What it Means to be a Gamer

Xavier Mendel / March 30, 2015 at 12:00 PM / Archive

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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.