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Peeves – Gamers: A Term that Must Die

July 3, 2008

I’ve been trying not to use the word “gamer” in my writing lately. As a result of this, I’ve been a little hyper-conscious of how others refer to the people competing in a game. It’s interesting that we would never think to call Olympians “gamers”. We would call them “competitors” or “athletes”, but not “gamers”. I’ve been using “participants” and “game players” to get around it.

Why all the fuss? There’s something about the term “gamer” that I don’t like and that doesn’t fit me well. It strikes many others my age (29 for the 11th time) and gender the same way, too. In mentioning this to Ian, he said, “I guess the term has a critical mass of baggage.” And it does. Oddly enough, it’s not the game-y aspects of it either. After all:

  • I play games every day. A lot.
  • I read about games for fun.
  • I write about games for fun (and money).
  • I make games for fun (and more money).
  • But I would make them anyway.

So what’s the problem with gamer? I guess it has somehow also picked up another demographic – everything bad about teenage boys. Mind you, they’re not actually the average gamer anymore. She is in her mid-thirties and is playing a whole lot of casual games. If we look on the console, he’s also in his mid-thirties, and probably showers.

Gamer feels like a dismissal of a serious pursuit, and our culture puts no weight on the necessity of human play. That omission, that lack of positive spin, bothers me, too.

In my effort to stop using the word, I’ve looked at other media to see what their consumers are called:

  • Participants
  • Viewers
  • Audiences
  • Movie Goers
  • Readers

Game participants sounds too research oriented. Viewers and Audience are not participatory. The last two don’t apply at all.

I have yet to arrive at any kind of solution, but I do know that even if I did, it would be for me alone. I don’t expect the word to go away anytime soon.

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. July 3, 2008 10:19 pm

    I’d just go with “players”. And I think the term “gaming” has similar problems (on top of the fact that gambling has beaten us to that word).

    You know what, let’s just call people who play games, people. We don’t need a label, category or nametag, we’re just people aren’t we?

  2. July 3, 2008 11:25 pm

    I understand how it can be annoying but I don’t believe the word is the problem. I think the term gamer is an excellent term and one that should stay for as long as possible. I’m happy to say that I’m a gamer. No shame, regrets or apologies .

    So the mass media and the misinformed general public has put a negative spin on the term “gamer”. Rather than rolling over and trying to change the term for the sake of their ignorance I’d much rather proudly support it. Of course it is important to understand that I’m a completely stubborn individual, I’m not a fan of changing language to make people feel more comfortable and I’m more than willing to stand up and speak against the stereotypical vision of what a gamer actually is. I see this as a temporary issue that will be resolved after a generation or two.

    When was the last time you can honestly say a stereotype of a particular culture given to us by the hands of the masses was perceivably correct? Of course we all know how accurate the stereotype of the avid Jazz fan in the 20’s and 30’s turned out to be. (Those darn satan worshiping alcoholic drug smokers)

    What I do when someone begins talking about gamers from a misinformed perspective is ask them about their gaming habits. After they explain to me they don’t play fighting games, shooters or GTA, I get them to discuss the games they do enjoy. Before they know it they start talking about how they play certain games all the time but do enjoy playing others occasionally and why they enjoy playing them. All the time I could honestly care less about what games they play and why they like them. I’m somewhat of a nice fellow so I listen anyway even though they are walking right into a trap. Eventually I’m just waiting for them to shut up so I can explain to them that they are a gamer. Usually this claim is followed by a strong denial. I follow that denial with simple logic to state that gamers are people that play games and they just spent 20 minutes discussing why they like to play casual games or simple flash games on the web. Facts are facts, if you play games regularly you’re a gamer. Sometimes they get upset but they have themselves to blame for buying into that huge load of BS that was forced into their minds.

    You can always change the words you use but that alone will never change the meaning you wish to place behind them.

  3. Oluseyi permalink
    July 3, 2008 11:54 pm

    @ThomasJLKastner:

    Yeah, that’s worked wonderfully for “hackers.”

  4. July 4, 2008 5:59 am

    “You can always change the words you use but that alone will never change the meaning you wish to place behind them.”

