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I’ve been talking about the qualifications and ideas of the word “gamer” since I was a teenager, but I don’t think I’ve ever summarized it all in one place just yet. My belief is that there is more to being a gamer than just playing games, and in this editorial I will attempt to explain that belief to you in as clear a way as possible (though not without a staggering amount of words coming beforehand). Of course, with my stream of consciousness style of writing I’m sure it’ll fail miserably. That ought to be fun, right?

For some perspective let’s get the idea of “gamer cred” out of the way so you know who is speaking to you. I am Xavier Mendel, a thirty one year old guy who has been gaming since I could hold a controller. I may not have beaten every important game (two corrupted PS1 cards killed the Final Fantasy series for me) but I have played most of them. Beyond that I find great pleasure in playing as many games as possible. I have played nearly every game on nearly every older system (fifth generation and below), as is referenced in my last post here on TechRaptor: Overlooked Games – Firestriker, Mega Turrican, and Rakugakids. Nowadays I game on PC and have accepted Gabe Newell as my lord and savior, but through emulation I can always relive the glory days.

With that out of the way, let me begin by saying this: “Gamer cred” can indeed be a real thing to an extent. If you’re reviewing Pillars of Eternity and haven’t played Fallout then I’m going to give your opinion a lot less weight than someone who has. You’re not as credible. I didn’t care for Fallout 1 because I dislike isometric graphics, but I’m up front about that and won’t lie about having played it to give my review more merit and instead will give that review to someone who likes the genre. You may be asking yourself “why does having played Fallout matter now?” It matters because Fallout is one of the primary titles in the isometric RPG genre. It’s what I would call a core game: a title that basically everyone has played. Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy, Half-Life, games that are considered almost essential in the community to understanding the ideas and trends in all of gaming. They’re the games that gamers ought to play.

Pitfall (1982)

Pitfall, a symbol of good 2600 games.


Let’s go back to “gamer” and what it means, and I’ll start with a comparison. This year, 2015, I’ve watched two new movies. The list of actors I can name is on a hand or two. I have no idea when a movie was released or who starred in it and I definitely can’t tell which director is which. I love movies, I watch movies, but I am not a cinephile. A cinephile is someone with a passion in film, the film industry, the theories behind it, criticism of it, stuff like that. They’re not just people that watch movies. They’re people that dedicate a portion of their existence to movies as we all do to our greatest hobby. Owning a car doesn’t make me a petrolhead (thanks for teaching me that word, Top Gear, and may you rest in peace), loving cheese doesn’t make me a turophile, and playing games doesn’t make me a gamer. So what does make me a gamer?

What makes me a gamer is my passion for games, the games industry, game critique, game theory, and things like that. I can list a thousand characters and rank them by their coolness, or talk about a thousand levels and which ones are each game’s Water Temple. I know the names of each NPC and am a walking strategy guide for a couple hundred games. I know all this stuff not to fit in or be cool or have more credibility but because I love learning it all. I love sitting up all night on TheCuttingRoomFloor and reading about cut content in a bunch of different games. I love spending hours talking about the spell choices in Shining Force II and why summoners kick ass (Atlas 2 has the highest damage in the game at up to 73). I could bore a coma patient with a few days talk of party decisions in Suikoden. I do this all because of my love for gaming. That’s what makes me a gamer.

When I was a kid being a gamer was one of the most unpopular things you could be. The guys picked on you, the girls laughed at you, and your social life was dead. I knew that and I did it anyway because that’s who I was. It was never anything for me to be ashamed of, nor would it ever be. I formed a circle of friends that were the same way. We were the unpopular ones, certainly, but it didn’t matter. We had games. We would sit around at one of the houses and play games. Those not playing would talk about games.  We were gamers, and games were important to us even if it made us into social pariahs.


Jaws (LJN), a symbol of bad NES games.

