To Be a Gamer
What constitutes a Gamer? This question is inherently problematic because it involves the human element, and humans are complicated. The topic of identity is one of the most difficult ongoing discussions philosophers have approached, and possibly be the most difficult DeconstructionCraft will come across. To one sense calling yourself a “Gamer” is a personal identity and thereby the identity of “Gamer” is dependent on the individual identifying as such. To another sense you are identifying with part of a larger social group and thereby the identity is subject to group dynamics.
In itself self-identification is problematic because an individual finding identity in a label — a word– results in simplifying the individual to a degree where the label’s meaning breaks down in reality. Identifying yourself or another as a “Gamer” could mean nearly anything, because people are so diverse the meanings behind labels all but disintegrated. To quote Alan Watts, “When a man no longer confuses himself with the definition of himself that others have given him, he is at once universal and unique… He is unique in that he is just this organism and not any stereotype of role, class, or identity assumed for the convenience of social communication” (9).
Labels are a social language of convenience, society wants to know what you are and how you’re about it. We see the communication everywhere; are you a casual or hardcore Gamer, mainstream or indie, Xbox, PlayStation, or Nintendo fanboy? On a more functional level other self-identifying Gamers look at the type of games and the way you play them to assess you. Any identity or label in this sense is a social institution, established or standardized patterns of rule-governed behavior. To acknowledgment the existence of the institution of gaming would accompany an understanding (if only superficial) of the acts that are considered synonymous with the group identity. The discussion of what defines a Gamer then changes, “If I alone cannot define myself as Gamer, then is it something within the institution’s acceptance or acknowledgment that validates my self identification as Gamer?” Well, unfortunately, no. If any part of the group or even the majority of Gamers assigned a criteria of behavior or acts to identify being a Gamer that definition would inevitably break down the same way any one individual finding identity as a Gamer does. In order to encompass the majority of Gamers the definition would becomes vague to the point of meaningless.
A close look at the discussion thus far exemplifies how problematic finding or defining a personal identity is. Defining oneself or finding definition in a group are both centered around finding the point where the individual becomes the gamer. An important aspect in the discussion of Gamer as identity is to distinguish the point where the individual becomes a Gamer from the point the individual becomes accepted as a Gamer socially. The moment when you socially identify as a gamer is related but distinctly separate from the moment you personally feel you became a gamer.
The act of publicly identifying as a Gamer is a purely social one. Whenever we do something that says “I’m a Gamer”, and that’s anything from specifically saying “Hey, I’m a Gamer” to wearing a shirt with game related whatever printed on it, we are making a social communication. Society confuses those communications with the underlying thing that defines Gamers. The confusion is what leads to the social institution aspect of the label “Gamer” and is comprised of behavior and acts. Judith Butler explains phenomenological act theory as one that, “-seeks to explain the mundane way in with social agents constitute social reality, through language, gesture, and all manner of symbolic social sign”(519). This excerpt from Butler’s essay on gender performance highlights the social agents as part of social identification. A theory on the aspect of identity that’s not biologically determined (the same way Gamers have no inherent traits) but is socially constructed serves the discussion of how someone “becomes a Gamer” socially.
The differentiation between gender and sex is that sex is the biological state of being male or female where gender is the cultural state of being masculine or feminine. Butler sites Simone de Beauvior stating that, “one is not born, but, rather, becomes a woman”(519). Acts that are culturally considered to be synonymous with that gender become a sort of rite in conveying an individual’s genderness in the face of their peers, thee ‘way to act’, which is just as true for Gamers (in the social identity sense). Regardless of how we identify personally, socially we are expected to express this identity in a way that is recognizable to our peers. An individual can enjoy or participate in the medium in a way that only Gamers do, but unless he expresses this through “looking” like a gamer, talking shop, or publicly playing/associating with games that personal identity is not validated. Look at the backlash at fake or casual Gamers (and the inconsistency of what those terms mean), in the social institution of Gamer simply identifying as a Gamer goes only so far then stops as soon as it meets where we judge the performance. This is where we assign the criteria and invent our own definition, a definition that conforms to the ideas of the social institution only enough to merit contest amongst the other mostly arbitrary definitions.
In 1906 sociologist William Graham Sumner named this group dynamic in-group favoritism. In-group favoritism is the effect of individuals have a sense of security and identity within “their” group, and find a sense of meaning when surrounded by other individuals they perceive to be part of “their” group. In the 1970’s Jane Elliott conducted an experiment with her classroom students. Dividing them into groups based on eye color the “blue-eyed/brown-eyed” experiment illustrated how easily in-group favoritism can arise. Likewise when individuals outside of your group become perceived as a threat, this is called outgroup degradation. The outgroup degradation within the gaming community reflects more than just disagreements of definition or a feeling of challenged identity, as gaming is a consumer activity the social aspect of gaming therefore inherently engages critical thought, it reflect gaming culture’s appreciation of taste. Think of the first thing a Gamer will ask another who is introduced as a “Gamer”, “What do you play?” this response is a direct reflection of how Gamers validate one another through the others action and appreciation of play. This is not to dismiss all of the other aspects that go into sorting the purpose and meaning of a personal/social identity, it is simply another aspect to view the discussion with.
Philosopher David Hume argued that while taste is a common human nature, some judgments of aesthetics are more accurate or better than others. The logic of some individuals having more accurate judgment is that they may through mindset or experience be more sensitive to a work’s qualities than the general public. The idea of a connoisseur or critic having a more valid opinion then the everyday individual. Imagine there was a worldwide poll of what is the best burger, everyone is allowed to vote for whatever recipe or chain they like. This would both respect the opinion of what the individual identified to be the best burger, and it would respect the global social institute of what constitutes the best burger. As you can imagine though, this test is flawed, you’d end up with a Big Mac (the Farmville of burger) as the world’s best burger. That’s not because it is the best, it’s just because not everyone has experienced –or heard of– Kobe beef. It’s the difference between someone that eats and someone that cooks, it’s a safe assumption that the chef knows what he’s talking about more than the everyday joe. Everyone eats food, but someone that cooks or critiques food is going to see it in an entirely different light. That distinction of the connoisseur and taste is the root in the concept of “Gamer cred.” It’s not the moment an individual has played through a certain number of games, memorized the character’s names, or knows the designers behind their favorite title, it’s when they knowingly invest their time, resources, and energy to attain a deeper knowledge of something. Everybody eats, a chief or connoisseur study. It’s the moment you became personally invested in video games that you became a gamer. An abnormal skill while playing or an in-depth knowledge of the medium might be the result of the investment and they might be the way much of the culture measures another’s level of investment, but by no means do they confine it.
Watts, Allen. Psychotherapy, East and West. 1961. Vintage. 1972. Print.
Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” Theatre Journal, 40.4 (1988): 519-531. Print.
Simone De Beauvior’s The Second Sex, trans. H. M. Parshaley ( ew York: Vintage, 1974), 38.