By Aud Traher
Go outside and find a person. Ask them what they think of when they think of a “gamer”. You can really do this. I’ll wait.
Even if you didn’t really go get a random person, you probably had a fair idea of what they would say. A gamer is normally thought of as a white, cisgender heterosexual male, between the ages of 15-30, seated on a couch shouting into a headset, and playing a FPS. It’s a stereotype that is everywhere and one that most games franchises are happy to cater too, churning out military themed shooters where the eponymous white,cishet gamer guy can trot the globe and shoot vaguely menacing brown people to his heart’s content.
This demographic has pretty much hijacked the title of gamer. With their screaming, twitter death threats, famous homophobia,transphobia and misogyny, they’ve managed to make being anything other then a white, heterosexual,cisgender male who plays FPS incredibly difficult. And, as one trans woman reporter found out at a games show, dangerous and personally painful.
Many of us have had to suffer through being called “fake gamers”/”fake gamer girls”. Accused of not really loving video games, due to our lack of interest in the “hardcore”(read: ultra violent, ultra masculine FPS franchises like Modern Warfare and Call of Duty) or for our gender/gender presentation. We might prefer games ranging from Silent Hill, Tomb Raider, and Final Fantasy to Pokemon instead. But the same loud, angry segment of players, and the industry and gaming publications kept on telling us “you aren’t really gamers, and you aren’t welcome here”.
Then something completely unexpected happened last week, the developers of one of the “real gamer”/”hardcore gamer’ franchises said that the main audience of their Call of Duty franchise aren’t really gamers at all.
Developer Mark Rubin said:
“It’s kind of a weird, ironic thing to say. They aren’t hardcore gamers, or even gamers, but they play Call of Duty every night. And those guys are going to continue to play regardless of platform.”
He also says; “We have an enormous amount of players who are more in the casual game space, but they play a lot.”
Call of Duty players, those that make up society’s image of “hardcore” and “real gamer” aren’t really gamers at all? According to their favorite game’s developer? Not only are they not “real gamers” they are more like the much hated by their clique, “casual gamer”.
It seemed as if the developers were defining “gamer” as someone with a broad taste in games of many types, instead of simply playing hours and hours of the same game or game type over and over. Many people commenting on blogging website tumblr mentioned that this made them thrilled, that for once the shoe was on other foot so to speak and after years of being called things like “fake gamer girl” they could now say “fake gamer guy” right back.
I was left with an interesting conundrum personally. My relationship with the label “gamer” has been a fraught one. I started playing games on the SNES as a kid in elementary school in the 90′s, then graduated to the PS1 and games like Tomb Raider, Dead or Alive etc. Now I write reviews of games and articles about them, and in fact play a lot of video games of many different types.
But until now I was very hesitant to label myself a gamer. Why?
I never felt “hard core” enough. I’m not a fan of FPS Modern Warfare or Call of Duty type games. I like Halo and BioShock just fine, but modern military settings and screaming obscenities and getting told to make sandwiches via an Xbox live headset is most assuredly not my thing. That said, in larger cultural discourse this is what a gamer is. Until the quote from Mark Rubin, that was what most developers and publications seemed to believe made a gamer as well.
However, now the first blow has been struck. Those guys screaming rape threats and obscenities at female gamers, queer gamers, and gamers of color have been told that they are less than those they scream at. That the bisexual transgender person who plays both Pokemon, Bioshock, and retro games like Zelda is more of a gamer then they are, as they play one or two games at most for hours on end. While it rings of the “no true scotsman” fallacy a bit, I have to admit that it is nice to be told that you are more of a desired label or quantity than your tormenters are. As a bisexual person, often shunned by both the straight and gay communities a like I can relate. It is nice to be told you are welcome in a label, one that you have struggled on whether you deserved or needed or even wanted to begin with.
Will gaming culture and dominant discourse change over night? Will we wake up tomorrow and Grandma’s who play Animal Crossing, Candy Crush Saga, and Professor Layton games be swigging Monster energy drinks and wearing “hardcore gamer grandma” t-shirts since Rubin said that? As awesome as that might be, no. But it is a start, an important start in the journey of studios and publications recognizing what a massively diverse group people who play games are, and that holding up one very specific oppressive stereotype as the paragon is oppressive and self defeating. It has created a bit more space perhaps for us to occupy. So for now I’m happy to say; “I am a gamer.”