeeping’ and why do we care? While the dictionary definition will give you the rough idea, I think it’s better to use its Urban Dictionary definition since that’s really what we’re talking about.
Gatekeeping: When someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity.Urban Dictionary (2012)
In the case of Dungeons and Dragons, the “Gatekeeping” is the “correct” way to play your selected race. In the case of “gamers” however, it’s who gets to be a “real gamer”.
It’s no secret by now that typically, there’s a PC / Console / Mobile divide in the way of the gaming community. There’s a reason we have a PC Master Race meme. Where this runs into the way of gaming, well, I think it has everything to do with the criticism of a report from a couple years ago. Before we go any further, I want to note that I won’t be contesting the results of the study cited here. The data is what it is and for what it’s worth, I do believe it provided an insight into the evolving mobile gaming landscape. But these sorts of articles often cause some controversy. The short version is:
- An article will be published stating that 50%+ of gamers are women
- A common criticism was that these gamers were playing primarily mobile games
- People who play only mobile games aren’t really “gamers”.
Thus, the ‘Gatekeeping’ accusations began. “Who were these
men gamers to decide who is and who isn’t really a gamer? Who gave them the power? Why do mobile gamers not count? Why do they even care?” Well aren’t you lucky to have me here because by the end of this post, we’ll have answered these questions. I happen to be something of a gamer myself, so I have the secret inside knowledge that is apparently getting lost in translation. So let’s move on to question #1.
Who decides who is a gamer?
Honestly, this is a pretty nice question by itself. I think this is the main source of the debate. If we could all agree on what a gamer is, we could solve all of these problems. The important thing to note, however, is that the gamer definitions being argued over are two completely different definitions. There is ‘gamer’, someone who plays video games, and ‘gamer’ as in a person who’s defined through their hobby of playing video games. I am using video games for this definition. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of like, an avid Blue Marble player being defined as a gamer or an avid chess player being defined as a gamer. If you are, sorry, we can try to expand my hypothesis here in a different post. Back to this though.
I’m not terribly interested in arguing over whether or not mobile gamers are gamers. I’m only stating what I believe the impasse is. That there’s a disagreement over what counts as a gamer.
Who gave them that power?
In general, the gaming community did. You can disagree with this idea of gamers granting gamers the power to define gamers but that’s what happened. Language is defined by those who use it. For example, there’s a particular symbol that is common in Buddhism that means “Peace”. I don’t know if Google Maps will still do this by the time you read this article but if you zoom in on particular shrines in Japan, this symbol will appear. This particular symbol was reversed and rotated 45 degrees by the German National Socialist party in the 1930’s-1940’s. You know the one.
I sometimes see this symbol while driving. It’s used to say “Shrine this way”. However, I would bet good money people would be a little disturbed if they went to Japan and saw this symbol and how common it is. Yes, it’s vastly different, sharing only the pinwheel pattern but to the western mind with almost nothing else to compare it to, we simply put default to what we already know. Why is that? Because language is a mutual exchange and these symbols carry the meaning in the mind of the speaker and the observer. Sometimes there’s a mismatch between these meanings, and we call these “miscommunications”. But to have productive dialogue, we all need to agree on what the terms are and what they mean.
I’m not currently in the position to go into a crowd (because they don’t exist lol, thanks China) but when the United States opens up proper again I might do this for a follow-up. I think if you tell people that you’re a gamer, and you ask them to guess what games you play I don’t think too many people are going to guess the name of a mobile game. If you ask someone to name video games, I think they’ll quickly go to console or PC games when they’re generating their mental list. I believe this sort of sets the idea of society’s expectations when it comes to what a gamer plays and what a video game is.
Where I’m going with all of this is that there’s nothing that says mobile gamers can’t be gamers, but you have to make your way into the gaming community’s parlance. Even if you managed to convince society at large that mobile gamers are gamers, if you are unable to convince the other gamers of this, all you will have done is create a separate gaming category (which was already recognized by the way) of ‘mobile gamers’.
Naturally, these articles are directed at industry, they’re directed at community at large. Even if these articles are successful at penetrating and being accepted by the general community, that’s not a guarantee that they’ll be accepted by the gaming community. The fact that this debate is still ongoing and that people are still arguing about it shows that the gaming community as a whole has not settled on an answer. Which brings us to today.
