Saturday, October 25, 2014

GamerGate Thoughts #1: On the Term 'Gamer'

Video Version of this Post:

I used to take the A train to work every day back when my job was in NYC. Every so often I would see someone sitting and playing PSP or Nintendo DS. Sometimes I'd position myself to be able to see their screen and check out whatever game they were playing. Depending on the situation, I might occasionally strike up a conversation with that person.

I've done this dozens of times and never once had a bad experience.

The reason for this is that games are fun. People like fun so it is easy to talk to them about it. Not once did someone shun me for being black, or dressed funny, or anything else. They were just glad to find someone with a similar appreciation for their hobby.

That is what it means to be a 'Gamer', and that's all it should mean. A gamer is someone who enjoys games - more than just as an occasional diversion too. It's someone whose love of games transcends their personal politics and biases and grants them camaraderie with everyone who feels the same.

When I see someone playing Mario Kart on DS on the subway, I know immediately that on some level that person knows me. On that one simple level, we're brothers. It doesn't matter what that person's skin color is, who they voted for, their views on abortion, whether they support multiculturalism; all that matters is that they love games, and I love games. And because of that, we can talk, smile, and have fun together.

The term 'Gamer' should not be a political label. All of these articles about the end of the gamer identity are missing the point. They talk about gaming 'culture' being embarrassing because some gamers are racist or sexist or simply don't subscribe to their specific brand of social justice ideology.

But see, that's the beauty of games. They can unite people of all different backgrounds. I experienced this during my years in Japan. As a gaijin struggling to learn the language in my first year, one of the things that gave me courage to try to speak Japanese was talking about videogames. Whether it was at Yoyogi park, the arcades in Shibuya, the common room of my guest house, or on a long bus ride - Japanese people who are culturally loathe to make small talk with strangers, all happily taught me their language and about games.

Some of these people likely held social viewpoints that I would have found disgusting. Some of them might have had racist thoughts about blacks. Some of them might have posted mean things online. So what? For brief few minutes, two individuals from cultures thousands of miles apart, treated one-another like old friends. How? Because we were both gamers.

The fact that you play isn't what makes you a gamer. It's the fact that it unites you with others. This is what so many seem to have forgotten, and why I have been so disappointed with so much of the GamerGate commentary. We've taken this universal and fun thing and tainted it with identity politics and clique-warfare.

It's a damn shame.