A couple months ago, I was with some of my English buddies and I used the word “ninja.” I did not use it as a noun, I used it as a verb–meaning “to steal,” saying something along the lines of “I totally ninja-ed that cupcake.” I gasped and covered my mouth.
My gamer girl was out.
I apologized, saying that my gamer lingo came out, and a friend asked, “Who do you know that games?” I looked around a bit sheepishly, pointed to myself and said, “Me?” At that point, it was her turn to gasp, and cry out, “Kelly! Don’t tell me that! Gamers are people who don’t know how to socialize! You’re so much better than that!”
Although, intellectually, I know and understand that there are people who still view gamers as anti-social dorks, I have difficulty understanding how that phenomena (which is what it really is) exists. WoW alone has over 10 million subscriptions. That’s not including the millions of people who have bought the game but unsubscribed. That also doesn’t include the other various MMOs out, which net a few hundred thousand subscribers each, or the myriad of console games out there. How could anyone actually believe that gamers are so anti-social?
Most people believe that the term “gamer” doesn’t mean “one who games or plays games,” but rather view it as a tool for identification, with binaries as simple as “male/female,” “black/white,” or in this case, “gamer/normal.” To identify yourself as a gamer typically invokes the image of the hard-core gamer, those who have headsets on while playing CoD4 in a dark room, talking to imaginary avatars on their screen. Yet so many forget that gaming includes things like those iPhone games you may play while waiting at the doctor’s office, or joining your friend in a rousing match of Guitar Hero. If you enjoy playing Text Twist on a web browser, you, too, may be a gamer.
In 1993, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) made an addendum to the term “gamer,” adding that it means “a participant in a war-game or role-playing game.” Given this definition, one can see how the stigma may have formed. In ’93, Role-playing included LARPing, D&D, Warhammer, and the like. If you know what those things are, you can probably guess how the whole anti-social tag became associated with gamers. We didn’t have the hugely popular casual gaming sect like we do now.
But that doesn’t mean that things should stay the same. After all, I’m not a linguistic pundit who vies for the purification of English; I believe language is almost a living thing–changing with the times. As such, the “gamer” tag needs to change. The stereotype of the basement-dweller has changed, and while there is certainly a sub-culture of gaming, it is not isolated. Conventions such as PAX, BlizzCon, E3–even Comic Con–all draw in thousands of people. San Diego Comic Con, while not being exclusive to the gaming culture, even drew in a bevy of celebrities. And given this change, I truly think the term CAN become acceptable.
I didn’t mean for this post to be didactic, but sometimes I feel like it needs to be. I’m sure several of you know what my experience feels like–it was as if terming myself a gamer made me into a different person. Now, my friend and I have hung out several times since then and there are no issues between us. But for one evening, I was the anti-social basement dweller to her, as opposed to the successful, extroverted person I am–simply because I acknowledged my gamer-speak had come out. This prejudicial stereotype exists, but hopefully, much like other prejudices, this one will end over time.