    I agree with those words. Until someone comes up with a better term, gamer is going to stick

  5. July 4, 2008 6:54 am

    @Thomas – you raise a couple fair points, and of course, for those who like the term, I propose an immediate resurrection. My reasons for not liking it for me aren’t due to media influence, though. There’s just something about it that feels, I don’t know, not very me.

  6. July 4, 2008 7:19 am

    I’d go with “players.” I mean, with books you have readers, because you read a book. “Player” is even used in professional sports, and it focuses nicely on the activity of being engaged with the medium rather than the lifestyle that surrounds it.

    And I agree, gamer has so much baggage that I actually find myself mildly insulted when someone refers to me as a gamer. It’s inextricably linked with Mountain-Dew-fueled 3am LAN parties, anime marathons, fanboyism, and other such things. Not that those are bad things (although there are some bad associations as well), but they describe a very specific subculture that most gamers, myself included, have nothing at all to do with.

    Again, it comes down to questions of literacy. I still like “player,” but maybe frame it in terms of literacy? Game literate? I have no clue.

  7. July 4, 2008 7:14 pm

    “Gamer” is like “golfer” or “swimmer” or “juggler”. It’s a natural.

    Only if the word is used to denegrate, within a negative context, will it have a negative connotation. In normal neutral or positive discourse, “gamer”, broadly used, is 100% dairy safe.

    Perhaps to avoid any chance of misunderstanding, place a describing word before the word gamer when necessary. Casual gamer; twitch gamer; hardcore gamer; sports gamer; etc.

  8. Chris permalink
    July 5, 2008 11:40 am

    The reason I don’t like the term “gamer” is because it has also been used in different contexts: “gamer” can also refer to professional gamblers, to professional athletes (I seem to remember a SF Giants commercial that uses the term gamer to some extent). Also, some people find the term derogatory. I remember someone posting an editorial somewhere discussing how we shouldn’t call ourselves gamers anymore because of all the negative connotations associated with it.

    Now someone please tell me what the big deal is about being a casual gamer or a hardcore gamer. Can we assume

    Gamer [contains] {hardcore, casual, …} ?

  9. altug permalink
    July 6, 2008 8:21 am

    video game player? 🙂

    I don’t know really. On one hand you have this background with the word. Long before the world knew video games, you had “gamer” or “players”… so why should it be now a problem?

    Also I think gamer doesn’t necessarily mean gambler, because, well, you have the word gampler for that.

    I think it’s important who is going to use the word: In scientific research your goal is to establish an instrumental concept or category, something that helps you to capture the essence of the thing you try to cover or analyze. If that is the concern, then maybe you would speak of “player/gamer profiles” to indicate that there is no “universal” category. The industry, especially the marketing department also have “profiles” or “segments”, because that works fine for them.

    If we are not really concerned with analytical things maybe the word gamer is just good enough.

    But I think Brenda’s concern is a bit more gender based. Maybe you just want to have a word that doesn’t seem only to imply the masculine players. And that is understandable of course. Gameboy sounds so natural… until you hear gamegirl 🙂

  10. July 6, 2008 8:26 am

    Game literate goes in the wrong direction I think. That is a quality that a gamer can possess, but I don’t think it can stand for a broad category of game software users.

  11. July 6, 2008 10:55 am

    @Rich:
    “Only if the word is used to denegrate, within a negative context, will it have a negative connotation. In normal neutral or positive discourse, “gamer”, broadly used, is 100% dairy safe.”

    I think the point here is that gamer has already been used in a negative context for long enough that it has taken on a negative connotation. Which is unfortunate, because it’d be such an obvious word to use otherwise.

    Ludophile?

  12. July 6, 2008 11:33 am

    Hackers=terrorists nowadays, apparently.

    As for the word idea… well, gaming competitions have adopted an interesting word for professional “gamers”: Cyberathletes. You can’t call everyone this, of course–I don’t personally think of myself as a cyberathlete, I think. It’s mostly to be connected to people who play competitive video games as a profession.

    But the addition of the “cyber” prefix is interesting. Maybe something with “ludo” prefixed, as Ian suggested?

  13. July 7, 2008 1:30 am

    ludophile sounds too much a word of a millieu of developers or researchers.

    btw, I have no idea how the word gambler in my previous post became gampler! I hope it didn’t confuse anyone.

