Game Overthinker and Some Thoughts on Self Identification

The new Game Overthinker came out last week and I just got around to watching it. It’s very story-heavy and will be the last episode of it that Bob hosts on due to its formatting not really being what the website needs.

The chief focus of it is Nintendo’s “I’m Not a Gamer” campaign and the surrounding controversy among gamers who, after decades of loyalty to the gaming giant, feel a little put out that Nintendo is trying to distance itself from them. Gaming grew up as a culture of the rejected and dispossessed, and having the refuge to which many of us ran running away from us now is not only hurtful, but infuriating.

However, as Bob overthinks the problem, he brings up a point that changes the narrative a bit. Think about how many people are involved in some form of gaming these days. Not just console gaming, but Facebook games (I know several of you reading this are because you keep sending me requests that I will never, ever respond to), smart phone games, enhanced reality games, etc. We are a culture that craves entertainment and have found new ways to satisfy that craving. Bob’s thesis is, essentially, that in a world where everyone is a gamer, nobody is a gamer, and the label fails to have any sort of significance. I find this a little optimistic, since I think that there is a certain weight placed on self-identification in the application and growth of subcultures (i.e. claiming membership in a group has a lot of resonance, hence why most people would agree with basically every feminist ideal yet are reluctant to call themselves feminists because it’s easier to believe the details than to claim the name), but there’s a certain comfort in thinking that what was once a rallying cry for the dispossessed can be put down, the fight basically over if the result is not what anyone expected. Gaming is mainstream, everybody does it, and claiming to be a gamer is no longer a defiant cry against those who told you only freaks and losers played video games.

That being said, it made me wonder how this may be a model for other sorts of self-identification. The rise and embrace of gaming is a fairly new phenomenon and it’s hard to compare the treatment of gamers, who have had it comparatively easier for no more than a single generation, to the ideological and physical minorities that have been mistreated for centuries and watched a bunch of kids breeze past (or sometimes step on) them to get to a point of general mainstream acceptance. I suppose you could argue that the building of the gamer subculture had foundations laid by the movie geeks of a good portion of the 20th century, who owe their leaps to the teachnology geeks of the Victorian period, who were accorded status by the natural philosophers of the Royal Society, etc., but that ignores that racial minorities, women, LGBT people, etc. existed through all of that in largely the forms they are currently in and received none of the structural support that gamers could claim they walked into. Basically, what was it that gamers had that bought them into the mainstream?

I think the answer is pretty simple: games. Games are entertaining, and growing more so every day. The availability of games to a wider audience and the targeting of games to new demographics meant that in order to be a part of the club, you had to stop knocking the club. Gamers offered a benefit that, and this is important, signified no potential for loss to cultural gate keepers.

This is why “gamer” is a different label in many respects. The only thing that people lose by accepting gamers and gaming culture into their world is the ability to beat up on gamers and gaming culture, despite what Nintendo’s ad campaign seems to imply. That’s an easy trade when you get awesome video games for it that target you and make you happy.

Not having to claim one’s atheism, on the other hand, will probably not be something we can look forward to in the near future. The very act of not believing threatens whatever dominant religious hegemony exists in your particular region of the world. We believe because we all believe, and the existence of non-believers threatens the power, prestige, and control of those at the top of that faith-based pyramid. All we offer, ideologically, is the abandonment of that thing that we’re trying to subvert, and that’s just not as much of a selling point as games are.

Similarly, LGBT activism or feminism offer a world where heterosexuality isn’t the assumed default and male is not inherently treated as superior, and the cultural gate keepers tend to be heterosexual males who quite like being assumed to be that and treated as superior. There is nothing to offer other than a sense of having done justice.

I’ve said a number of times that the reason why the LGBT community co-opted “pride” and “straight pride” is not a thing is because it’s the opposite of “shame” and straight people have never been told they should be ashamed of their sexuality. The taking on of labels is usually as a reaction to those who say that the thing which those labels signify is shameful, and thus we proudly proclaim our allegiance, defiantly refusing to be ashamed. With gaming, it’s no longer something to be ashamed of, any more than being able to use the internet is, so the label becomes more limited, if not entirely unnecessary.

That’s why I can almost see this Nintendo ad campaign in a hopeful fashion. Perhaps now I’m the one being optimistic, but it would be nice if the other labels we use to push back against shaming tactics can someday start to crumble from lack of necessity. It won’t be today, and probably not tomorrow, but it’s something to look forward to.


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