Today while waiting to present on the 2015 Cultural Constructions conference, a colleague gave an incredible presentation about disability theory, fat studies, and the depiction of overweight characters on the covers of Young Adult fiction. To say that it’s one of the most interesting talks I have seen in the past few years would indeed be an understatement. She talked about how in the 70s stories about fat characters revolved around the quest to become thin and on the cover they were depicted as their thin variant, how closer towards contemporary YA fiction the body is either replaced by food or color or focus on a body part such as the hand or the feet, and how the messages conveyed by such practices tell overweight teens that even though they may have their own stories, their body is shameful and not worthy of representation. She made a rousing argument about how this practice should change and that body shaming of any kind is wrong, that it doesn’t matter whether someone is overweight or disabled or healthy, that shouldn’t dictate what rights they get. It was a great talk.
And it got me thinking about depictions of fat player characters in games.
Not too long ago, James Brightman published an article over at Game Industry where he asks if Sony and Microsoft will still be relevant by 2019. In it, he talks about how in the future the PC and Mobile segments will grab a bigger share of the gaming market, that traditional gaming consoles are losing relevance, and that everyone should jump into the PC and Mobile bandwagon. If it had been five years ago, I would have called this a ridiculous piece. In fact, not too long ago I wrote a piece arguing that there would be at least one more gaming console. However, given the current gaming landscape and the qualifiers used by James in his question, I can’t help but thing that Sony and Microsoft will, indeed, become irrelevant by the end of the current console generation.
Let’s consider the current gaming landscape for a second.
What is a gamer? This is a question that seems to simultaneously evoke the utmost passions and complete indifference. When the issue is brought up, the more common responses are often “anyone who plays a game” or “anyone who plays a specific type of game”, with the specific type being whichever the individual considers a “real” game. Other times, some answer with “I don’t care” or “the concept is too hard to define.” Because I enjoy biting into issues long forgotten and seemingly insolvable, I have decided it worthwhile to write a few notes on what a “gamer” is. The notes below are some jumbled summary-like thoughts from my book mentioned in the previous post.
But before that, let me address a separate demographic – the “player” (or game enthusiast or whatever).
To me, a game player (or player for short) is anyone who plays a game. These players can exist in categories based on how much they play.
The first category I will refer to is the casual player. The term casual player often invokes images of Candy Crush or Flappy Bird, but this is not what I mean by “casual player”. I mean “someone who plays games causally”. This may be someone who plays Flappy Bird on the bus on their way to work or someone who only plays a few rounds of Call of Duty on a late Saturday night while drunk in a frat party. These are the people who play only a few hours a week (let’s say 1 – 2 hours a week at most because arbitrary numbers are awesome).
The second category are the average players. These are the ones who play for slightly longer periods of time, let’s say 2 – 5 hours a week because why not. It doesn’t matter whether this time is spent playing repeated rounds of CoD, one hour a day farming crops on your favorite farm simulator, or someone who plays through single player games. If they see gaming as a hobby, but not as their main hobby, they fall under this category.
The third category are the dedicated players. These are the ones who spend a great deal of time playing games and for whom playing games is the main hobby. Again, it doesn’t matter if this is someone who spends most of their time clicking stuff and spending ridiculous amounts of money on extra click coins, someone who spends most of their weekend farming in WoW or in an FPS multiplayer, or someone who beats 80 hour RPGs in a few weeks and then moves on to the next epic.
This kind of differentiation, I think, makes it so that the type of player isn’t related to the type of game the play, thus avoiding generalizations like “hardcore players only play CoD” and “casual players only play on mobile devices”.
This brings us to “gamer”.
What is a gamer? To me, a gamer is someone who is really passionate about the media and who is well versed. A gamer is someone whose other-media-equivalent would be a bookworm or a film buff. They certainly include professional gamers, but they also include people who have expansiv knowledge about the medium and are incredibly dedicated to playing. Gamer is a label, I think, that can’t be placed on someone else. It is a term that you choose as identify as. And it well may be that you may be asked by someone to “prove your gamer cred” (although most likely you’ll just be asked “what do you play?”), but that’s a whole other issue. At any rate, maybe adopting these definitions might help further discussions about game culture, maybe not. Who knows. But for those who might find thinking through these concepts, there you go.
After a brief conversation with an acquaintance, I have come to realize that many people seem to misunderstand the concept of a video game. In my conversation, I discussed with my friend the merits of several video games, including the recent Bloodborne, versus that of many indie titles like Gone Home. In the conversation, the idea that the always controversial Depression Quest, to quote my friend, “is not even a real video game”, then he went on to discuss issues such as win or lose conditions and degrees of interactivity – elements which, curiously enough, I discuss in my hopefully soon to be published manuscript that I am currently editing to begin pitching at publishing houses. In order to illuminate my friend’s perspective – and that of many others – I thought I should write a bit about what it means to be “a video game”, because why not beat a dead horse with a stick, right?