[This post is written by Rachel Kowert (University of Münster). Rachel has published articles about cultural stereotypes of online gamers and relationship between social (in)competence and online video game involvement. She can be reached via Twitter.]
Recent events have called into question just exactly what it means to be a "gamer" today. What was once a title associated with being a member of a fun loving community now seems to have become intertwined with the promotion of misogynistic and discriminatory behavior.
This perceived shift in gamer culture has been spurred by a series of recent events: the influx of threats directed towards Anita Sarkeesian following her Tropes vs. Women YouTube Series, the unscripted interaction presented at Microsoft's E3 event that seemed to condone "rape culture", and the transphobic comments by one of the hosts of the Video Game Awards, just to name a few. These incidents have called into question what it really means to be a gamer today and has led some members of the gaming community to consider the resignation of their "gamer" title.
A recent article by Dennis Scimeca, entitled "Why I can't call myself a gamer anymore", highlights this shift. Scimeca discusses his personal need to distance himself from identifying as a gamer. He states, "...after three years of being ensconced in video game culture long enough to be disgusted by it on a regular basis, I'm ready to give up my identity as a gamer...", and Scimeca is not alone. A recent Statesman article by Simon Parkin, entitled "If you love games, you should refuse to be called a gamer", expresses similar sentiments. Parkin argues that the term "gamer" is a legacy of the medium's niche past and solely functions to reinforce negative stereotypes of the gaming community. He states, "Gamers are depicted as the contemporary nerd group...shunned by the jocks and achievers. Gamers are the losers who spend their days in darkened bedrooms furiously tapping on controllers or keyboards in a solitary pursuit...". As the video game industry is now a multi-billion dollar market and because video games are now being played by a wide spectrum of individuals that spans across age, gender, and ethnic lines, Parkin believes this term no longer serves its original function. Exacerbated by the recent influx of discriminatory behavior perpetrated by the gaming community, Parkin calls for an abandonment of this title.
However, abandoning the term "gamer" is not a straightforward process because the label represents much more than a simple title one adopts to easily identify oneself as a person who enjoys playing video games. While the term is often used as a shorthand to organize the world into people who play video games and people who do not, self-identifying as a gamer also signifies a shared identity with other members of the broader gaming community and culture and denotes an alignment with the group's idiosyncrasies, traditions, and social practices. As noted by Scimeca and Parkin, individuals who read books are not called "bookers" nor are avid movie goers called "moviers". This phenomenon occurs because the term "gamer" has not only come to refer to the enjoyment of a particular leisure activity but also to part of one's self-conception. Being a "gamer" is more than just a label given from the outside; it is a part of one's self-conception and an expression of one's affiliation with a group of society.
This fact likely plays a significant role in Scimeca's explicit disappointment in today's meaning of term "gamer" and his self-imposed detachment therefrom. He states, "[it is] a shame that the preponderance of problems in the gaming community has left such a bad taste in my mouth". When Scimeca makes the conscious resolution to reject his "gamer" title, he is not only removing himself from the gaming community and all that is associated with it, but he is also leaving a part of himself behind.
However, Scimeca's decision to detach himself from the gaming community raises another question: at a time when gamers are perceived as being overweight, reclusive, and socially inept, who would actually want to identify as one?