I Don’t Care What They Say, I’m Proud to Call Myself a Gamer

Do you call yourself a gamer and identify yourself as one? You do? That’s great! Did you know that you’re a horrible person, one worthy of derision and ridicule? A vile, contemptible troll who should be hidden from the light… that’s you and all of your gamer friends. Sorry to break it to you but that’s what you are. Well, according to some video game journalists that is.

Colorful adjectives aside, it is true that some journalists out there are calling for an end to the term “gamer.” Why are writers like Leigh Alexander, Dan Golding and Luke Plunkett saying this? It’s because of what’s been happening in the industry over the last couple of weeks. I won’t go into specifics here but in a nutshell: gamers have voiced their concern (some very loudly) over industry corruption and the subsequent attempts to censor those who are speaking out against it. This has turned into a gaming civil war of sorts: a battle between gamers and journalists. This conflict has taken a new turn recently as some journalists have publicly denounced the term “gamer” and those who associate themselves as such.

The notion that the games media is trying to bury the term “gamer” and vilify those who call themselves by that title really bothers me since I have identified myself by that term for most of my life. Technically, I’m a geek/nerd and gaming is just a part of what I enjoy doing, but gamer suits me nicely. Yeah, the term is somewhat (if not outright) nebulous but I am a gamer through and through.

As someone who writes about games (a games journalist if you will), seeing peers who I look up to slandering and demeaning those that are supposed to be their target audience is really disheartening. Since I’m in a position to voice my opinion, I’ll do so in this piece and let the world know why I am, and always will be, proud to call myself a gamer and why anyone who plays and enjoys video games should also be proud to call themselves one as well.

This editorial will get a bit personal but seeing as how this medium has done and means so much to me, it can’t be helped.

Tomb Raider on the original PlayStation.
Tomb Raider on the original PlayStation.

I was born in the Dominican Republic so I didn’t even know what a video game was until my family moved to New York in 1987. Seeing characters on screen doing things that I was in control of wasn’t the big revelatory experience that you might imagine. Playing games for the first time just felt right, as if I’ve been doing it my entire life. It just clicked for me. I wouldn’t self identify myself as a gamer until I was in my mid-teens but I became one the instant I held a Nintendo Entertainment System controller in my seven year old hands.

Though I played games for many years, I didn’t see them as more than a fun thing to do. I saved the Earth countless times, rescued Princesses, collected coins and rings and became the fighting champion of the world. Games were simply fun. Nothing more, nothing less.

My perception of what games could be started to change when I first played Tomb Raider on my Sega Saturn. It offered up a gigantic world for me to explore. As a kid, I liked to explore different areas around my home and neighborhood so being able to do that in a game was somewhat of a transcendent moment. It was still mostly silly fun, but I started to see something in gaming that other media couldn’t quite provide; a sense of immersion that was unrivaled.

Shenmue for the Sega Dreamcast was the game that really showed me where games could go. This title had a large world to explore and, most importantly, a rich and deep story that let me get into the head of its main character. Yes, other games let me play the role of their characters too, but Shenmue did so in a way that I had never experienced before. This is when I finally saw the potential for gaming; a glimpse of where this medium could go.

Though we saw more examples of how games were maturing during the PlayStation 2 era, it’s the last and current generations of gaming that have finally fully shown us what I first saw traces of in Shenmue all those years ago. Games have become even more immersive and characters have become more relatable and human (even if they’re NOT human). Creatively speaking, the medium has opened up considerably with a slew of independent games like The Last Tinker: City of Light, Papers, Please and Lone Survivor that aren’t afraid to tackle subjects or present unique gameplay mechanics that others won’t.

More and more people are seeing the power that video games can have and because of this, the industry is overtaking Hollywood in terms of popularity and financial earnings. People from all walks of life have been getting into this hobby of mine and I think that’s fantastic. The more the merrier I say.

The evolution that gaming has taken over the last forty years–from underground diversion to worldwide phenomenon, from black and white pixels to fully realized characters and stories that make us cry–is, quite frankly, astonishing. This is a medium that I am happy to indulge in because of how important it is to society.

Gaming has given me experiences that no other form of art can even come close to replicating. Despite all of that however, there is an even more important reason why I’m proud to call myself a gamer.

Ryo Hazuki from Shenmue.
Ryo Hazuki from Shenmue.

Before I began to write about games in late 2010, I had absolutely no direction in life. For all intents and purposes, I was a loser. I had absolutely no ambitions nor motivation to do anything meaningful with myself. I had my games, comic books, music and TV to help pass the time. I had friends of course, I’m not THAT anti-social, but I really didn’t have any clear idea of what I wanted to do with myself. I didn’t see the point of thinking about that stuff. Life seemed pretty pointless and I kept on living for no discernible reason other than being alive was somewhat more interesting than being dead.

Becoming an independent games writer changed my entire life and is the best thing that’s happened to it. I’ve been to places I’ve never thought I’d visit and met some of the coolest people I’ve ever known, some of whom are now very dear to me and who I can’t imagine living life without. I got to live out a lifelong wish twice over by going to Los Angeles for E3. I’ve been to Boston for Pax East and I’ve gone to countless other gaming events where I got to play titles before they were released, talked to game developers and hung out with my fellow journalists.

