A recent article by Jun-Kai Teoh opined that people who play Farmville aren't gamers. His rationale for being a real "gamer" - a rank that must be earned, he says - includes being able to beat Mega Man without dying, playing Braid and being able to string together a combo on a PlayStation controller. What floors me is less his bizarre collection of requirements for "true" gamerhood and more the fact that people are still having this inane discussion. I mean, do people still care about being a "real" gamer? Really?
Putting aside for the moment that it's a huge assumption that someone who enjoys Farmville doesn't also thrash the hell out of Contra when the mood hits, if that game plays an important role in their entertainment lives, why does that have less value than someone playing WoW or Street Fighter? Because, the argument goes, games like that don't require skill. Which is true in Farmville's case - so long as you can click a mouse button, you, too, can have an epic farm - but I dare you to watch a Bejeweled championship tournament and tell me the people in the upper echelon aren't skilled. They're thinking three, four, ten moves ahead and their mastery is no less awe-inspiring than someone pulling off a cross-map headshot.
But for the sake of argument, let's say that everyone who plays casual games is never, ever going to try something more hardcore and that the games they enjoy don't require one iota of skill. Are they gamers then? Who cares?
I understand the desire to protect the moniker of "gamer" as though it's some sort of badge of honor, because I used to do it myself. There was a time when I would say it defiantly, chin jutting out, as though begging someone to mock me. Which, frankly, they did, all the time. Though it's considered about as exotic a hobby as Pilates these days, there was a time not too long ago when devoting your free hours to virtual exploits was considered somewhat freakish behavior. To declare yourself a gamer was to make a stand, to defend that which you believed in, to do your part in convincing the masses - and, let's be honest, yourself - that gaming was Important, Worthwhile, and above all, Not Stupid.
I was right there along with you, fighting the good fight, daring anyone to look me in the eye and tell me that my love of gaming was a foolish waste of time. But it's time to stand down, soldiers. The fight is over, and we won. You no longer have to wave the gamer banner around to convince people that what you enjoy has value, because everyone recognizes that it does. Well, most everyone, anyway. Michael Atkinson and various yutzes on Fox News are still a bit late to the party, but the vast majority of reasonable people understand that gaming is a perfectly legitimate way to spend your free time.
But contrary to what gaming elitists seem to believe, this doesn't place us in a Syndrome situation where now that everyone is special, nobody is. People who are less devoted to gaming, who play easier games, can still be considered gamers without it affecting your own accomplishments. Their enjoyment of games in no way diminishes yours, their lack of skill in no way makes your own hard-earned acumen less impressive. They're never going to beat you on a leaderboard, best you in a deathmatch or cross any gaming path you might tread, so why on earth do you care what they're called?
If gaming to you is a religion, a devotion, a virtual battlefield on which to test your warrior's mettle...then that's cool by me. But not everyone is going to feel that way. Here's the thing: Gaming doesn't have to be anything more than fun. It doesn't have to be art, or be profound, or be some kind of finger-breaking test of resolve. It is often all of those things and more, but it's ok if it's just a fun way to pass the time, too. Really. There's nothing wrong with just enjoying games because they're amusing time-killers that take our minds off the suckitude of the real world for an hour or two.
There is no one "right" way to be a gamer. It would be validating and encouraging and a bunch of other -ings if everyone loved and played games the way we did, but that's just not going to happen. Games don't touch everyone's soul the same way. Some folks want to completely lose themselves in the experience, others just want to dabble, and one philosophy is as valid as the other. Those fans of the Wii and of Farmville, of PopCap and Playfish, maybe aren't going to play as much, as long, or as hard as you, but gaming brings them joy. Gaming is a part of their lives. Playing videogames is something they choose to do because it makes them happy, and if there's a better definition for "gamer," I've yet to hear it.
But if you want to think you're cooler than they are...well, I won't tell anyone.
Susan Arendt sucks at Mega Man.