Who are you calling a 'gamer'?

OPINION

  • "Call of Duty"
"Call of Duty" (Stacey Wescott/Chicago…)
February 06, 2014|By Ryan Smith, @ryansmithwriter | For RedEye

"So, are you like ... a gamer?"

I hear this question on nearly every first date, and it makes me grimace every time. I usually admit that I am, but in an apologetic, slightly embarrassed, aw-shucks-I-know-it's-kind-of-ridiculous-but-what-are-you-gonna-do kind of way.

It's not that I'm embarrassed about enjoying pixelated entertainment, it's just that the word "gamer" is such a stupid and outdated term that I wish we as a society could burn it and bury it so deep in a desert that even Lara Croft couldn't dig it up.

Here's a thought experiment: Close your eyes and search for an image in your mind that fits the term "gamer." Chances are you'll imagine a 25-year-old burnout whose modest ambitions have all but drowned in a melange of bong water, porn and PlayStation 4. Or a socially awkward, neckbearded manchild who weeps into his Mountain Dew every time he hears the first three notes from the "Zelda" theme.

Yep, at some point in the history of our cultural lexicon, "gamer" became lazy shorthand for "immature slacker" in nearly the same way "rocket scientist" is synonymous with brainy complexity or politician with sycophantic smarminess.

It's not really our fault—it's a mass-media stereotype left over from a time when games were much more of a niche pursuit enjoyed by kids and social outcast types. But games and the people who play them have grown up over the past decade or so. According to recent statistics from the Entertainment Software Association, the average player is a 30-year-old who is almost as likely to be a woman as a dude (55 percent male to 45 percent female).

Yes, there still are plenty of mindless first-person shooters and ultra-nerdy role-playing games involving talking dragons or spandex-clad superheroes, but there also are a growing number of interactive fictions that tell stories rivaling anything in Hollywood and serious games focused on issues such as immigration or sweatshop labor.

The most popular type of online game isn't anything resembling "World of Warcraft," it's a puzzle, card or trivia game—the kind of time-waster you probably tinker with on your smartphone while riding the CTA.

That's the thing. The term gamer implies a small minority or someone who has elite skills or training—think boxer, chef or firefighter. Fifty-eight percent of all Americans currently play video games of some kind—whether it's "Call of Duty" on an Xbox One or "Candy Crush" on an iPhone.

Now that these games are ubiquitous, to call the majority of us "gamers" just because we play makes about as much sense as labeling someone who watches movies a "filmer" or those who consume cake "cakers." (Granted, the term "foodie" is nearly as obnoxious, but that's a different story.) Almost everyone carries and constantly looks at a tiny computer in his or her pockets, but that doesn't make anyone a "phoner."

Come on, folks. Let's all make a pact and stop using the word "gamer." Maybe then I'll snag a second date.

Ryan Smith is a RedEye special contributor.

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