Asking Big Questions

Asking Big Questions #007: “What is a Real Gamer”?

The problem with people is that they’re only human.
-Bill Watterson



Hello, NPCs!

TWRM is back with yet another moderately-proportioned question to bequeath: “What is a Real Gamer?” What is your own definition of one or is the term stupid? Snuck an extra question in there. Those of you who have participated before know the drill. With our Asking Big Questions series I invite you to join in the conversation.

Now I do have to express my regret that I’m unable to read every response to these questions, as I’ve failed to do in the past. Time is a terrible tyrant. Sometimes these questions receive a lot of responses and many of them are very well-thought out and articulated.

The point of this series is to generate open discussion, not necessarily to create content purely for me to digest, so in that spirit please feel free to comment below with your answer or even create a blog post about what your definition of “real gamer” is! If you create your own post, please remember to link back to this post so that everyone can find your link as a resource. Every conversation is one worth having. Well, almost every one. I think.

Here are four possible answers to the question that I can imagine, though I’m sure there are more. I wanted to share some of my thoughts as well. You’ll find I don’t think to highly of the term “real gamer”



#1. “Real gamer” as an elitist term

This tends to be used in the phrasing “only real gamers [insert act that the poster does themselves]”. Real gamer implies that there are false gamers or fake gamers, hypocrites or pretenders aspiring to the overwhelmingly illustrious position, “poseurs” as we used to call people in the eloquent ’90s.

In other words, it’s “only real gamers are like me”, because ego. You’ll hear “only real gamers play PlayStation/Xbox/Nintendo”, “only real gamers play retro games”, “only real gamers play in 4K HD”, “only real gamers subject themselves to the addiction of MMORPGs”. Typically there’s a certain level of skill or ownership of a collection that’s appealed to. To the great arbiters who decide who is a true gamer and who isn’t, a host of other terms are brandished to describe those they deem below the cut: cheap gamers, casuals, losers, etc. You can tell these folks by their go-to phrase “I can’t believe you haven’t played [random game title]!” I’d like to also submit “do you even PVP, bro?” for their convenience.

Now don’t think that this is unique to gaming (and I hope that helps to set me apart from other games journalists!). That’s human nature for you and it’s something you can see repeated among sports fans, hobbyists, artisans, and even writers (yes, writers are not magically better than anyone else simply because of their choice of activity and/or natural talent, contrary to popular belief). The ubiquity of Self with a capital “s” is no phenomenon but it explains why the term “gamer” is used in this way.



#2. “Real gamer” as a technical or industry term

This one is interesting. The sense here is that games are either designed or marketed to the “hardcore” gamer or the “casual”. Talking with someone who worked in the industry, they were able to relate how different levels of attention in development were paid to different games that were intended to be sold to casuals vs hardcore gamers.

As a marketing term meant to make it easier for developers to define the goals for their games in terms of demographics and sales, I don’t see too much problem with it. Of course, I don’t use the term in this manner since I’m not a developer, but I doubt that those saying “real gamers only play [blank]” always are either.



#3. “Real gamer” as emblematic of gamer culture

So-called gamer culture is somewhat of a packed term. It calls to mind a stereotype or a generalized description, more so, associated with toxicity, arrogance, bragging, rudeness, anti-sociability, addiction, and obsession, and in many cases rightfully so. Google “real gamer”. It’s a mess. Certainly there are people like this and you can call them a culture, but I don’t think you have to be like them or associate with them if you play video games. I don’t, so I can attest to that. I daily get to interact with some really amazing, funny, talented, articulate, intelligent, witty, and creative people who also happen to play games. They’re out there, you just have to find them. Also, if you want friends you have to be friendly yourself. If gamer culture is just a bunch of strangers calling each other slurs, then count me out.


Add a third panel on the right where two gamers are frowning down at another gamer.

The term gamer culture is so fettered and dirty that many have stopped calling themselves “gamers” at all to disassociate. There’s a lot of obsession with labels today and if you prefer to be called “a non-conforming individual who occasionally but without regularity partakes in the activity of playing computer games” that’s fine, but I don’t think that’ll fit in your Twitter profile.

Call me a gamer, don’t call me a gamer, I don’t care. That to me makes the “real gamer” descriptor that much more laughable. It doesn’t matter to me. If it matters to you, that’s up to you. That’s your own thing. Cool. Just don’t assume that I throw my stuff around in fits of rage or hate women and minorities because I happen to play video games. But… it’s easy to tolerate poor behavior in ourselves and then shake a finger at the rest of the culture, so I’ll stop right here. “In the multitude of words…”



#4. “Real gamer” as literally anyone who is plays video games

It doesn’t matter what genre of game you play or what platform its on or who developed and published it. It doesn’t even matter if I like or approve of the game, myself! The thing that resonates with me about this definition is it allows me to find common ground with anyone, regardless of what they’re playing. It takes into consideration that there’s nothing better or worse about gamers because they’re just people who enjoy a specific activity from time to time with varying frequency.

