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Point and Clique: A Look at Gamer Culture

June 28, 2009
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Gamer culture, as it is today is a sadly underdeveloped concept. Views of said culture especially among ‘non-gamers’, typically see it as a cut and dry on/off switch. Either you are a gamer, or you are not. There are two major problems with that vein of thought.

First, how is one declared ‘gamer’ or ‘non-gamer’? There exists no standard, no scale of gamerness on which to base such classifications, and as such it becomes heavily biased and arbitrary. To some playing Tetris is ample qualification to be a gamer; to others if you have not played games since the NES era then you have no business calling yourself a gamer. Obviously these are extreme examples, but it shows how widely the perception can vary. Outside of establishing an actual standard of measurement for gamerness, which would be clunky, forced, and no less arbitrarily determined than the current system, the easiest solution is leaving ‘gamer’ as a purely self-identifying label. If someone wishes to be identified as a gamer, then let them claim that. What right does anyone have to deny an aspect of someone else’s identity?

The second major issue, as well as the chief focus of this piece, is the perception of ‘gamers’ as a unified whole. This is far from the truth, as gaming culture is very much segmented, and in many ways similar to the average high school, although there are some key differences. Within the broad generalization of ‘gamers’ exist a vast number of cliques and factions.

A trend I have noticed, to some degree, is that those who consider themselves gamers have a tendency to form into genre based cliques. Granted these are not as well defined, nor as exclusive as cliques in a high school setting, but many common elements exist. A prime example of this is the gaming equivalent of ‘The Jocks’, gamers of a highly competitive nature, who trend towards shooters, sports titles, and fighting games. While there are certainly exceptions a large number of ‘jocks’ do not play games falling into other categories. There are many gaming cliques, such as ‘musicians’, those who tend to play games like Guitar Hero and Sing Star obsessively, the gaming equivalent of the student sitting on a bench playing an acoustic guitar, or a popular high school band with minimal talent. Another clique is the ‘artsy’ gamer, who tend to play primarily indie games. A new clique has begun to flourish recently, the so-called casual gamer. These gamers are the equivalent of cheerleaders, surprisingly popular, given their general lack of substance. As with their high school counterparts, there are frequently some ‘jock’/’cheerleader’ relationships, in the sense that some ‘jocks’ enjoy casual games, and some casual gamers enjoy sporting titles. While there are many other cliques, the last major one to be mentioned is the ‘nerds’. This clique represents the ‘hardcore gamers’, those who play older games, often with a focus on RPGs and adventure games.

As with the high school model, there tend to be many issues between the various cliques. Stereotypes, as they are prone to do, have sprung up, and even led to enmity. Casual gamers are perceived as vapid airheads, with no real respect for gaming history. ‘Jocks’ are frequently seen to be noisy and obnoxious, as well as being looked down upon for buying new iterations of their sports titles every year. ‘Artsy gamers’ tend to be seen as snobs of the gaming world, looking down at the ‘uninspired’ games, and elevating games to a high level even if artistic merit is the only pro the game has. A prime example of this is the game “The Path”, which, in addition to having a premise that many found abhorrent, is reported to have shoddy game play. Despite this many ‘artsy gamers’ herald the game as a brilliant artistic work.

Another major similarity in gamer culture is the equivalent of school rivalry. As many high schools have obsessive fans who attend sporting events to boisterously support their team, and denounce the others, so too does gaming have its console fanboys, and while they may not paint their chests, they are no less obnoxious. Such fans will loudly make claims as to the superiority of their team/console, even when such claims have no relevance on the topics at hand.

