US-based Market Research firm NPD Group recently released statistics showing that 211.2 million Americans - around 67% - play videogames on at least one device. Gaming penetration in the same country is also around 94% for children ages 4-18, while people dedicate an average of 12 hours a week to playing. According to the findings, the only thing the average gamer in the US spends more time on is the Internet.
These are staggering numbers, when you think about it. More than two-thirds of people in the United States play some form of videogame. If you’d have gone back to the 90s and told someone that they would have called you mad. To be frank, I bet there are some parts of the gaming community which would equally deride you for spouting the same statistics.
90% of those playing games in the US play them on mobile, while 53% of them play games on PC - including titles on browsers or applications embedded into social media. I bet that there is at least one person reading this sentence thinking, “well, that’s not real games”. A few people, commenting on the survey above, said that they felt uncomfortable calling their mum who spends a few hours a day on Candy Crush Saga a “gamer”. Is this stereotypical gatekeeping, an attempt by the reactionary to feel that they are special by denigrating someone’s else's incursions into their own hobby? Or is it a demonstration of the baggage that a term like “gamer” carries with it?
I enjoy going to the cinema and watching new films regularly. Yet I would not call myself a cinephile. Not because I don’t watch a lot of movies - I do - but just because the term denotes a form of passion which I don’t particularly feel about the medium. I like to watch the odd analysis of a topical or trending movie now and then, but I don’t swap info about new releases, trailers and interviews with friends over WhatsApp.
“Gamer”, much like “moviegoer”, implies a simple act. The dictionary defines the term in two ways:
A person who players any kind of videogame
A person whose hobby is videogames
The term “moviegoer” only has one major definition: someone who goes to the cinema regularly. Is this where the rub lies? By definition, all of those 67% of Americans are gamers. They play videogames for at least for a portion of their week. Yet is there a term akin to cinephile for the gamers out there who put in 40+ hours into their hobby every week, and who hoover up information about the industry at every opportunity? Not really.
So, the lack of such a term could explain the reactionary gatekeeping that occurs whenever people mention statistics like this. Those who spend much of their time invested in the industry might feel that to call those who play mobile or casual games “gamers” is to be reductive to the passion they have for their hobby. “If you enjoyed reading as a hobby, would you consider someone who reads the back of cereal boxes the same as someone who reads novels regularly?” writes one reddit user on a thread about the stats.
Do we need a term for gaming enthusiasts, then? One which implies the commitment which some feel they put into their hobby? Where does the buck stop? Is someone with 200+ hours in Candy Crush Saga, Clash of Clans and Reigns an enthusiast, when compared to someone with 50 hours in Battlefield or Spider-Man? Gaming is usually a competitive pursuit - you’re either playing against enemies in the game or against other human players. It creates an atmosphere of competition in which the members are always comparing themselves to others, and judging worth. Those who consider themselves better gamers, due to the breadth of their collection or the time they spend in the hobby, feel the need to impress their own abilities by calling out those they deem to be beneath them.
It’s a trend found in the world of sport, one which gaming is making its first major steps into. There are relevant comparisons to be made, there, too. If you play football twice a week, are you a footballer? You’re certainly not a professional footballer, who is paid for their services and skill. Yet if we carry this across, surely only the professional esports players can call themselves the true gamers, due to the sponsorships and wages they gain through their talents. What then, do we call those who play a few rounds of Rocket League every other day?
So what makes the term “gamer” such a protected one? Is it perhaps that since gaming has seen such an explosive surge in popularity, those who felt they operated in a “niche” or “unique” hobby, and who defined their lives by it, now feel threatened by its ubiquity. After all, if you pride yourself on your “gamer” status, what makes you unique if everyone is now a gamer? There’s only one way to react - to lash out and put down those new entrants into something you thought was special to you, and made you special.
When cinemas began to appear all over the country in the 1920s, do you think there were mobs of people decrying the “fake” moviegoers, who only watched popular movies and failed to sink time into arthouse French cinema? The sad answer to that is probably yes. Yet cinema has had almost 100 years to mature as a medium, while gaming is still in a very early infancy. Does this mean that we may have a term for enthusiast gamers in the coming decades, an epithet that denotes their particular passion? Perhaps. As it grows, though, those most enthusiastic about the industry should welcome the entry of new groups, ideas, games and players. It can only be for the better.