The Gamer's Stigma

by Phil Kehres

My last column generated quite a bit of vitriol towards what some call "the gamer lifestyle,” leading to unfounded accusations that I am not only obese but also an anti-social mom’s-basement-dweller. After my initial anger, I let these thoughts marinate in my head for a while. I realized that the negative comments I attracted — while partially in response to my ambiguous sarcasm — were not simply one person’s opinion, but rather indicative of a subtle but pervasive anti-gamer bias that has persisted throughout society since the days of Super Mario Brothers.

I bring this up only because it’s still all-too-common to illicit an upturned nose or an eyeroll in response to telling an acquaintance that you play video games and, even worse, play them online. My friends get it, but that’s because I’ve chosen my friends based on their rationality and tolerance — and not surprisingly, many of them are gamers.

There’s nothing that makes gamers inherently anti-social. A gamer is no more anti-social than someone who runs on a treadmill with their iPod on, or someone who curls up on a couch to read a book or watch a TV show alone. Those people don’t get labels, because all of those things are perceived — rightfully — as valid and enjoyable activities in their own right. They’re individual pieces of people’s complex lives. Gaming is no different. Just as an avid reader wouldn’t spend his or her free time exclusively reading, a gamer wouldn’t spend all of his or her free time gaming. I, for example, also enjoy playing sports and music, photography and, obviously, writing.

Being a gamer doesn’t mean you’re holed up in a dimly lit room 24/7 eating pizza and growing steadily fatter. It’s a hobby, like anything else. In fact, the most avid gamer I know is also one of the healthiest and fittest people I know. Gaming online is arguably more social than watching TV — I’ve been able to keep up with friends from across the country through Xbox Live online gaming. Like other forms of entertainment, gaming has its roots in pure escapism. And while every game can’t be as deep and enriching as a good novel, the best games keep your mind sharp and tell stories far more compelling than anything you’ll find on network TV.

Now, I’m not trying to make myself out to be a martyr here. Clearly, no one is committing hate crimes against gamers. It’s not that serious. But the sentiment exists nonetheless, and ridding society of prejudices, no matter how small, is always a worthy cause. Somewhere along the line, gamers got stereotyped as anti-social, insular, lazy nerds lacking creatively and with no better outlet for their childish minds. Speaking for myself and my friends, at the very least, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

(Phil Kehres also is the co-author of Excuse Me, Is This Your Blog?)

(The photo is by MNgilen of Des Moines, IA via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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