    I still say “(video) game players”, as obvious and dull it may sound 🙂

  14. July 7, 2008 9:33 am

    So the problem isn’t the word itself, it’s the connotations the word has developed? Perhaps, then, it’s not the word itself that’s at fault. Maybe as a community, we need to emulate the attempts of feminists to recapture a certain C-word and take “gamer” back for ourselves. It’s the perception, and not the word, that stands to change.

    Some significant folks have started studying positive aspects of gaming in relation to job performance (I to the B to the M, even). And WoW has made even the oft-downtrodden MMORPG gamer into a socially acceptable phenomenon. Maybe things are looking up?

    Or maybe it’s our own fault as a community. If you laughed at South Park’s “Make Love, not Warcraft,” and didn’t consider the perpetuation of stereotypes (or worse, thought to yourself “sad, but true”), then you’ve contributed to gamerism! I joke, but then, as a 30-something who bathes regularly, dresses nicely, and has a reasonable meatspace social life — AND writes games, I’ll admit that I typically try to IDENTIFY with the term “gamer.” I think it’s as good a label as any I can come up with.

  15. July 7, 2008 11:36 am

    Hey, I’m a gampler and proud of it. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it. Gampling, I mean.

    – – – – – – – – – –

    Sure and exactly Ian, and thanks for pointing that out.

    – – – – – – – – –

    Btw, I often have a knee-jerk reaction when someone wants to change a term in order that it be less offensive and free of baggage because that road leads to the creation of euphemisms.

  16. July 7, 2008 4:01 pm

    I always refer to one who is playing the game I am writing about as the “player” in the same context of “Player 1,” “Player 2,” etc. You never see a game say “Gamer 2 Press Start.”

    However, the term player also has some negative connotations. For example, the type of man who took on the term “player” after discovering Halo and realizing that trying to find a date was “like a video game.”

  17. David Lawson permalink
    July 7, 2008 4:57 pm

    I embrace the label Gamer with pride. As upstanding players of games, it’s up to us to be visible exemplars of what is good about the gaming community. Don’t let the antisocial malcontents define us in the public eye. Dispel the myths, educate your neighbor, stand upwind and let them notice the lack of odor, bring skills learned in games to work and don’t be shy about their source. Stand up and be counted.

    Hi, I’m David, and I’m a Gamer.

    Hmmmn… not a bad start to a manifesto…

  18. peacemakeroni permalink
    July 11, 2008 9:23 pm

    Personally I am proud to call myself a gamer, though I generally add to the word and say I am a Female Gamer…which pretty much kills the stereotype right there. The people who play games understand what the term Gamer really means, and I think that is the important thing.

    I play mainly online computer games, and at least on that side I’ve gotten a whole lot less “OMG it’s an actual girl” and a whole lot more people either a. assuming I’m female, b. saying he/she or using non-gender terms, and c. simply asking me before I have to correct them.

    Gamers are also not afraid to utterly destroy the stereotype themselves…next time I get back to Boston I’m meeting up with an online buddy of mine who is going to teach me to ballroom dance, the best FPS player i know works at a hospital, and a guy who is currently going into the Air Force only plays RPG’s and cutesy Korean MMO’s.

    I think the stereotype is already starting to die.

    David- funny about your manifesto start there…freshmen year of college, in speech class, our first speech was an introduction of ourselves to the class. I started it with the following, “Hello, my name is Leana Galiel, and I’m a Gamer.” (no joke i still have the typed copy)

  19. July 21, 2008 3:35 pm

    Gampler is an interesting word. 🙂

    But have none of you used the simple word “user”? Works great for most interactive content and I think it applies to games.

    Sure it doesn’t convey the intended emotion of fun, but neither does “reader”.

  20. Mike L. permalink
    July 24, 2008 10:56 am

    Any negative association to the term “gamer” was initially created by society to begin with. The same goes for the definition behind “gamer”. When society begins to evolve, perceptions will change and such definitions or negative associations will bend as well, for better or worse.

    The term “gamer” will become nothing more than another word used to collectively describe yet another interest group.

    I find that the search for a term to replace “gamer” becomes a matter of preference and plain wordsmithing.

    Truth be told, I wouldn’t want the term “gamer” to go anywhere, anytime soon.

    Mike here, and I’m proud to be a gamer. =D

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