When Is A Gamer Not A Gamer?

Published on GGL.com on 6/26/06.

Recently, my colleague Mahmood Ali wrote a piece defending a very inclusive definition of the word “gamer.” In that article, he referred to a “friend” who argued the point with him, stating that “I think you’re stretching the definition of ‘gamer’ until it doesn’t mean anything anymore.”

That friend was me.

Years ago, in the before time, in the long-long-ago, I was webmaster of a site called gamerjargon.com, which is now utterly and completely defunct. As the URL suggests, it was dictionary of gamer terms, the slang and jargon used by role-playing, wargames, and video gamers.

This was the definition of “gamer” given on gamerjargon.com:

gamer, gaming, n. Also gaming (v.), to game (v.).
1. one who plays games.
2. specifically, one who plays games of specific “hobbyist” genres, namely role-playing games, wargames, strategic simulations, and strategy & collectible card games; also computer-based variants of these games.
3. to game, (v.): the act of playing a game. Ex: Sorry, I can’t go on a date — I’m gonna be gaming all weekend.
4. gaming (n.): hobbyist games as a field of interest, or as an industry. Ex: I used to go on dates, until I got into gaming.

It seems the disagreement between Mahmood and me rests on the difference between definitions one and two. Definition one is the simplest, most obvious meaning, and probably what most people would think if encountering the word “gamer” for the first time.

However, the second definition is the real meaning of “gamer.” And, as I will argue, if “gamer” means anything more inclusive than definition two, it doesn’t mean anything at all.

For the purposes of a simple experiment, I will assume that the person reading this article is a “definition two” gamer. In fact, because you’re reading this on GGL.com, I can safely assume that you are primarily a videogamer, and interested in professional gaming. Chances are very good that you are also interested in some of the other types of tabletop gaming mentioned. And I’ll go out on a limb, and say you’re into anime, Asian cinema, extreme sports, science fiction and/or fantasy, fantasy sports, Internet culture and porn. You may not be interested in any of those things, but there is a good chance you are.

I am also going to assume that you have friends who are gamers. Now, think about your gamer friends. Do you have any gamer friends who play nothing but casual games like Zuma or Bejewelled? Do they know nothing about any of the subcultures I just mentioned, but they spend a lot of time playing The Sims? Are you thinking of a sports nut who would never go near a Halo game, but is addicted to Madden?

Of course, you’re not. Because those aren’t gamers. Those are people who occasionally play a computer game, or have become dedicated to one particular game but don’t care about gaming in general.

If the mom who plays Microsoft Solitaire during her lunch break at the office is a “gamer,” then who exactly is NOT a gamer? Pretty much the Sentinelese and that’s about it. Even the Amish have computers nowadays.

If everyone who ever plays a computer game is a “gamer,” then the word becomes completely useless. As GGL community member H-Force pointed out in the discussion forum for Mahmood’s piece, we don’t call someone who goes to the gym twice a month a “bodybuilder.” That’s not only because a bodybuilder goes to the gym more often; it’s because a bodybuilder is part of a culture.

Gaming is a culture. We have our own jargon, our own language, our own conventions and events, our own clothes. Do we have to coin a term like “hobbyist gamer” or “serious gamer” to differentiate us from the casual gamers? No. Because “gamer” is our word. We own it.

Sorry, I mean we PWN it.