Gaming took off quite a bit and started becoming popular. We weren’t seen as dorky kids with glasses and pocket protectors by most people. The girls still saw us that way but it’s not like anyone expected that to change any time soon. We were happy to have the new people in the hobby. Eventually though, with so many people gaming, some companies started becoming more and more like the profit machines of LJN and other crap churners. Sony appealed directly to the new audience by making the Playstation seem like the console of choice for spiky-haired tough-as-nails 90s kids. The same people who hated games a few years ago were now the target demographic. The Playstation selling like wildfire and the Genesis and SNES on their way out confirmed our fears that gaming wasn’t limited to gamers anymore.

A question arose in my group of friends: “Are they gamers, or are they just posers?” Most of the group agreed with my statement, which I described earlier, about passion for gaming versus liking games. A couple thought the definition should be even stricter. Their belief was that being a gamer wasn’t just about the love of gaming, but in a shared history. It made sense, and we agreed in the idea, but not in the proposed execution which was that new gamers should have to play all the classics before calling themselves that. I disagreed, and here’s why: Without emulation it can be impossible to play a lot of things, and even available games like Fallout can be hard to get working on new computers. We can’t expect that of everyone.

We eventually gave up the discussion and ate sandwiches. Those ideas stuck with me, though. What does it mean to be a gamer? To summarize the 1,100 or so words above: Being a gamer means having a passion for everything gaming. What does that make people who just play games? If I had it my way I’d give them the word “gamer” and use “ludophile” to describe people like myself who have a passion for gaming. Maybe that will catch on one day, but for now this is the reality we live in. A lot of people have tried demonizing gamers recently, and I’ll probably write an editorial on that soon as well. People have hated gamers for a very long time and we’ve always stuck around. Part of being a gamer is not caring what people think of you, because if you did you would have never abandoned your social life to start playing.

That about closes it. I look forward to continuing this discussion in the comments below or on social media. If you liked the article please share it, it helps out quite a bit. Thank you for reading.

Xavier Mendel

I've been talking about games for as long as I can remember, and now I'm writing about them! Follow me on Twitter @XavierMendel for hilarious(ly bad) jokes.

  • Max

    Interesting thoughts, and I have more or less the same opinion on the matter. One of my friends likes to play Minecraft and Skyrim, but when I asked if she considers herself a gamer she said no. And I think its mainly due to that deep passion that separates gamers from non-gamers, which she doesn’t have. If anything I’d say she’s a swimmer, because swimming is her passion and she enjoys it more than anything else.

  • cptk

    I think you know you’re a gamer when you read this article and recoil when you read the author didn’t like Fallout but forgive him when he mentions Shinging Force 2.

  • The biggest problem with trying to say that certain games are must play is that, over time, it starts to sound more and more “get off my lawn.”

    The only thing that should be considered for people who want to call themselves ‘gamer’ is passion.

  • froyton

    I must be the only gamer alive who likes Jaws for the NES. Sure I can beat it in ten minutes, but those ten minutes are an absolute joy for me. 😐

    Thanks for the great read.

  • JackDandy

    Passion really is where it comes down to it, I think.

    You need to really care and get into a game to be one.

  • MusouTensei

    Great article and I almost agree completely with it, only thing that bothers me is that I want to keep the term “gamer”, they can invent their own label for all I care. Also the word ludophile rubs me the wrong way, in my language the word Lude (pronounced Looda or so) is a term for pimp, so yeah, lol.

  • Xavier Mendel

    I’m sort of on the fence for a practical reason. I don’t think they’ll ever stop calling themselves gamers. I want to keep the name because it’s meant a lot to me through all these years.

    Still, it’s considered cool now. Even if we went to another term they would follow. Perhaps I need to think on it and revisit the subject later.

  • Xavier Mendel

    You should try doing a speedrun of it, just for fun.

  • Xavier Mendel

    I can’t handle the isometric graphics with a muted color palette. It makes the game difficult to get into, especially as someone with bad eyesight. Baldur’s Gate was much easier, though I wasn’t a big fan of that for other reasons (it just made me want to stop and play D&D). Isometric RPGs can work, and work well, but it’s hard for me to get into them.

    I don’t know if people consider Divinity: Original Sin to be an isometric RPG (I don’t, some do), but I loved that game to death.

  • Xavier Mendel

    Of course, we can all have different labels that apply to us. I’ve got a friend that’s both a gamer and a cinephile. My cousin is a gamer and a pastry chef (it was a hobby before it became a profession).

