I decided to sit out for most of the last month or so of games internet misogyny shit, opting instead of signal boost the good people willing to jump into the fray themselves. There is one thing I wanted to write a short note about, though — the identity of “gamer” and why I haven’t used it myself in years (and edited it out of Game Developer Magazine/Gamasutra work whenever possible).
The Internet Hate Machine believes that over the last few years video games have been infiltrated by The Feminist Cabal, which has taken control of the game industry and seen fit to divert it from serving the capital-G “Gamer”. This is true, but not in the way they think.
For starters: “Gamer” is a manufactured identity. Look at the history of the word, where it came from (early games magazines, which were basically extensions of the fledgling video game marketing machine), and contrast it to words used to describe other media enthusiasts (“bookworm”, “cinephile”, etc.). “Gamer” at its core, is associated with brands (consoles, high-end accessory/PC part manufacturers, sodas, energy drinks, snacks, etc.) in a way that the other words are not.
I hear you say: “But Patrick, that’s not what I mean when I say ‘Gamer’!”
Tough shit. Words exist and have meaning outside your intended communication, and you don’t own the word “Gamer”. What’s worse, you never did. I realize that if you’re reading this, there’s a high chance that this is kind of a scary thought, so: Imagine if you started calling large green fruits with black seeds and red delicious fleshy insides “bananas”. People would look at you funny and ask why you don’t know what a watermelon is. So too with the G-Word.
Now, when people describe themselves as “Gamers”, they’re typically doing so to bring up an identity defined by shared practice and priorities: staying up all night playing games, by yourself or with your buddies; engaging in fevered debate over who would win X fight or which dashing young thing is the cutest; willfully staying in on a free night to drown yourself in a virtual world instead of hitting the bars. Being a “Gamer” in the way people want the word to mean, means valuing games and play far more than you value “normal” recreational activities (sports, live music, dancing, movies, whatever).
I’m willing to bet you that every single “fake gamer girl”, every single games feminist, every single outspoken games journalist that the Internet Hate Machine accuses of having infiltrated the ranks of the game industry shares plenty in common with the “Gamer” described above. You cannot work in the game industry without loving games, because that love is what gets you through the shitty paychecks and the limited opportunity and the poor professional growth and the constant lurking threat of the Internet Hate Machine. I spent the final night of GDC this year with Leigh Alexander, Christine Love, Aevee Bee, Kris Graft, and the rest of the assorted Gamasutra family mashing up ’90s pop with the Tekken Tag Tournament intro cinematic on YouTube Doubler on one TV and playing through obscure SNES ROMs on the other; doubt anyone’s nerd cred at your own peril.
The thing is that loving video games doesn’t preclude you from also becoming a feminist. Learning how to dissect video games to understand what they teach us (accidentally or intentionally) about race, about gender, about class, etc. — this enriches video games. Had I never cultivated the critical part of my brain, I’d never be able to create anything worth a damn myself. If anything, intersectional feminism kept me in video games because it trained me to see the immense potential to produce profoundly transformative experiences. So we didn’t really “infiltrate” games, we just learned more about life and politics while continuing to engage with games.
I think it’s funny that the Internet Hate Machine dismisses all the badass women who have served as the industry’s most vocal critics as “not real gamers” because in my experience, simply playing video games is the lowest-effort method of engaging with video games. You play video games? Congratulations; so does just about everyone else. It doesn’t make you special. In fact, it says literally nothing about you except that you enjoy entertaining experiences.
The people I admire and respect most are the ones who love games enough to know what they can be — which often means hating what games are now. They’re the people for whom playing games is an unfortunate concession to the realities of modern gaming; their inspiration comes from playing a game just to enjoy one particularly well-realized design element, or watching a movie and thinking about how its narrative tensions could be translated into an awesome level design, or driving at night and thinking about it as an emotional journey reproducible in a game. They love games so much that they can’t help but be drawn inexorably to them, devoting themselves to helping games grow so they can grow alongside them.
"Gamer" says none of that. "Gamer" is selfish; preoccupied with one’s own pleasure over the advancement of the medium. "Gamer" is conservative; virulently opposed to change or innovation except in very specific, rigidly-defined areas. "Gamer" is tribalistic; defining oneself in terms of one’s tastes and factional allegiances above all.
But video games taught me to grow above these things. Games taught me to value empathy, change, and camaraderie. Video games made me a better person; that’s why I love them, and that’s why I want to help make them better still. But “Gamer” doesn’t do that.