There’s a phrase in gaming that is tossed around internet forums which grates on me like nails on a chalk board. It is a seemingly innocuous phrase that comes up every now and again in discussions of all sorts: fanboy arguments about which console is best, reasonable opinions about the length of games, and subjective comments on how enjoyable a title is. Although it is a concept expressed in only two words, the implications that these two words carry are far greater than those of any message board flame war. These terrible two words are “real gamer”.
So, why is this phrase so darn insidious? Well, that's simple, the concept of a “real gamer” implies that there is an ideal gamer who has reached a pinnacle of gaming knowledge and everyone else is a misguided peon who can’t form a complete opinion. It presumes that, should you play enough games, you will automatically feel a certain way, regardless of your past experiences or personal preferences. What’s more, because the criteria for being part of this elite club is often based on owning a certain set of titles or thinking a certain way, the concept limits creative discussion within the community.
However, this idea is innately flawed because anyone reading this possesses their own unique gaming experiences and memories. Personally I've spanned every stereotype imaginable: xbox fanboy, uber competitive Halo 2 player, less competitive Xbox 360 owner, casual gamer, and now part time journalist who looks at the entire industry on a day to day basis. At each of these stages I had a very distinct perspective on gaming, yet I was always a real gamer. But how can this be? I’ve never owned a Sony console since the PSOne (I simply didn’t have the money), 13 year old me flamed Greg K for giving Halo 2 a 9.4 (before playing it I might add), and 18 year old me had become so disillusioned with the scene that it took meeting some incredible people at E3 to get back into it. Throughout it all I was a real gamer because at each and every point along my journey I loved playing video games. And that, more than anything else, is what makes you, me, and everyone else who has ever touched a joystick, a real gamer.
Sure, there will always be people who have a bigger library of titles, just as there will always be people who agree with the majority and can afford to own multiple consoles. However, this doesn’t make their views any more or less correct than anyone else’s. For example, over the past six months I have spent more time thinking about video games than I care to admit, yet I still found the most recent Uncharted 3 gameplay trailers terribly underwhelming; it just seemed like another action adventure game with some nice cinematic sequences. As an informed gamer how can I possibly not be impressed with the sequel to one of the PS3’s best reviewed gamer ever? Regardless of the reasons, it is an opinion which has been decidedly shaped by my 10+ years of gaming and is neither objectively right nor objectively wrong. However, under the “real gamer” paradigm there is no room for disagreement, the Uncharted 3 trailers were awesome and my thoughts are incorrect beliefs of a young man who has not yet been enlightened. The most disappointing part about this squashing of ideas is that it immediately shuts down any discussion about how the action adventure genre could be improved.
More than just inhibiting discussion though, drawing such lines in the sand creates divisions that don't need to exist. By implying that a “real gamer” acts a certain way, has a certain set of preferences, or owns a requisite set of hardware creates an elitist strata of gamers. And let’s be real here, did anyone ever pick up a controller and thought to themselves “I want to play videogames because this way I can have other people tell me my beliefs are invalid”? No, people play video games because they want to experience something bigger than themselves: they want to save the princess, save the world, conquer the world, or just plain win a game of Black Ops. They stay around not because they get to feel as if they’re part of some special club, but because they find a group of people who love the exact same things that they do. If you need evidence of this idea just look at PAX. Gabe and Tycho’s semi-annual convention attracts massive numbers of gamers across the country because it celebrates the power of gaming to bring people together. Invalidating people’s opinions because they don’t meet an arbitrary set of requirements does the exact opposite: it drives a wedge between people where one need not exist, harming the power of games to bring people together.
So, the next time you seem a journalist or fellow gamer toss around the phrase “real gamer” as if it doesn’t include you, challenge them on it. You have a console, you have an opinion, and you have a set of experiences that make your just as valid as the next guy. What’s more, don’t be afraid to voice your opinion, get into discussions, and challenge the status quo. Who knows, maybe you’ll change some minds and start your own revolution.