    My aunt will play the occasional mobile game, or dabble in something else if I specifically recommend it, but she doesn’t consider herself a gamer. She doesn’t think of games as children’s toys anymore, which is nice, but she doesn’t see herself becoming engrossed in any. She doesn’t have the passion for games.

  • Nathaniel Plain

    I loved Jaws and Marble madness as a kid because I could spend hours upon hours playing them. So much frustration. So much joy.

  • TheCybercoco

    Pillars of Eternity and Fallout… Not Fallout, but Baldur’s Gate. Fallout is great, but Baldur’s Gate is the more appropriate comparison. I would put more weight on an opinion of someone who played Baldur’s Gate more than someone who played Fallout.

    About the main topic of the article. It pretty much sums up my feelings. Gamer by definition is “someone who plays games”. When the definition was created video games were socially unacceptable. Someone who got into video games essentially sacrificed his social life to do so. In order for someone to be wiling to do that, he had to be passionate about it. There was no half-assing video games back in the day. Persecution makes one’s passion for something even stronger.

    I was actually happy when gaming expanded to became more socially acceptable. I was very happy when I started seeing more girls interested in gaming. I didn’t really have the fears that you did. I thought it was good that video games were not limited to gamers. It opened the door for more experiences. Not all good, but a lot of good came out of it. I also preferred that other people had some glimpse of perspective in gaming in order to relate to me at all, whereas before no one understood at all unless they had the same passion. There is still some stigma even today, but it’s nice that it’s not nearly what it was in the ’70s through the ’90s. I’d still like to see the stigma go extinct.

    I don’t thing the name “gamer” needs to change. I do feel that the definition should be updated, though. “A person who plays games” has become inadequate.

  • No Excuses VTW

    I’m not really a fan of this “Must have played classics X, Y and Z to be a Proper Gamer” idea either. Realistically, I’m never going to pay obeisance to Super Mario Bros; Commander Keen was my formative platformer, and the idea that I’ll go back and play Super Mario Bros just because someone else claims I have to have played it to call myself a gamer seems ridiculous to me.

    It is more likely that I will go back and complete Half-Life at some point, but not a priority; my memories of playing it when it was shiny and new were that I found it utterly boring and dreary and went back to playing Duke Nukem 3D for the nth time.

    Final Fantasy, well, I don’t feel the need to play an ancient JRPG while sitting on a small mountain of modern JRPGs awaiting my attention just because someone else says that it is a critical seminal title for the genre. If I want to dig back into history for old JRPGs I’d rather play Mother or Chrono Trigger; these are legacy titles that I have received genuine heartfelt recommendations to go back and play from friends, rather than being told that they are “core games” and so have some special need to be played.

  • dsadsada

    The current set up is that people with the passion are called gamers while people who play games but lack that passion are called casuals (by the gamers). I’m satisfied with this.

    And ludophile just sounds weird to me. The only time I want to be called a ludophile is when ‘lud’ is spelled ‘lewd’. Lewdophile. That’s me.

  • Max

    An idea I’ve been considering lately is that it may be impossible for gaming to ever have a siskel and ebert type of reviewer. You need to be more specialized. One reviewer is notable in having played every WRPG under the sun and can tell you what are the bests in the genre and his opinion is well respected. Same with other genres. Games just have a much too high time investment attached to them to be educated on all of them I think.

  • RandomDev

    Good article but I’d never give the casuals our name, that’s ours!

  • Arbitrary

    I’m not a gamer, then.

  • The Arrogant Metalhead

    I think mobile gaming has muddied what it means to be a gamer. Some gamers might play mobile games but being a mobile player doesn’t mean you’re a gamer. There’s a difference between handheld games like the ones for PS Vita or Nintendo DS and games from the App store for me. As fun as mobile games can be, games like Candy Crush and Simpson’s Tapped Out can be more like junk food and you might end up playing it without really wanting to.

    Video games you buy for your consoles, PCs and handheld systems can make you slow down and try to enjoy your dessert. That’s what I want as a gamer.

  • Damian Salcedo

    Great article… just…just… great! You captured my thoughts exactly.