One fairly ironic issue with my gaming culture as a high school model is that, while the classifications make sense in terms of genre, with ‘jocks’ playing sports games and so on, the actual interactions tell a different story. As was stated previously, when the cliques are defined based on genre, the ‘hardcore gamers’ fill the role of the nerd. However, when one looks at the overall actions and attitudes of the ‘nerds’ their behavior is far more closely analogous to that of real life jocks. ‘Hardcore gamers’ have a tendency to view most of the other cliques with disdain, and as lesser gamers, often excluding them, if not blatantly ridiculing them. As with real jocks, these gamers tend to have the heaviest concentration of obsessive fandom. Very few of the other cliques will engage in a debate, much less a flame war over the alleged superiority of one console over another. Additionally, while typically musicians are seen as ‘cool’ within the confines of a high school, in actuality music gamers are treated more akin to ‘band geeks’.

Another major difference between gamer culture and the high school model is the level of segregation in the different cliques. In gamer culture, one is much more free to participate in multiple cliques, unlike in high school, where one is typically stuck with the label they are given. I myself play a variety of games, and while I enjoy RPGs the most, I am also fond of Rock Band, and Wii Sports. So the model is obviously imperfect, but it is certainly more accurate than the idea of a single unified gamer culture. One can certainly hope that given time and effort, the different cliques of gaming can learn to better understand, and better tolerate each other, because games are above all else supposed to entertain and be a fun experience. Whether we are ‘jocks’, ‘nerds’, ‘band geeks’ or ‘cheerleaders’ what right do we have to deny someone else’s fun?

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. Celes Leonhart permalink
    June 28, 2009 8:38 pm

    I’m loving these cultural/society-based analysis pieces you and Brandon are doing; it’s definitely something new that I don’t see anywhere else. Excellent writing again Big Man, damn good vocabulary and variety all around. It makes a noticeable stand for the casual audience that has been heavily attacked of late, and all of the school clique counterparts are interesting metaphors that work out for each of the segments of gamers (as you justify), a relationship I’ve not otherwise noticed. (The most I’ve made note of is what I call ‘Fifa noobs’, seeing as there’s now a large population of gamers (British at least) who have since moved on the likes Call of Duty 4 but otherwise have never appreciated a game that didn’t have a date at the end of it.)

    But yeah, that was brilliant writing. I only think it might be a topic too ‘deep’ for any typical passer-by. Still, with that in mind, 21 rates on GG — not bad at all.

    I hope this produce is consistent because you guys are firing out writing at the moment. That new writer still on board? Hope you guys continue to thrive etc, good work.

  2. Masonvrocks permalink
    June 29, 2009 2:37 am

    I like the comparisons, good metaphors, really liking the ideas around here.

    I completely agree with the whole casual gaming/cheerleader type thing. Before it was like “Oh you play video games! Bah! Loser!” Now it’s like “Oh you’ve got Rock Band? Sweet! I’ll come over later!” The whole kinda “Me too” attitude is what pisses me off about casual games. It’s also why I hope/ think it will be a fad, just because of how quick it came in.

    • namekj permalink
      June 29, 2009 8:35 pm

      I’m an rpgfpsplatformactionfighter with a little music put in! so i realy have no idea what i classify myself as.

      but about the casual gamer/me too fad that Mason spoke of, I feel the total oppisite. before When i gather with friend who werent into certain games it was all like hey check this out and watch me play… to me it kinda sucked just showing them what i wanted them to experince, now that casual gaming is kinda catching on, its realy great just to get with some people i know from work and just jam out to world tour. I don’t realy need to worry about my skill when I play other people cause basicly were here to just have some fun. when before I wouldnt even try playing against a total stranger cause I knew what I would have to deal with if I lost. basicly in short thanks to this fad I find it alot easier to find and actuly enjoy games with another person. I personaly hope this fad never dies.

      • June 29, 2009 9:53 pm

        Oh, don’t get me wrong I totally agree with you. All of the points I have made are based primarily on general perception. I personally have no problem with causal gaming as long as plenty of great non-casual games continue to come out.

