In South Park and The Simpsons we’re shown as internet trolls, in Future Man we’re a lowly janitor still living with our parents, and in The Big Bang Theory, we’re a group of gangly and awkward nerds with social anxiety. The stereotype of a “gamer” is not one that is often shown with tact. Often these characters are reduced to a trope that is tired, lazy, and incredibly inaccurate. It would be easy to blame these portrayals on the “others” who don’t play games, but the problem is only exacerbated by the sense of ego and console class wars that the gaming community has seemed to foster.
If you scroll through the comments section of any big gaming site you’ll notice there’s often a litany of rallying cries around the “PC Master Race,” or the declarations of the death of the “Xbone” or the idiotic ineptitude of both “Nintendo and Sony fanboys.” As a community, we have created a toxic class system in which one console, or more broadly speaking one medium, has power and a status above another. For example, there is an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to the idea that PC gamers are ‘superior’ to their home console counterparts. The PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch are subservient. Do PC games look and run better? Yes, if you have the right set-up they generally always will, (the technology advances at a quicker rate). Does that, therefore, make a PC gamer better than everyone else? Of course it doesn’t. Even within the said latter console communities, there is a further hierarchical debate considering power, portability, and exclusives.
It’s this very immaturity that propagates the gaming industry into not being taken as seriously as it should be. This ‘class’ system has done more than just fueled poisonous debates about which console or platform is the ‘best’; it has also stunted the very definition of a “gamer” and is a key reason why the industry as a whole is still looked down on when compared to films, books and TV. It has created a rubric for what constitutes a “good” game and has set in place a structure for how serious or dedicated a gamer is based on their choice of system.
Under these guidelines, it would be a stretch to consider anyone who plays three hours of Candy Crush Saga a day on their phone a “gamer”. A game on a device that is graphically substandard and comparatively low-powered. And yet the gamer is sinking the same amount of time in as someone who is playing a game purchased on Steam. Obviously, comparing the capabilities of a PC and the gaming abilities of an iPhone is a fool’s errand, but does that mean we should discount someone who chooses this type of user experience? That should be celebrated, or at the very least tolerated, but is instead often crucified by a community that is seeking to organize their players by superficial graphics and frame rates.
With The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild winning Game of the Year at the D.I.C.E. Awards, we have definitely made an effort to discount the power of the console – the Wii U and Switch stand nowhere near the other platforms when it comes to frame rate or graphics. Let’s extend this trend to mobile gaming and acknowledge that people who seek enjoyment from a mobile device are putting their knowledge of power behind them and simply embracing the game experience. If they devote ungodly amounts of time to Alto’s Adventure on the iPhone, they are no less a “gamer” than someone who spends an equal amount of time playing Overwatch.
In a 2015 study by the Entertainment Software Association, they reported that four out of five homes owned a device to play games on. Further, 42% of Americans played video games regularly. This is not a community that is devoted to one system, but a population that is spread out over many different gaming experiences. I’ve personally played games on every format imaginable: a “gamer” is a “gamer” if they’re dedicated to playing games. Like a “reader” of books is a “reader”, regardless of the length of the book.
We should celebrate our wide range of mediums if only so our portrayal in the mainstream is not so inaccurate and narrow. We should put the console/system ‘war’ (the silliest war I’ve ever heard of) behind us and admit that wherever, whatever platform we choose, we’re all just gamers trying to navigate an increasingly harsh reality.