What’s a gamer?

I don’t have a deep expertise in a lot of fields, but one thing I’m more qualified to comment on than most is gaming. I have been a gamer most of my life.  “Gamer” is one of my most foundational identities, and gamers are a community I keep in touch with.

There seems to be a lot of confusion in media sources about what a gamer is. The impulse seems to be to try to define it as “a person who plays (video) games” and then express bafflement when community members don’t want to include people who play Solitaire on their lunch break.

The problem is that that isn’t and hasn’t ever been the definition of a gamer. Humans have been playing games since there have been humans, but gamers are a fairly recent phenomenon. People who play sports aren’t gamers. Gamblers aren’t gamers (despite regulatory bodies for gambling often being called “gaming commissions.”) Playing monopoly doesn’t make you a gamer.

The best approach, as with almost any identity group, is to start with self-identification. A gamer is someone who self-identifies as a gamer. You can stop there, that’s a complete definition.

But what would lead someone to identify themselves as a gamer? What does gaming mean to gamers?

There could be as many different answers as there are gamers. But if you look closely you’ll find some common themes. I call myself a gamer because I play tabletop roleplaying and strategy games and sophisticated PC games (shooters, strategy games, RPGs, MMOs, just to name a few genres.) I don’t call myself a gamer because I play chess or because I play Tetris on my phone. Magic: The Gathering players call themselves gamers. Poker players do not.

More important than what you play is how important gaming is to you. Do you see it as an important part of who you are as a person? Then you’re in.

As with being a “geek,” a genuine enthusiasm for the hobby is the only requirement.

And that’s really all there is to it.

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