When is someone a gamer (i.e. a ‘true’ gamer) and when is someone a person who plays games? This may seem irrelevant but to anyone who spends as much time on the internet and on games in general as we do, you may well be acquainted with how life-changing an issue this is to those who identify themselves as ‘true gamers’.
I’m taking this tone to help you identify with me as an intrepid onlooker and explorer of this strange phenomenon. People in modern times are generally up themselves about their own intelligence and will refuse to learn from somebody who knows more than them; they would much rather feel on the same level as their teacher and ‘learn along’ with them. Take, as a simple example, all of those early evening documentaries about sharks, volcanoes, bubbles, Ancient Greece etc. Isn’t it always either an uninformed presenter or a long-studying professor (who should know better) going on a ‘journey’ to ‘find out what it’s all about’?
They take excessively long trips around the world so that when they deliver the awe-inspiring line ‘water is important to life all around the globe’, they and their filming crew can be lounging about on deck aboard a yacht in some Caribbean bay, just so we remember what water looks like. They then proceed to ask experts on the subject increasingly amateur questions in an attempt to ingratiate themselves with their uninformed audience, who have no real desire to be informed, no genuine yearning for knowledge; they just want to feel like they understand it for a 60 minute period while the documentary is on.
With that in mind, join me as I go on a journey of discovery through the highs and lows of gaming and see just why it means so much to…
Okay, I can’t keep that up.
Many people who play games for much of their time insist on the self-definition of ‘true gamer’. The psychological realities of this are fairly obvious. We all want to feel unique or special. At very least, we don’t want to feel like we’re pretending, like our desires or our preferences are a mere product of trying to feel part of a community. The need to not be excluded is intense and more than likely produces the obsession with definitions like this. That was a quick aside, though; that isn’t really what I’m getting at.
I’m suggesting that this dual need to feel both set apart as an individual and included as part of a community is not the only factor. I’m suggesting that the definition that differentiates a true gamer is a real one and that the matter at hand isn’t ‘is there a distinction?’ but rather, ‘what defines the distinction?’
As with all issues of this nature, the problem is a linguistic one. However, to get into that would be to defeat my purpose. How about we simply look at a few proposed definitions?
Some say that it depends on the amount of time spent playing games. People who say this are not even casual gamers because they see someone holding a controller and consider them the height of geekdom. There are levels and variations. This cannot be successfully viewed and structured from outside the culture, which means if you aren’t at least a casual gamer, you may not understand this blogpost, or the need for this blogpost. I’d say that time invested, while potentially indicative of our theoretical ‘true gamer’, is not a necessary feature.
Others talk about what a true gamer gets from the games. I don’t think this has it right either but I do think it touches on an issues that will constitute my final proposition. There are many things to get from games, just as there is from any activity. Are you killing time? Are you emotionally and intellectually invested in the world in which the game takes place? Are you enjoying beating your friends at the game? An obsessive need to win is often misattributed to gamers because of the competitive nature of some games; some argue that our mystical ‘true gamer’ is more concerned with the pleasure of playing over anything else.
Here’s a similar one, from UrbanDictionary.com, ‘A True Gamer enjoys playing a game AFTER finishing it; maybe not spend the same number of hours as before beating it, but will not sell the game after completing the main objectives.’ This isn’t different in its own right but it does touch on the same sense that the enjoyment is key and not the achievement. This is a very common belief and seems to supersede the completionist ideology that it is getting a game to 100% that constitutes devotion. It’s actually hard to argue this because getting a game to 100% is surely, inherently less than continuing to play and enjoy a game after full completion.
Many things you’ll find on the internet about this are actually just common attributes of gamers and can be dismissed as such:
Lack of knowledge about a specific game or sub-culture
Speaking/typing in 1337 speech or using common internet shortenings (gg)
Dislike of a certain genre (like RPGs)
It’s worth saying something about that last one. It’s very common to dismiss people for playing FPS games, notably CoD (Call of Duty for the unenlightened) and it’s equally common for defences of CoD players to be dismissed as non-gamers sticking together. Certainly there is a generation (or a herd) of gamers who play exclusively a small number of games often limited to a single, competitive genre and who are almost always more worried about their position on the leaderboards than the efficacy of the soundtrack. I agree that these people certainly aren’t true gamers. They are a breed of gamer; they play games. That much should be obvious but can we really classify their limited enjoyment of games the same as people that agonise over every single element of every game they play?
Breadth of genre is, for some reason, utterly obsessed over by some who comment on this issue. It’s a hard one to codify, though. Are we to group all games in a binary fashion as either worthy of the gaming elite or not? Of course not. Now, by no means am I suggesting that this ‘true gamer’ malarkey isn’t elitist. It clearly is. It’s just that labelling games in such fashion would be nigh-on impossible and downright unfair to game-makers that put such great efforts into genres unceremoniously marked as ‘undesirable’.
I asked Pop what she thought and she gave me the exact answer I would have expected: A combination of two factors concerning what the gamer gets out of the game.
Generally, a true gamer will have a need to play games. An ultimately unquenchable need that needs to be fed regularly to be kept under control. An empty space that can’t be filled with anything else starts to build as soon as you stop playing. This stands in opposition to casual gamers (like casual drinkers or smokers) who can stop for prolonged periods of time and only game out of relevant interest, which can change as easily as the wind.
More specifically, a true gamer is to be defined by what they get out of each, individual game. J.R.R. Tolkien opposed the idea of ‘suspension of disbelief’ as an inadequate representation of what a reader goes through when reading a work of fantastic fiction (or indeed any fiction). Rather, he preferred the term, and concept, of ‘secondary belief’, in that the reader constructs an alternative reality in which to believe and live out the story in a fuller way. The same is true of a true gamer’s relationship with games. Empathy with the characters or acting devices, a full range of appreciation from the intention of the game regarding narrative, gameplay, soundtrack, competing ideological discourses and a genuine feeling of involvement and fulfilment derived from the game. These are the real elements swirling within the mind of a true gamer.
Games have shaped my life. I mean that truly. My memories are all set against which game I was playing. I came home and shunned my ‘friends’ (non-optional social requirements) in order to fall again into the world of whatever game I was on. This includes racing games, this includes FPS games and this includes oldie platformers. The genre issue is a moot one as all have served as backdrop to my life and all have brought more to my life than anything else.
Perhaps you think now that this whole blogpost was just my own entry into the competition of trying to set myself apart as a true gamer.
If you think that:
Well then you’d be right.