Yes, you can call yourself a gamer if you want to

One of the most absurd discourses I’ve seen is folks debating the legitimacy of one another’s “gamer” status. What does or does not constitute a gamer? It’s super-duper simple. If you play games and want to call yourself a gamer, you’re a gamer. What games count as official gamer games? Is it a game? Then it counts. Any reason why this wouldn’t be the case would be dripping with bigotry or misogyny. 

Literally, anyone can be a gamer, if that’s what they want to call themselves. Few question people’s decision to call themselves a golfer, a piano player, or a writer. Unless those people are women. Or queer. That really is what this debate is about, I know that. It isn’t a secret that the gamer community is a cesspool of toxic dudebro types. But that is not what this piece is about. Bigots get enough attention. I wanna talk about gaming and what it means to me to be a gamer.

I’m almost forty so my love of gaming started back in the 1980s with the NES. It was the only reason I liked to go to my cousin’s house when I was a kid. Sitting on her living room floor watching her play Super Mario Bros and Zelda, anxiously waiting my turn, but enjoying just watching the characters explore on the screen. It was like a cartoon, but one we could control. I was in love. 

Unfortunately, my parents were very anti-video games. Which I always found really strange. They thought they were stupid and generally inappropriate. They were only in their late twenties, maybe early thirties, so it didn’t make sense to me that they would be so closed-minded about the whole deal. Maybe it was because we were poor, and hating something because “it’s stupid” was easier than recognizing that they resented the fact that they couldn’t afford such things — a defense mechanism a lot of people resort to. Or it just wasn’t something they were interested in so I wasn’t allowed to like it. 

Either way, I had to keep my passion for video games a secret. I remember watching out the window at my grandmother’s, terrified my parents would show up and catch me playing Super Mario 64 on the N64 I used to rent from the local video store on the weekends.  

But on Friday and Saturday night, when it was too late for them to just pop by, and my gramma went to bed, I got to have magical hours, all by myself exploring fantasy worlds, controlling these beautiful characters. Escaping. I got to escape, in a different way than I was able to with books because no matter how interested I was in what I was reading, I always found my mind wandering (which now I know was partly due to undiagnosed ADHD.) Video games held my attention more than anything else had before. 

Gaming never stopped being something I could dive into whenever I needed to exert a little control or solve problems that didn’t have real consequences. Building and decorating houses in The Sims, or playing Monkeyball on the Gamecube with my toddler giggling and playing along with a disconnected controller. It evolved into something I could bond with my kid over, and continue to with both of my children today. 

But I don’t think I ever really thought of myself as a “gamer”. I didn’t play many of the current, popular games, I didn’t play MMOs, I didn’t get together and play with other people until I met my husband. I just played the games that made me happy, the way I wanted to play them. 

I dismissed myself and my right to feel like a part of something. There is no right way to be a gamer, no prerequisites, no specific number of hours you have to log in order to belong. It’s just a term to describe someone who likes to play games, nothing more. 

There is also no right way to game, aside from obvious ethical concerns like cheating and such. Even if you play every game on the easiest mode, use a God-mode mod, restart every time you get frustrated, or only play Animal Crossing or Pokemon and have no intentions of ever picking up another game, then you’re playing right.

Games are such a great source of safe, instant gratification, and an excellent way to exercise your brain. Sometimes an easy run-through of a game you enjoy is just the ticket to improving your mental health for the afternoon. You know those days where you just need a win? Gaming can help with that. It can just be fun, it doesn’t have to be a challenge for it to be valid. Or if you prefer something that makes your brain hurt, more power to you too! It doesn’t matter how you enjoy your gaming experience, just that you enjoy it.

Some people enjoy getting raged out in CoD and blowing off steam by shooting enemies in the face and getting frustrated over something that doesn’t really matter — to get it out and work through some emotions in a way that isn’t hurting anyone. (Not to be confused with someone who says mean shit to people in games to blow off steam, this is not the same thing.)

It’s time to toss the idea of what a gamer is supposed to be in the trash and start over. The stereotype is dead, we’ve moved on from the gamers living in their mother’s basement covered in a Mountain Dew and Cheeto glaze ridiculousness.

The video game industry is worth more than the film and music industries combined. More than two billion people play games every day, there’s room for everyone.

I play video games in my beach house, sometimes dressed in lingerie often with my adoring husband, so kindly miss me with your judgment or opinion on gamers. 

I play games, therefore I am a gamer. And you are too if you choose to call yourself one. 



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  • Nikki

    Nikki is a photographer, writer, artist, and advocate of radical self-love. She writes about mental health, gaming, sex, and inclusivity.

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