      • Masonvrocks permalink
        June 30, 2009 5:11 am

        I suppose, but now I have people over, “Oh you’ve got a Wii! But the only multiplayer games you have are Wii sports and Smash Bros….wheres the rest!” I dunno, I can see how it’s good for the industry, but with MS and, perhaps Sony trying to jump in on the action, I just hope that they keep supporting the hardcore, unlike Nintendo (Although the did make a really good effort aat E3 this year)

      • namekj permalink
        July 1, 2009 3:15 am

        Personaly especialy for Xbox I don’t have fear of them not supporting hardcore (hell they spawned the achievment whores lol) I see the xbox as the hardcore console, Wii sadly even thou some hardcoregames are coming out for it It’s kinda too late to place faith but hell hasnt nintendo always been known as the kiddie console anyways? The PS3 I kinda see as the inbetween.

  3. Jared permalink
    June 30, 2009 6:47 pm

    Interesting article. Good ideas here. I believe that these lines will continue to blur. For instance, I consider myself an avid gamer, but I play RPG, FPS, Sports, Guitar Hero, Classics, etc. and I think you will see more and more people who play a wide variety of games because that is the goal of these companies. They want to produce games with the widest possible appeal as to increase sales. That is why the Wii has been so successful. Senior citizens love it, my mom loves it, I enjoy it. It reaches everyone no matter how you view yourself in the gaming heirarchy. Good work, Jon Q.

    • Celes Leonhart permalink
      June 30, 2009 7:40 pm

      Yeah, they will definitely blur. While I don’t use my Wii other than for collecting dust, I can pretty much say I play every genre of game out there with my biggest exception to RTS (only ’cause I suck at it), otherwise even my casual side is filled with the likes of Peggle.

  4. Jared permalink
    July 1, 2009 4:04 am

    Namekj, I disagree. I would consider myself a ‘hardcore gamer’, whatever that means, and I love the Wii. I think it is innovative and exactly what our industry needs. Why should any company focus on the fan base? They are the people who are already hooked. What this industry needs is to bring in an entirely new crowd to stay successful, and Nintendo has done that. Now maybe you would call them ‘casual’ because they don’t live in their moms basement eating pizza rolls and collecting FF7 action figures like me ;-P, but they are just as important as anyone else. This sort of forward thinking is why Nintendo is winning the console war and will be, in my opinion, the company of our future.

    • namekj permalink
      July 1, 2009 6:04 am

      I do not doubt that nintendo will be around for a long long time, However I was basicly saying that it probily won’t be ever considered to be known as a hardcoresystem. I mean I am glad that they are trying this year alot more to say hey we havent forgotten about you guys, instead of the hey you go play Mkart and shut up im talking on animal crossing. Don’t get me wrong I love the big N and always have. They are making a smart business move that the other two should follow but to me have some faith that I might conisder it a hardcore system is a long ways away.

    • July 1, 2009 1:20 pm

      I shall attempt to answer in as non fanboy of a way as possible. My first system was an N64 and I loved it. Bought a Gamecube at launch, and loved it. Bought a Wii at launch, played Zelda, played SMG, and then nothing. I went so long without using it the batteries corroded and ruined my wiimote. There is nothing wrong with forward thinking and expandind to a new market, but in many ways Ninty has not expanded market so much as shifted it to the detriment of its long time fans. Are there good games on the Wii? yes, I could name probably 10 games off the top of my head I would like to play. But Nintys focus has shifted too far into the casual market, at least in my opinion. I realize good games take time to develop, but they have HORRIBLE scheduling for games. They need to stagger the release of ‘hardcore’ games because as it is now we had several around launch, then two years of mostly casual stuff, then now we are getting another big push of ‘hardcore’ games. This timing is why so many ‘hardcore gamers’ are upset. Its a poor business plan, despite the overall success of the Wii.

  5. July 6, 2009 3:55 pm

    Cool!

  6. LnddMiles permalink
    July 24, 2009 8:06 am

    The best information i have found exactly here. Keep going Thank you

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