There is no way that I will ever play all of these games. It will never happen.
There was a brief window in the 80’s and maybe the early 90’s that a ‘gamer’ could have at least touched most of the popular titles and genres. I have played a Megaman, and I have played a Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I have played Street Fighter, and Doom, and Space Quest. Action, strategy, sports, adventure, role playing, puzzle, narrative, abstract, simulation, educational. All the types, styles, and genres available, I played. There were games that I liked better than others, and game types that had their devoted fans, but there weren’t subcultures. There was no punk rock or Jazz. No surrealist theater or period piece costume dramas. Gamers played games, and most likely they played all of them.
I’m not a psychologist or cultural anthropologist, but I think that this unifying of all people who play video games as ‘gamers’ has caused us no small amount of problems.
Ownership is a strong feeling. When people feel a sense of ownership over something they work on or create it can be very positive. We work harder and strive further when we feel like the thing we are working on represents some aspect of ourselves. Pride and accomplishment tied to our own sense of wellbeing and self worth can be beneficial or detrimental, but there is no denying it is powerful. So what happens when you tie that feeling of ownership and sense of self worth to something that is out of your direct control? Something you are a fan of.
The actors and creative team of the most recent Star Wars movies probably have a few things to say about it. People who have attached part of their identity to their love of this sweeping space fantasy story can either be the warmest, most generous friend you haven’t met, or the most bitter, jilted stalker you didn’t know existed. It probably wouldn’t be very long before you would feel very guarded against one, the other, or both. It isn’t because these fans love Star Wars, it’s because they feel they own Star Wars. They have dedicated themselves to minding the gate of what is and is not Star Wars to protect that part of themselves they have attached to it.
This either sucks or is wonderful for the people involved in creating Star Wars, but that intense fandom doesn’t wash over into other movies. The same people angry at, or praising Star Wars don’t redirect their focus at Remains of the Day. There are no Kazuo Ishiguro fans screaming boycott when Never Let Me Go abandoned historical fiction to slum it in Sci-fi. The punk rockers don’t storm in and kick over the symphony orchestra brass section because they are a tool of The Man. Movies, books, music, television, are all too broad and deep to see fans of one thing to drift over to attack creators and fans in another.
Gaming hasn’t been like that at all. For at least the first few decades, people who played video games were ‘gamers’ and that sense of identification and ownership spanned an entire art form. The results are pretty tragic. The game industry is often singled out for its visible and invisible toxicity. Gamers attacking and harassing one another. Gamers attacking and harassing game creators. Gamers attacking women and marginalized groups for specific and sustained harassment. Gamers quite probably fostering the rise of alt right and exclusionist, isolationist sentiment.
‘Gamers’ on balance, have been pretty fucking hideous.
There is no way that I will ever play all of these games. It will never happen. It’s not only me. There is no way that any person will ever play all of these games. There is no way that any person, no matter how dedicated to the artform of video games will ever even know about all of the games available. You can like and play video games, but there are subgenres, and subcultures, that you will never know about or engage with. People who feel othered can and will find groups that gather around the same types of games. People who have no interest in industry dramas will make friends and have fun in games you or I will never play. People with no interest in new trends or genre fads will play popular games, because their friends suggested them. People will play games in the way that they watch movies and read books. They will like what they like, sometimes well and sometimes poorly, but they won’t stray far from those types of games. They will find what they enjoy and uncover new games as the feeling strikes them.
The artform has grown too broad for people who enjoy it to be called ‘Gamers’. Losing that title is one step toward disentangling this wonderful artform from the sense of ownership that eats at everything we loved about it in the first place.