This piece is a counterpoint to James Conway’s original article by the same name which can be found here. I highly advise anyone who has not already read it to go ahead and do so as this article will not make sense if you have not read his beforehand.
So then, what is a gamer? By definition, it is someone that plays games, but in the parlance of modern society it refers to someone who plays videogames specifically. As everyone who has been through secondary education (high school in the US) knows, people like to identify themselves with various labels. It is an innate thing that all humans do; we like to label and categorize. So what does being a gamer mean? The only thing that the label tells you about the person is that they enjoy videogames of some form or another, it does not tell you anything else about the person’s identity such as their political/religious views, what they like to eat, what their other hobbies (if any) are, etc. So then based on the definition laid out above all people who play videogames in whatever capacity must be gamer correct?
The answer is both yes and no, social labels are complex fluid things and are not all encompassing even when someone seems to belong to the group. To explain further, one of the most basic mistakes that are made in determining who fits in what social stratum or group is to say that someone is part of a culture when they are only tangentially immersed in it. For example, let’s say that there is a person who likes to play Angry Birds on their cell phone and that is the only game that they play; they know nothing about wider gamer culture or play any other games. Now is this hypothetical person a gamer? Under the literal definition of a gamer being someone who plays videogames then yes, but under the definition of the wider culture of the west and those that belong to the gamer social stratum, the answer would have to be no. Namely, that this person who plays Angry Birds and nothing else is not a gamer, this person is just someone who enjoys Angry Birds.
An analogy is helpful here, say someone likes to play touch football on Sundays with their church group after services. This person does this every week, but this person would not then start calling himself a jock. Now why would he not call himself a jock even though he takes part in a similar activity to the jocks? Because under the concept of identity he is not part of the same social stratum as jocks, he may perform a similar activity to jocks, but that similarity is only on the surface. Because if this person examines himself beyond the surface level he would more than likely find that he is not a jock, because being a jock is much more than just playing a sport, there is an entire attitude and deeper culture within that this person may not belong to even though he himself plays a sport.
While it is a relatively recent trend within gaming culture, it is important to note that there are now three different groups of gamers which can be broken up into hardcore, casual, and social (it is important to note that these terms are only used by gamers themselves). These terms do have meanings that are deeply entrenched within gaming culture, but their meaning is changing to reflect that being a gamer no longer just means that you are someone who plays, it has become its own culture in unto itself. So, if being a gamer means something more now than just someone who plays games, what do these terms mean within this context?
The first of the three groups, hardcore gamers, are the least changed in terms of definition of the three groups. It means that the person in question is fully immersed in the gaming culture and is a full member of the stratum. It is also worth mentioning that if someone who is not a gamer in any sense calls someone else a gamer, it is to this group that they are referring. The second of the three groups, casual gamers are a group within gaming that has seen the most change of the three in terms of its definition over the past few years. “Casual” used to be a derogatory word used by mainline gamers to make fun of those that played games on the Wii, but in the here and now the word encompasses three groups of gamers. Those who primarily play more lighthearted games such as Angry Birds on systems such as iOS devices and the Wii, those who only play games every so often but might be still be classified as hardcore if they spent more time on the hobby, and groups who play games together but it is not the main focus of their group (a group of jocks getting together for an occasional match of CoD would fit this billing). The third and newest of the three groups is the social gamer, this is the person that either plays nothing but Facebook games or one iOS game, but calls themselves a gamer (if the person from the Angry Birds example at the beginning of this article refers to himself as a gamer, this is the category that person would be in).
There are some people who will say that if you only play certain types of games or if you don’t play these, then you are not a gamer. This issue was discussed at length by James in his article and I implore you to read it as I agree with him completely. These kind of people are pricks and there is no helping them. But as we can see from the above, what makes someone a gamer is actually fairly complex indeed. It is a new and emerging social stratum, but it is one that is here to stay.