If you would have told me four years ago that I’d be doing all of this now, I’d have called you insane. It’s not hyperbole when I say that gaming and being a games writer has saved my life and made it richer and more fulfilling. A life I never would have had if I didn’t pick up that NES controller 27 years ago.

There has always been talk (more so nowadays) about how gamers aren’t inclusive and don’t tolerate others who are different than them. Perhaps this is true for some but from my personal experience, it’s the complete opposite.

Like I said before, gamers include all kinds of different people. The gamers I know fall into every imaginable race, social class, religious ideology and sexual orientation that you can imagine. So many different kinds of people who don’t care about what makes us different because we’re united by our love of games and the culture. I myself am handicapped and use a wheelchair to get around but none of my fellow gamers care about that. It’s irrelevant to them since I’m a gamer just like them. This is easily one of the most inclusive groups I’ve ever been a part of.

For the way that gaming has rerouted my life and given me something I never had, a sense of worth and purpose, I will forever gladly call myself a gamer.

From left to right: Jeffrey Wilson, Gabe Zamora, Johnathan Gibbs, myself, Tim Torres, Dianna Lora, Isaac Rouse.
The “Fragging Gamer Stereotypes” Pax East 2014 panelists. From left to right: Jeffrey Wilson, Gabriel Zamora, Johnathan Gibbs, myself, Tim Torres, Dianna Lora, Isaac Rouse.

Now that I’ve told you why gaming means so much to me, how it’s made me view entertainment in a new way, how it reaches all sorts of people, how it literally changed my life for the better and helped to save it, you can probably understand why I’m mad over what’s happened recently.

The very people who are supposed to be representatives of this community to the larger world have turned around and have decided that gamers are what’s wrong with gaming. That the term “gamer” should be abolished. Though they aren’t flat out directing this attack on me, Tony Polanco, they may as well be. The thought that some in gaming media are demonizing gamers is disgusting and insulting. I take this all very personally.

Though I’m not paid to do this, I am technically a gaming journalist. I report the latest news, write previews/reviews, interview people in the industry and do all of the things that a proper journalist does. I am one of them but I don’t identify as one. I’m a guy who likes to write about games and to converse with like minded people about the games I love (and hate). In this current war, I will take the side of the gamer because I’m one of them.

I don’t know when those who do this professionally forgot where they came from; when they thought they were above their followers and when they saw it as their duty to tell gamers how to think and behave. I can’t speak for them, but I do know that their behavior isn’t one that will engender them to the audiences which ultimately help pay their bills. It’s behavior which I won’t be a part of and will actively condemn. Yes, I’ve spoken out against some of the outright stupidity that I’ve seen in the community, but I have never thought of myself as above it or better than it. It can piss me off sometimes but I belong to the gaming community.

This battle was inevitable given how gaming journalism has slowly turned from covering the latest in gaming to shaming the culture it’s supposed to celebrate. The contempt that some professional gaming journalists have for their audiences was always there beneath the words they wrote but now it has come to the surface.

It’s clear that they don’t like us and now they want to take our very identity from us; to bury it where no one will see it. In many ways, gaming journalists have become the very same people who told us that gaming was bad for us and that it’s a waste of our time. How ironic is that? Very much so since I’m sure that many of them have faced the same kind of ignorance and shaming that we all did in the past.

What’s happening in gaming now can be seen as a microcosm of what is happening in the country. People are fed up with those who are supposed to serve and represent them and they won’t stand for it any longer. Gaming is on the cusp of becoming a respected entertainment medium like any other, and it’s possible that this sort of battle between the people who indulge in it and those who cover it is a necessary part of that growth. America’s Civil War ultimately made it stronger, so perhaps this gaming civil war will as well.

The pigs in Animal Farm after they became discernible from the humans they were once against.
The pigs in Animal Farm after they became discernible from the humans they were once against.

It would be negligent of me to ignore the fact that there are indeed many aspects of gaming culture which need to be addressed and worked on. Playing online for any amount of time shows you just how ugly gamers can get when they have a veil of anonymity to shield them. The same applies to the comments section of articles.

There is sexism and racism among certain sectors of the gaming community as well. This is just a fact. Granted, this is how it is in any community and gaming is no different, but that doesn’t excuse anything. Gaming culture could stand to get its act together and behave more civilized. There is definitely a lot of cleanup that needs to be done.

Gaming culture is not perfect. However, we must be aware of the fact that most gamers are good and decent people who don’t want to cause any trouble. They want to play their games and have everyone else enjoy them like they do. This is the case for me and all of my gamer friends. We want everyone to play and have fun. With that said, we as gamers should condemn any actions which make others feel like they are under attack. Games are about having fun, not threatening those you disagree with.

I don’t know how this current situation will further unfold or even when it will end. What I do know is that, no matter what happens, I will always identify myself as a gamer. Gaming isn’t the only thing in my life that’s important to me, but it has played a crucial role towards my goal of becoming a self actualized person. It’s also really fucking fun to play games. There’s no denying that.

“Gamer” is a title which I will always wear with pride. I know that I’m not alone in this so if you’re a gamer, let everyone around you know. Tell them how great playing video games is and how being a gamer has enriched your life. Talk about how gaming isn’t a hobby for social misfits, but is something that is universal and a powerful means of communicating ideas and stories. Don’t be ashamed of it and don’t let anyone use the term against you. Being a gamer is a beautiful and special thing.

Featured image by Emilio Lopez.