Why do mobile gamers not count?
In my view, some do. People get tied up in this idea in that it’s the games that matter. So now that FFVII or Call of Duty are on mobile, we can’t call these mobile gamers casuals or something. I do not believe this idea that it’s the games that are available themselves that define the gamers but again, someone who is defined through their hobby of playing video games.
I have poor posture and my back often hurts. When my back hurts, I often lie down. But I still want to do SOMETHING so I usually open up a mobile game. While surfing the play store, I’ve noticed a few trends about the games that seem to populate the game store.
The type of games I find most often on the store tend to be what I consider ‘timekiller games’. You might be saying that all games are ‘timekiller games’ but I would disagree. The most popular games (even per that article I mentioned earlier) tend to be puzzle or idle games. These are games that can be played and completed within a matter of minutes. This is where it gets important. They are not designed to be played persistently. These games often have real-world time constraints (basically they’ve become modern arcade machines). They are minimally interactive. For many games, they seem to be designed to be played when you’ve got 10-20 minutes on the bus or train to and from work. They have a minimal story (if any). I think in the minds of gamers, these games “do not count” because it’s hard to say that your hobby of playing video games is defined through the time that you’re not playing the game (which is necessary to continue playing the game). Granted, you could just put the quarter in, get your lives back, and get back to it. But in my experience, most people just wait. They don’t spend the dollar to get their 5 lives back or their energy refill or whatever.
Ironically, it’s here where we get to the ‘EVE Online’ problem. For those that don’t know (and maybe it’s not there anymore, idk) EVE has a button where you can press it and improve your character based on time not spent playing. I think what saves EVE however is its competitive nature. For this reason, I do think people who play competitive mobile games should be considered “gamers”. If you’re primarily playing your clicker game, I don’t think you’d fit the definition of “gamer” due to the limited interactive elements, often a limited story, and typically a lack of a competitive element. To bring us back to my first description, you’re tapping a screen purely to kill time, rather than due to this investment in gaming as a hobby. If it helps, consider the following:
Suppose we replaced your smartphone with a piano. On the way home from work you pressed keys on the piano. It’s the same thing, right. You’re monotonously pressing a button again and again for points (in the case of the piano, the sound of notes) but the objective isn’t to reach a goal. It’s mindless. Just like I think you’d be hard-pressed to convince audiences at large that you’re a musician, I think you’ll be hard-pressed to convince someone to believe you’re a gamer based on this similar interaction. If you try to claim the label ‘gamer’ under such pretenses, gamers are likely to see you as a leech. As someone trying to claim the label because it’s another label to have rather than because it’s something you do.
So the short version, and I’ll say it again: It depends on what games you’re playing on your phone (in my opinion). I don’t think my opinion is terribly unorthodox.
Why do the ‘gamers’ care?
Why do gamers care what we define gamers as? I can’t say for certain why gamers care, I can only offer my personal perspective and again, I don’t think I’m a terribly unorthodox gamer. I hope in by sharing these perspectives that I can get you to understand why we care about it.
First of all, you’re mucking around with the word we use to define ourselves. Imagine trying to change what a Christian is, and expand its definition to something that Christians don’t agree with. But instead of checking with the Christians, you decided to publish your article, “Turns out, X% of Christians are Y”. The Christians will be like, “Who decided that? Based on what I’ve seen from Y, Y doesn’t believe in God. Y doesn’t believe in the Trinity. How on Earth can you define them as Christians?” You’re tell people that people Christians typically don’t believe are Christians are Christians. This dilutes the label “Christian” and when you’ve built a part of your identity around “Christian”, you don’t typically take kindly to it being diluted.
Maybe you don’t think of what you’re trying to do as “diluting” the gamer label. More gamers is better, right? Well by definition that’s diluting the label so you definitely are diluting the label. But more gamers, is that better? This brings us to point number two. The baggage that comes with the label of gamer.
Most readers should be old enough to remember this and vestiges of it still continue to this day. If you’re around the age of 30 or older, you should remember the “Satanic Panic” and the “Religious Right” which dominated media for a good part of the 80’s, 90’s, and early 2000’s. If you don’t, I’ll remind you.