Maybe the best thing about this definition is it prevents anyone from excluding or shaming someone else on something that’s really at the end of the day pretty superficial and doesn’t have much to do with that person’s character: the kind of games they play.

Some people are sphincters (and some of them are “gamers”). Some people are lovely (and some of them are “gamers”). As there’s no relationship between playing video games and becoming an active shooter, so too there’s no relationship between playing video games and being a jerk. Real gamers in this definition can be anyone and real gamers can play whatever they want when they want or have time or money for. This is why I’m indifferent to things like “gamer pride”. That’d be like saying “kicking a ball pride”.

I don’t care what your skin tone is. I don’t care what gender or orientation you are. I don’t care what your creed is. I don’t care if you’re “hardcore” or “casual”. If you play games, we can talk about it. By some people’s definitions, I’m “hardcore”. By others I’m extremely “casual”. To me, gaming is just an activity I enjoy like movie watching, hiking, or eating food. It has plenty of baggage, gaming does, but it’s different than being a writer since a writer creates (and that’s more how I’d identify myself than “gamer”).

Anyway, that’s just my take, as in “take it or leave it”.

To close this out, let me say that I really liked what someone said on Twitter (I couldn’t find the tweet): gamers complain about having been bullied in school as outcasts and about being marginalized now for playing video games, so don’t become bullies and exclude people into being outcasts yourselves. Don’t become what you hate. If anything, gamers should have learned to be kind to others if they were really on the receiving end of real harassment.

Excellent point. Think about it. You can’t moan about being discriminated against or looked down on if those are the things you’re doing yourself.

That’s logic common sense,
-The Well-Red Mage


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32 replies »

  1. I am not a fan of the term, maybe because my gamer status has been called into question because of my gender, but I’ve also had it defended vehemently by people who’d be considered “real gamers.” I think it smacks of elitism and a way to gate keep. It reminds me of when the Wii came out and “real gamers” complained that it would appeal to *everyone* and somehow they would make gaming less significant? I…did not understand that at all. Now do I know more about video games than the average person? Probably, but there’s this idea that only certain people can be allowed into the club and if you weren’t in the club already and/or you don’t have the credentials for it, you’re not allowed in. It’s honestly childish and “real gamers” and gaming should be about welcoming anyone into the fold. The more people we have, the more fun Mario Kart 8 is!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve always considered a “real gamer” to be, wait for it…..someone who enjoys playing video games! (#4) No matter the genre or console we choose to enjoy playing games on, you’re a gamer. End of story.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t use the term real gamer, as I feel that anytime you use real as a descriptor for any hobby it is dismissive and non-inclusive. However, I do sometimes identify as a hardcore gamer, as it swiftly lets people know where I stand on gaming. It lets them know instantly the type of gamer I am: I play pretty much everything, across every platform I can. I listen to podcasts, keep up on all the latest gaming news, and gaming is a large part of my life.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with the term casual gamer either, as long as it isn’t used to be dismissive or crappy. My wife has played Animal Crossing Pocket Camp faithfully since the game came out, but an occasional mobile game is all she plays. She hates it when I say she is a gamer, but certainly someone who plays just one game a lot is a gamer, albeit a casual one.

    Overall I just tell people I’m a geek in general, all of my outside hobbies and interests revolve around stuff traditionally considered geeky or nerdy, but gaming is absolutely my primary hobby.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel the same way, and at least “hardcore” is less of a qualitative term than “real”. “Real” implies there’s “fake”. It seems to be the general consensus that casual isn’t a bad term unless it’s used as an insult, too. Really this is less about the terms and more about the attitude of dismissiveness and exclusion that you sometimes see.

