Point and Clique: A Look at Gamer Culture
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?