Many parts of popular culture at the time were deemed elements of Satanism or some kind of devilry. Dungeons and Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon, and even the metal music genre were often attacked by prominent figures as being gateways to drugs, crime, and devil worship.
I know I said we’re talking about ‘gamers’ as in ‘people who are invested in the hobby of playing video games’ but I feel justified in using this comparison because gamers are the time were part of the afflicted groups.
The one I remember the most was this myth spread around that if you play the Pokemon theme song backwards that it said “Hail Satan”. Now despite all of this, much of which we may have been too young to have even been aware of, we liked the things we liked. I remember getting up every morning at 6AM to rush downstairs and watch Pokemon. Pokemon was cool. I’ve got family members that can confirm that I was playing Pokemon before I knew how to read. Which is fine when you’re 8 years old. But when you’re a teenager, this can become something of a problem. In those days, gamers were ostracized due to a few things. Our peers at the time said these things were for kids. The news was saying that we were going to start carving up bodies using 6 knives to make 66 stab wounds and draw an upside-down pentagram on a person’s forehead.
So on one hand, we’ve got our peer group saying that we need to grow up. Sailor Moon is for little kids, not for 16 year-old boys. On the other hand, we’ve got our family worried that we’re rotting our brains. Fun fact: I was only allowed to play games because I kept my grades up, thus proving that if I were rotting my brains, I was at least, still smarter than everyone else in my class. The news is always telling us that we’re bad people and that we’re bound to commit some crimes. With all this pressure, we’re looking at ourselves and the games we like and we’re just not seeing it. I have no problems distinguishing between reality and games. I don’t think I’m going to start killing rabbits just because my Mewtwo was nuking Nidoran in Route 2. The only people we could find friendship in were people that shared our interests. Because everyone outside these interests was pretty dead set on us being damaged in some way or another. So we gamers grouped up. We talked online, we formed bonds with each other.
Years pass, the religious right has fallen, we’re in the 2010’s now and gaming is mainstream. Anime is becoming mainstream if it isn’t already mainstream due to streaming services. Gamers are seeing the future they wished for achieved. Now the problem comes in because they’re seeing the people that bullied and belittled them appreciate gaming. “Why didn’t you tell me how deep and intricate Pokemon battling (Yes I’m using Pokemon a lot, that was my game) was? I had no idea it was this difficult!” And the answer is “I FUCKING DID TELL YOU BUT YOU CALLED ME A LOSER AND TOOK STACY TO THE MOVIES!”. So gamers, seeing ‘normies’ years later finally ‘get it’, while mildly satisfying, doesn’t undo the years of hardship gamers endured, some of which at the hand of ‘normies’.
What I’m getting at here is that the label of ‘gamer’ comes with some baggage. Seeing it ‘opened up’ has an element of what we in America call ‘Stolen Valor‘. I don’t know if this concept exists outside of America. ‘Stolen Valor’ is when people claim credit for military accomplishments that they did not earn. This is a mockery and a great disrespect to those who do earn these accomplishments. In the United States, it’s a big deal. The United States military is 100% volunteer. The United States does not enforce any kind of mandatory service. While men are still required to sign up for the draft, this is likely the result of existing legislation that has yet to be taken down after some 50 years since the Vietnam War. To us, those who join the military answer a different calling, a calling some of us would only be willing to do as a last resort. A dangerous job, which has eternally scarred so many families throughout history. And to claim you were part of that when you didn’t put yourself on the line like the others is just supremely disrespectful that I will say that I personally think it’s up there with some of the worst non-violent offenses you could possibly commit.
So some gamers might see the ‘normie’ who bullied them in you as you try to claim the label of gamer, justly or not. That’s a personal issue, I’ll admit. But the point is to help you get where this pushback is coming from. We walked through hell to get here while you show up at the finish line for free.
So we answered all of the questions we had originally proposed. I hope you can now understand where gamers are coming from when it comes to who is a gamer and who is not. I hope you can now understand why there’s so much pushback against some of these articles. And again, I think if the articles were more willing to use a nuanced approach rather than saying “Well, if you play any video game you’re a gamer” then it’d be easier to meet the gaming community outside mobile games on some common ground. I guess that’s all I had to say here. Thanks for reading.