      Oddly, I just realized I’ve never used the terms geek or nerd to describe myself. I’d say writing is my primary hobby. It’s interesting to reflect on these things, so thanks for sharing how you’ve interacted with terms yourself. I’ve never been called a geek but I have been called a nerd, typically by girls when I was in school 😥 Hahaha!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve never seen geek as a bad term, though nerd has been used as an insult identifier. Usually they are interchangeable in most people’s minds, but there is a difference between them. Either way, it is just an all encompassing thing that tells people that I like comic books, super heroes, video games, D&D, card games, fantasy and sci-fi books, movies and shows, etc. You know, pursuits previously thought to be of a “nerd” or “geek” realm. It isn’t the only title that defines me, but it is certainly an identifier I own.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve always found these sorts of discussion difficult to get invested in on a personal level. I’ve never quite understood people’s obsession with identity politics and defining labels for themselves. I’ve got a fairly sizeable collection of games (1100+) from various generations and platforms. Most of the time if I’m not at work, I’m gaming, or making art inspired by gaming. Alot of my spare cash goes to games. I’ll spend all afternoon discussing the finer points of late 90’s Capcom CPS2 board belt scrolling beat-em-ups. If there is a posterboy for the classic “hardcore gamer,” it’s probably me. But “gamer” isn’t a label that I’ve applied to myself since probably my mid teens (I’m 33 now). This has nothing to do with the ridiculous culture wars of the past 5 years or so – I feel no shame in my hobby, and won’t be brought to. My own personal philosophy just bristles at the idea of being labeled. I don’t want a buzzword attached to me that summarizes my existence as a person and creates a narrowed perspective on who I am when I introduce myself to others. To call myself a “gamer” cuts off too many avenues. I’m an avid reader of speculative fiction, a fan of horror films, and an amateur writer. I draw and paint. I’m an advocate for plant based eating and cruelty-free lifestyles. I love to cook and bake. I’d imagine it’s the same for many of us. When I describe myself as a gamer, it doesn’t take those things away from me, but it turns them into surprises – and I won’t abide that. I am a man, who enjoys video games. Life should be lived with limitless possibilities, and labeling myself feels too much like a cage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey thank you for the comment! Again, you and I sound a lot alike. For one, we’re the same age but more so than that I find myself also shameless about gaming and turned off by labels. I respect the rights of others to use labels however they want, of course, but I don’t really care for it myself. Like you I do plenty of other things besides gaming and as I attempted to express, I’d sooner call myself a writer than a gamer. True I collect games and write about them a lot but I’m disinterested in the politics and baggage of the culture. I don’t think gamer needs to be a dirty word or that anyone should be shamed for playing games, either.


  5. I’d go with #4 personally. Anyone who has a strong interest in games and a passion for playing them is a ‘gamer’ I suppose. I guess the term ‘real gamer’ has the implication that anyone else is a ‘fake gamer’ – certainly not true. There can be different levels of knowledge in the hobby, but if you’re interested in gaming and like playing, you’re a gamer!

    Liked by 1 person

    • THANK you! I picked up on that distinction too: if you say “real gamer” well then what is not a real gamer that still plays games? Then come the scornful terms like filthy casual, scrub, loser, poser, and so on. Gaming doesn’t need any of that elitism.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly – you’re either a real gamer or not a gamer, you can’t fall anywhere else!

        Ah, scornful terms, like noob, pwn etc. Games should be fun. You can be into a hobby without ruining the enjoyment of others!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I don’t really see anything in the term. “real gamer” I just see “gamer” and a gamer for me, is someone who regularly plays games. Doesn’t matter what type of game or platform, just someone who just plays games on a regular basis

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Anyone that plays a game. I hate the Sims, but it is a game. I hate Angry Birds but it is a game.

    I love Dark Souls, some people will argue that is a broken grief fest that struggles to be a game at times. But is still, a game,.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I think it’s helpful to distinguish between different levels of interest in the medium of video games. For example, someone who plays [x] mobile game on their lunch break is probably not going to be interested in industry gossip or what [big name director] is up to next. Conversely, someone who is interested in computer and console games is often not particularly interested in the more casual side of the market, be it mobile games, social games, free-to-play stuff or whatever. These distinctions help when considering how to discuss things with people, or what sort of content they might enjoy reading — if any.

    I liken it to other forms of media; there are people who read bestsellers to be entertained, and people who read literature to become more cultured or study the medium. (There are also people who do both!) Likewise, there are people who watch summer blockbusters because they’re fun or something to do with friends, and people who watch independent French arthouse movies with a greater-than-average amount of exposed hairy dicks on screen. So, too, are there different types of people who enjoy games to varying degrees.

    I feel the “gamer” label has only developed so much baggage because we’ve allowed it to, when so far as I’m concerned I simply regard it as being the interactive entertainment equivalent of a “film buff”. Part of that is the relentless pressuring from the mainstream press to paint “gamer culture” as the aforementioned misogynistic, basement-dwelling etc etc — but when you think about it that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, since that’s throwing shade at the people who are supposed to be their audience!

