Why I Get Scared to Say I’m a Gamer
I love games! I have been playing games ever since the tender age of 7 (perhaps even younger) and to this day I still wile away many an hour on virtual activities such as: defeating enemies, building civilisations and (to my shame), matching candies. I remember each gaming device I have ever owned with loving fondness, all the way from the Amiga to my current and ever-growing Steam library. Professionally, I help develop live, interactive games and academically I am studying a Masters in Game Design. My tabletop game collection is bigger than anyone else’s I know. Start a conversation with me about games and I will happily jabber on for hours and hours and hours.
Despite these seemingly excellent credentials, this week I had a sudden and startling epiphany… I still feel nervous calling myself a ‘gamer’.
I’ve been having a good old ponder why this might be.
Is it because I don’t feel comfortable being attached to the negative stereotypes associated with the tag ‘gamer’? Perhaps a little. I certainly don’t like the idea of people thinking I’m some kind of anti-social weirdo who never grew up or learned how to be outside without my skin flaking off. But, honestly, it’s not like I’m rolling in street cred and, besides, I think most intelligent, culturally aware people know the stereotype to be largely untrue. So I don’t think it’s that.
The fact is that, even with my gaming experience, I still worry that I haven’t done enough to qualify as ‘gamer’, to take the title of honour and wear it with pride. Sure I play games pretty regularly but it’s not like I’m consistently clocking in 3 hours+ per day. I don’t contribute to online gaming forums. For financial reasons I’m normally at least one console generation behind the latest games. I’ve dabbled in a few MMOG’s (Massively Multiplayer Online Games) here and there but I’ve never got into one in a really big way. Essentially I worry I haven’t ticked enough boxes to firmly and safely locate me amongst gamers.
What if I get shot down? What if I get laughed at for not knowing some obvious gaming reference? What if they realise I’m not ‘hard-core’ enough and stop respecting me? What if I’m just a really crap player and they all judge me or hate me for ruining their game? These are the kinds of fears and questions that take over whenever I take nervous steps into some form of gaming community, be it online or offline. I realise that some of these fears likely come from my own personal insecurities but, actually, I don’t think they’re totally unfounded.
The thing that’s weird is that, on one level, the social identifier ‘gamer’ is extremely inclusive; literally anyone who plays games can fairly present themselves as a gamer. Yet, on another level, gamer culture can, at times, feel incredibly exclusive!
Games can have an incredibly high point of entry with a steep learning curve that makes it difficult for outsiders to break in. Learning gameplay mechanics can take time but then you also have to learn all kinds of new words and phrases. Acronyms such as DPS, ADC, AoE* or terms like ganking, nerfing or mana curve** can feel like learning a whole new language to new players. And then there’s the unspoken etiquette rules that aren’t so much crucial to your survival as they are to your social acceptance in the community; in World of Warcraft I once ignorantly rolled ‘need’ on an item that was more suited to another player’s character class – the result: a social disaster!
The high entry point in itself can be intimidating enough but, sadly, the gaming community does not always help people in this process as well as it could. Anyone who has ever been angrily labelled a ‘noob’ in pretty much any online game ever will know something of what I’m talking about here. Online game communities are not always patient to new or unskilled players and this can make the environment feel unsafe to some.
And it’s not just in-game. We all know that gaming forums can get heated but get something wrong and you can quickly become walking troll fodder. Heck, even with this blog, there have been so many topics I’ve considered writing about but have backed down from fearing what ‘the gamers’ will think.
Now I know that this fear is not caused by all (probably most) gamers, I for one have a lot of incredibly positive experiences of other gamers being patient with me and showing me the ropes. However, the small number of bad experiences are significant enough to induce the nerves described above. In any case, I guess my main point is that stepping into gaming environments can be intimidating for some and it’s good to remind ourselves of that from time to time. I know for a fact (because I used to be one of them) that there are people out there who want to get into games but need a gentle push of encouragement and support to break through the noob wall.
I’m not saying any of this to attack gamers or because I think gamers are all horrible, awful people – quite the opposite! I think gaming is awesome and (most) gamers are awesome and I think it’s good to spread the joy. So let’s do that! Remembering that for some newbies (like me) a little support can go a long way.
Post by Dan Thompson
*DPS = Damage Per Second, ADC = Attack Damage Carry (a high damage ranged character in games like League of Legends), AoE = Area of Effect
** Ganking = Ambushing an enemy in an online game
Nerfing = When game developers reduce the power of a character or ability in order to achieve better game balance
Mana curve = In turn-based card games where you need to use ‘mana’ to play cards (like Hearthstone or Magic:The Gathering) your mana curve is what you need to think about when constructing your deck regarding how many cards of which mana cost to put in.