Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Dirty Word of "Gamer"

In yesterday's weekly link round-up, I mentioned the recent Pew Research Study regarding the gaming habits of Americans. While the focus has been on the findings that the majority of people don't see a correlation between violent games and violent real world behavior, there are some other interesting tidbits to the study that seem to be overlooked. Such as the word "gamer." It averages out to about 10% of the U.S. population considers themselves "gamers."

Men aged 18-29 are more likely to call themselves a gamer, at least 1/3rd of them relate to the term. With Women in the same age range the number drops drastically to 9%. For all age groups, Men are at 15% and Women are at 6%.

What's with the wide disparity between Men and Women? And why will only 10% of the population call themselves "gamers," while the rest are not? It's interesting given earlier studies this year from the ESRB and the ESA show that a lot of people play games, even if they don't realize it. 4 out of 5 households in the U.S. have a gaming console. People spend an average of 3 hours a week playing a game. But the Pew Research shows that 51% of people claim that they don't play video games.

Couple of things to keep in mind about all of these numbers I'm throwing out.

First, there's the stereotype of video games that has not broken through to the mobile industry yet. It's believed to be a solitary activity that one does in their home, on a console or at a computer, and they have no interaction to the outside world. I can guarantee you that those 51% of people who state that they don't play video games actually do. They're playing them on their phones. Why else would Angry Birds and Candy Crush have nearly half a billion downloads? With Candy Crush, it's estimated that roughly 190 million of those downloads came from the U.S. There are currently 349 million people in the U.S., which means half the population has downloaded the game.

But people don't think they're playing a video game, do they? It's just a mobile app to kill time. I'm not being anti-social or hiding in my parent's basement.

Too bad. You're playing a video game.

Video games don't require you to be at a gaming console like an XBox One. They can be accessed anytime, anywhere, on any device. If you're played Angry Birds, you've played a video game. Lucky for the mobile app industry, a number of people haven't caught on yet and they're able to use it to their benefit.

51% don't think they play video games...yeah right.

Second, continuing on the stereotype train, "gamers" are generally pictured to be "That Which Has No Life" from South Park. Overweight, middle-aged man-child, who lives with their parents, and does nothing but sit on their couch or at their desk all day as life passes them by, while eating Doritos and drinking Mt. Dew. It doesn't help that most gaming tournies with large prizes are sponsored by those companies in question.

It's been this way since, well for as long as I can remember. If you say you're a gamer, people automatically judge you in the same way they would a comic book fan, or a movie aficionado, or a theater tech. Every fandom has a stereotype, even knitters. Just think about it for a second - when you picture someone knitting you're probably imagining that it's an elderly women, probably in her 70's, with grandchildren and she's making socks and sweaters for their birthday, or knitting a dozen cozies for no reason then to have more nick-knacks around the house. Am I right?

But did you know that the average age of knitters is now in the mid-30's and it's a 50/50 split on men and women who actively knit? It's a fashion statement now, and it's use actively on shows such as Game of Thrones. From high fashion to crafts on Etsy, anyone can knit. It's not just grandmas, but it doesn't stop the stereotype from spreading around.

Which is why you're not seeing Women actively proclaiming that they are "gamers." It brings a negative connotation that most of us are told to avoid. Women in particular are given a much harsher world view from an early age that we are expected to fit into G mindset and we can't stray from it, otherwise we'll be ostracized throughout our lives. (I don't want to insinuate that Men don't incur the same. Societies in each civilization have expectations for both genders that if we stray outside of the norm, we are considered outcasts. But for Men, it's not as severe as what Women have to endure. There's more acceptance that Men can play baseball and be an artist, and be a rock star, and wear nicely tailored suits, and have a shoe fetish, and like the color pink, and enjoy dressing up for special occasions, and play video games. And, and, and. The list goes on. For Women, we're often controlled into one way of thinking - to be pretty and please the male gaze. We're often dismissed or shunned if we take an interest in math and science, if we want to play baseball, if we want to play video games - because these are activities that are typically associated with Men. But if  Man wants to be in ballet? Sure! Have at it. There might be some who don't agree with it, but overall, they're praised and lauded for their strength.)

And that's why Women have a difficult time calling themselves a "gamer." It conjures up the image that you're fat, ugly, lazy, and incapable of being a responsible adult. The exact opposite of everything that we've told since birth. It's difficult to overcome that stereotype no matter how many faces we see playing video games.

Third, the word "gamer" also has the stereotype that you need to be full-on into the activity and completely devoted to gaming and nothing else. Which is why I suspect only 15% of Men consider themselves a gamer. And again this has been a visual that has been in the mindset of many since the early days of gaming.

"The people who play all the time are "gamers." The people who only play Call of Duty and nothing else are "gamers." I'm just playing Madden 2015. I'm not a gamer."

But you are! It doesn't matter what type of game you're playing. If you play and you enjoy talking about games, then you're a gamer.

Overcoming the stereotype of the word "gamer" is not going to happen overnight. And I don't know if it'll happen at all. Comic book fans have been dealing with it since the 1920's and it's still the same ol' song and dance. But a good start would be to stop putting pressure on Men and Women to fit into certain molds that society dictates. The great thing about video games is that there are so many out there on consoles or through mobile app that don't care about your gender. They just want you to play (and spend money but let's not be cynical here).

Even with all of the crap going on in the industry and the fandom as of late, I still call myself a gamer. I'm not as hard-core as the League of Legends teams, but I enjoy talking about my hobby. I enjoy playing my hobby. And I get a kick out of bringing new people into the fold! It's always great to see people jump into the community and see what they have been missing out on.

My two cents, or in this case about three fifty, for the day.

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