    I think my definition of the term mostly aligns with “Fed” above — I regard someone who describes themselves as a “gamer” to be someone with an active interest in video games; someone who makes the hobby a significant part of their life to some degree, i.e. more than just occasional Candy Crush on the lunch break. You can then use additional descriptors to be a bit more specific if you need to — are they a competitive gamer? A games writer? An aspiring developer? Someone who just loves talking about games? All are valid and elitism does suck — but I think some distinctions are helpful, particularly with how broad the medium as a whole is these days.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for the sizable comment! You know I had a huge response to the last epic comment you left on the Anatomy #002 post but when I went to hit reply it didn’t go through thanks to the internet connection and I refreshed the page and it was gone. I didn’t have the heart yet to recreate it since I tinkered on it for so long so as not to misrepresent your position or mine.

      I think that using the term “gamer” or “casual” in terms of factual, measurable interest is something that’s fairly close to reason #2 I included above and it’s one that doesn’t smack of elitist comparatists. It’s for distinguishing interest level and product demographics and I can get behind that.

      I don’t know how the term “gamer” got so loaded. It’s not like you’d expect film buffs to go around saying “real film buffs will recognize [whatever it is]” or create memes that say “only real film buffs understand”, or “only real film buffs watch French arthouse films”. As for the mainstream journalism scene, yeah they exist in such a thought-bubble of disdain against their own audience, it’s no wonder their influence is shrinking (as I recall you and I have chatted about before). They likely feel safe doing it because they don’t get paid directly through their readers and because they exist in an echo chamber thinking they’re doing the right thing by morally posturing and grandstanding while slamming any individual who plays games as the aforementioned.

      But at the same time, it’s not like journalists are forcing gamers to frequently malign one another for what they enjoy or use the term “real gamer” to exclude their own kind. It’s not like journalists force gamers to create memes and channels glorifying crappy behavior like screaming in frustration and rage quitting or calling strangers slurs online. I tried to be careful to phrase this out in the article that when people say “gamer culture” in a negative sense, it’s those people they’re likely referring to. Not every gamer is like that, of course, and I’m not going to build a career on maligning them. That element exists, as it exists in likely every fandom, group, or subculture (like when sports teams riot?), not because there’s anything particularly reprehensible about playing video games but because we’re all human.

      Ultimately, I agree with you that the terms as useful for distinction, well aside from elitism. I’m sure you wouldn’t say only “real gamers” play JRPGs just as conversely you wouldn’t want someone to say to you “real gamers hate Japanese games”.

      I appreciate the discussionary comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve often identified myself as a gamer, but in the last 2-3 console generations it’s become clear that the definition is subjective and wildly different depending on who you talk to. For me personally, a gamer is anyone who is enthusiastic about games. I play them. When I’m not playing them, I’m looking forward to finishing all my responsibilities so I CAN play them again. I read about them, I listen to podcasts, I pre-order the ones I can’t wait for… I feel that this sort of level of interest is what makes a gamer. Do you love them? Great! Then welcome aboard, gamer 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have to agree. Is it fair to say those people that have been getting together twice a week to play bridge or pinochle for 30+ years aren’t real gamers? What about that person that plays Spider Solitaire a few hours a night. I too feel that the term “gamer” applies to anyone that is passionate about a game, regardless of its virtual or not.

      Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a great and inclusive definition which pretty much lines up with how I use the term whenever I do. If someone wants to call themselves that regardless of what they play and how often they play it, then I don’t think anyone should be able to tack on the descriptor “real” or not.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. I’ve mostly self-selected out of communities where anyone would openly identify as a “gamer.” For better or for worse, the term’s got too much baggage these days; that’s pretty much been the case since the hobby became a thing. Even TWRM is more of a group of writers who happen to write about games than “gamers” who happen to write. The people I’m closest with play more games than most others I know, but even then, “gamers” are considered more of a joke than anything and it’s agreed that this isn’t something we talk about or share with the rest of the world. When we kill and loot someone in Sea of Thieves and they send a nasty, profanity-laden private message about it afterwards? That’s someone being a gamer. People throwing fits as a result of the latest manufactured controversy of the week? Gamers. And so on.

    It’s also worth mentioning that opting out of “gamer culture,” whatever that is, and still keeping on top of the latest news and updates related to the hobby is an interesting endeavor. If you just want to find out what’s been announced and when things are going to release without having editorials and opinion pieces forced on you, you’re going to have a rough time. My list of blocked terms on Reddit, for instance, is about three pages long, encompassing politics, memes and advertorial terms of all stripes. Even on an individual basis, I’m very quick on the block button = I’ve discovered from experience that if someone ever says something particularly dumb in a public venue, it’s a fair bet they’re never going to have much of value to add beyond that.

    Liked by 1 person

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