There was a time when those who played video games could more or less be safely labeled and stereotyped. These were, by and large, the so-called “nerds” and “geeks” who helped usher in the dawning of the Computer Age. One could conjure up an image, probably a fairly accurate image, of the kinds of games these folks were playing and possibly even the sort of work and lifestyle they led. Theirs was a definable sub-culture unto itself.
But now, decades later, the label of “Gamer” just doesn’t mean much anymore. Even concepts like “nerd” and “geek” have become increasingly blurry, especially as they relate to video games. In the present day the majority of the developed world plays video games of one kind or another, regardless of individualistic categories such as gender, nationality, profession, degree of affluence and so on. The reason? There are so many types of games (genres, cross-genres) and so many mediums (computers, consoles, browsers, smart phones, handhelds) that there’s likely to be at least one video game (or type of video game) out there that even the most ardent, self-proclaimed ‘non-gamer’ can appreciate – even enjoy. The new reality is based more on whether a person has discovered that game, or genre, and whether they have the time and means to engage it.
So what then does it mean to be a Gamer? Is this a label best reserved for young people? Perhaps. Ardent players who spend little time doing other things? Maybe. Or, maybe the word itself has lost its meaning. It was once possible to meet someone, discover that they play video games, and immediately feel a certain sense of camaraderie. No longer is this the case, for it is the next part of the conversation that matters, the part where you talk about what kinds of games you and the other person play.
Does he or she play Strategy Games (Real Time or Turn Based?), First Person Shooters, RPGs…what about Adventure Games, Puzzle Games, Casual Browser games…Do they play fast-paced Action Platformers, or maybe they prefer a Simulation or ‘Sandbox’ game that lets them create and be creative. Someone with enough experience probably enjoys multiple genres. It could be that one person is only familiar with a few genres while the other has been playing games their entire life. He or she probably has – not just favorite genres – but a slew of favorite and beloved games stretching well into their past.
Then there are those who have become firmly dedicated, not to a particular genre or style, but to a single game. In this case they most likely are part of a game community that plays, talks about and enjoys one, and only one particular game (or game franchise). An MMO would be just one example. Consider the rather enormous community of World of Warcraft gamers. Even if you play another MMO (same genre) the two of you may actually have little in common since your game might take place in a futuristic science fiction world, whereas the World of Warcraft player is only concerned with the goings on of Azeroth.
We find ourselves then in a new paradigm. There’s little meaning in pointing to someone to say, that person is a “gamer,” or even to self-identify as a one. It would be like trying to classify people as “internet users,” as if to suggest it had some significant social meaning. Not really. Now it’s about discovering what sorts of games other people grew up playing, enjoying the bond of shared memories (when they arise), and finding out where each of us has settled on the vast video game landscape of today.
See also: My personal list of Most Memorable Video Games