These days, most people play video games– from Pokemon Go to Call of Duty to Overwatch– games and their players are more diverse than ever. Despite the increasing diversity of games and gamers, our image of gamers has remained static.
I am a gamer. It’s an identity and a loaded one at that. I identify as a gamer because I game. It’s how I spend a lot of my free time, and it’s been that way for many years. Games relax me. They pick me up. I meet new people in games. Games give me experiences outside of myself and my reality. They are an escape as much as reading. They are an art form, though so often misunderstood. Amazing stories play out in video games, and you. the gamer, are the star. Gaming is so many things to me, and I have never shied away from calling myself a gamer.
However, when I call myself a gamer, I am met with either disbelief or a challenge. The challenge usually comes from male gamers while the disbelief tends to come from people who think that my femaleness, level of education, and the way I present myself is incongruous to their image of a gamer. The problem is not that I am an unconventional gamer but that our image of gamers is outmoded and based on hurtful stereotypes.
Nearly half of all adults in the United States report playing video games, but only 10% of people who play games identify themselves as gamers. While men and women play video games in equal numbers, men are twice as likely to call themselves gamers. Why do we hold such a limited view of who can be a gamer?
While gamers have evolved, our concept of gamers has not.
Think about the stereotypes surrounding gamers. Here are just a few examples of how gamers are depicted in media:
These sources send a clear message of how gamers are perceived in our culture.
Of course, there’s also the “gamer girl” stereotype:
As you can see, the gamer girl is seen, primarily, as the perfect girlfriend to the gamer. When I tell people that I game, I inevitably get the question, “Does your boyfriend love it that you game?” They are usually surprised when I tell them that my bf really only games when I do, and there are few games in which he can hold his own against me.
Gaming, like being a geek, was originally an alternative masculine identity intended for men. Men who didn’t identify as jocks or who didn’t meet the traditional masculine values strove to find other masculine identities for themselves. Geekiness became a way for beta men to establish themselves in a new set of “manly” interests such as gaming and sci-fi. These identities became a safe space for the beta male. It was a different way of defining their masculinity. So, when women began to establish themselves in these spaces, they threatened the maleness of these identities. That women’s inclusion in geek spaces and interests so threatened this idea of masculinity is no doubt why so many female gamers face so much vitriol when they dare to talk about gaming. It’s this history that leads many people to see gamers as strictly male.
This is why it surprises people when I call myself a gamer. I am active. I am a high-achiever. I am clean. I am healthy. I am a woman. These things clash with how people think of gamers. Yet, most of the gamers I know don’t fit either the gamer or the gamer girl stereotypes. In my in-game guild, there are mothers, fathers, grandparents, teachers, lawyers, writers, military personnel, waiters, programmers…We are as diverse as any other hobby group. We are united by our love of video games.
It’s popular these days to say that the gamer identity is dead. In a world where most people game, maybe we don’t need a separate identity, especially one so wrapped in stereotypes. And yet, I still feel the need to identify as a gamer. It’s part of who I am. It’s not my identity that needs to change; it’s the stereotype behind it. There’s nothing anti-feminist about calling myself a gamer. There’s nothing radical about it either.
It’s time that we change our idea of gamers. A gamer is someone who games. Like a hiker is someone who hikes, and a writer writes.
I am a gamer– not a gamer girl. It’s not a surprise that I game. It’s not against the type. I am not a special unicorn. I’m not a geekboy’s fantasy. I’m not a basement dweller.
I am a woman with a passion for games.
I am a gamer.