The evolution of the term ‘gamer’ has progressed largely through the years. Here we are investigating why this progression has happened, looking into gaming history and checking in with a couple of specialists on the subject for a closer look into this theory.
Less than twenty years ago the ‘gamer’ status was originally achieved from the way in which the person represented themselves, now the term is more self-prescribed. When games first came about, the concept of gaming was very abstract. It was seen only for children or the more common audience: ‘nerds/ geeks’. Then, the titles ‘nerd’, ‘geek’ and ‘gamer’ contained a very different stigma in comparison to the modern day gamer who is almost somewhat desirable. An accurate representation twenty years ago would have been a (ahem) larger, middle-aged man living in his mother’s basement spending over forty hours a week playing the likes of Warcraft.
In a 2015 poll, it was found that of the 49% of Americans who play video games, only 10% of them were self-confessed gamers, a further 17% of Americans considered themselves as geeks. So, are we still afraid of this stigma?
We certainly shouldn’t be. In the same poll 66% of millennials said that they consider the term ‘geek’ as a compliment. These days the representation has been warped and gaming has almost a ‘sexy’ appeal. Now us lower than life nerds have the likes of Jesse Eiseneberg and Andrew Garfield to thank for this marvellous transition. Both men are examples of a theory gaining in currency that suggests screen culture and real-life are interlinked.
There is a technical philosophy behind such a change, says lecturer in film studies, Peter Deakin. Deakin explains a theory that was first suggested by Michael Kimmel, a sociologist who says specialises in male studies. He found that:
“The ideal American male blueprint is continually redrafted over time, in a way so that it fits with the contemporary sociocultural, and indeed economic, landscape. In this digital age we find ourselves, an age driven with increasing fervency by tech, it appears logical that our screen heroes would start to emulate the landscape.”
As we are surrounded by and (seemingly more interested in) all this new tech, the film industry is now creating more content based on these interests. To put it another way, nerds are sexy and Hollywood has taken note.
A great Hollywood example would be the Spider-man franchise. The comparison between the nerdy Peter Parker as represented by Toby Maguire in the original 2002 Spider-man is drastically different to that of Andrew Garfield’s 2012 Amazing Spider-man. The differences are apparent within the first ten minutes of each film. For the first scene with Toby Maguire he is tripped over by a bully and his glasses (cliché nerd attire) fly off his face. Far less goofy Andrew Garfield has lost the glasses and is now sporting a skateboard. Not only does he stand up against a bully, but he can also string a sentence together in front of a member of the opposite sex. In fact, one of the very few traits the two Parkers have in common is their intelligence, so I guess us nerds still have that going for us, right? Lets hope our new Peter Parker, Tom Holland, doesn’t lose this trait in the new Spider-Man: Homecoming.
And this returns to the initial question, why has the representation of Spider-man changed: why have ‘nerds’ and ‘gamers’ changed?
“In terms of gamers, of course the logical connections to the ‘real’ continue with its increasing presence – and again maybe a wider conversation about the increasing number of video game-tomovie products that have appeared of late again fits into this idea.”
Of course, it is all down to industry, marketing, and essentially money.
“The idea of a pre-existing market – a market much more lucrative as they’ve proven themselves savvy to tech and as such much of the peripheral extratextual facets of these movies, add to this the geeky nature of this audience.”
Very much in support of this theory is Garry Crawford, writer of Video Gamers, an analytical book on the relativity of gamers.
Crawford explained in an OPM interview:
“Certainly, the term ‘nerd’ used to be used commonly as an insult, but now many people take pride in the label. I think much of this has to do with the changing nature of youth cultures, subcultures and also consumption. Our choices of identities and subcultures used to be much more restricted. There was less to choose from. But with the advent of the internet and spiralling consumerism, people are much more able to choose, or buy into, a vast array of identities, and also link up much more readily with people who share similar interests. More people can get access to what used to be the domain of just ‘nerds’ and ‘geeks’, and also share ideas or meet others who share their interest.”
Perhaps there is a more psychological aspect, we are all the same in the way that we all want to be different.
“You have to remember, that no one wants to think they are just like everyone else. Being a ‘geek’ has become cool, because it gives a sense of being different to everyone else, which is appealing. Watching a Marvel film and a few episodes of Big Bang Theory and everyone thinks they’re a geek.”
The figures speak for themselves, as the Big Bang Theory has more than doubled its initial 8 million viewer rating in 2004 to its latest series receiving over 20 million views per episode.
“Being a ‘gamer’ still has certain negative connotations in certain areas of the media and society, certainly in the right-wing media. However, the first generation of gamers is now in their forties, and they are the ones running businesses and the media. Hence, games and gamers are not the enemy it once was, gamers are now part of the establishment. Plus, games and gamers are big business. They make lots of money, and society tends to like things that make lots of money.”
Much like Deakin, Crawford believes the culture originates from technology and its advances:
“Partly grassroots, partly top down. That is to say, we see technologies like the internet allowing people to search out niche interests and make links to others with the same interest. Hence, geeks can find out more about their interests and communicate or meet up with other geeks. However, likewise, you see big capitalist organisations who see a market of individuals who are into comic-books and video games etc. who you can easily and readily exploit and sell lots of rubbish too, which they’ll probably buy.”
Not only does this apply to the ‘nerds’ and ‘gamers’, but to all social stereotypes.
“All representations change. Some improve, some get worse. But all are fluid and all are subjective too. While some may like and embrace the term gamer or geek, for others they will probably always have negative connotations.”
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