There was once a time when the title “Gamer” wasn’t treated like a badge of honor. To be a gamer was to be a geek, or a nerd – the type of person who enjoyed summer afternoons before a glowing array of pixels instead of the great outdoors. Gaming was a hobby that was best enjoyed in secret, like your sister’s Nsync album, or a fresh batch of pornography. As such, I find it odd that we often feel the need to defend the title from those who would wish to use it without having “earned” it.
Back in my middle school, the gamers were the ones stuffing their Gameboy Pocket between the pages of a paperback during silent reading, or sneaking behind the school with a Pokemon cartridge and a link cable for an adolescent drug deal. We’d discuss our plans for “football” after class, when in fact we planned to get together and play Goldeneye. We were covert members of a culture that was still thick and condensed -and we liked it that way.
Recently however, the gaming culture emerged as a power-player in mainstream media. The icons of my youth – once sacred, have been marketed and distributed for mass consumption. People across the globe have taken up the title, and I can’t help but feel the culture become a bit more diluted with each additional player. My concern isn’t so much that I’ll have to deal with these people – but rather that the medium will continue to pander to the lowest common denominator, resulting in an endless flow of movie licensed titles and Madden updates.
Perhaps I’m naive – it’s possible that the culture hasn’t changed at all, and I simply perceive it differently now. It’s possible that the beer bonging, fist bumping douchebag on the other end of my 360 headset has been gaming just as long as I have – or longer – and I’m just recently being exposed to him via the miracle of the Internet. It’s also possible that I’m just being an elitist prick – however unlikely.
This all struck me when a group of my coworkers suggested we meet after work for a session of “Rock Band” – only by “Rock Band” they didn’t actually mean Rock Band. What they really meant, was Dungeons and Dragons – they were using Rock Band as a cover, much like we did with football as kids. It was then that I realized that gaming had become so mainstream that it was more socially acceptable for three grown men to play “Tom Sawyer” on mini plastic instruments than it was to play a tabletop role playing game. We were using something nerdy to cover up something equally nerdy – but no one even noticed.
So then, with gaming now a mainstream entertainment medium, what criteria must be met for someone to don the “Gamer” title? Must they know a Hadouken by heart, or will a button mashing victory in Soul Caliber 4 be enough? Do they need a decent high score in Tetris, or will an Ultra Extreme Fever in Peggle do? Does a player earn their MMO cred by playing World of Warcraft, or must they have raided Everquest to be taken seriously? Where do we draw the line?
Tell me, dear readers. What do you think makes a gamer?