Photo by Tristan Morphew

Most of you reading this would describe yourselves as gamers. That takes no great intellectual leap; this is, after all, a blog about games and gaming. For those of you who don’t consider yourselves gamers, though, you’re wrong—and I can prove it.

First, I’d like to point something out: None of you needed me to define my terms. When I said gamer, you all read it as videogamer. Games became videogames, and gaming became videogaming. Am I right? Thought so.

There are at least a few dozen boardgame companies who would take issue with this. And rightly so: videogames have only been around for a few decades, while people have been gaming for thousands of years. Even as recently as the ‘80s, gamer typically referred to a lover of classic, die-and-paper role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons or Top Secret.

Videogames changed everything. In the mid-‘80s, video arcades became the hotspots for anyone too young to drink—and like the pinball wizards before them, within gaming circles, videogame prodigies became rockstars. But it was the rapid ascendance of PCs and home consoles that gave videogames the means to take over the world.

Thirty years later—not even a blip in human history—videogames are everywhere, in a dizzying variety of forms, and have so completely captured our culture’s attention and imagination that they’ve co-opted labels that have been around for centuries.

It’s precisely this reach and diversity that allows me to, with some certainty, call you a gamer. You don’t have to enjoy hardcore games like Halo, Call of Duty or World of Warcraft for the label to apply. Ever played solitaire or Mahjong on your laptop? How about Angry Birds, The Creeps, or anything else on your tablet or smartphone? Or even Facebook games like Farmville, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, or Mafia Wars? Well, you’re a gamer.

It goes deeper than that, though. Gaming, writ large, is an essential human activity. Every society since the dawn of recorded time has created and played games. Wei Hai, the oldest known war game, became popular in China around 3000 BC, Iranian and Egyptian excavation sites have yielded up dice and Senet boards older still; it seems likely that games date back even farther, perhaps to the beginnings of humanity. Like worrying about the future and obsessing about the past, engaging in gameplay is fundamental to our experience as human beings. So your weekly family game nights or regular Monopoly sessions are echoes of cultural heritage and genetic memory that hearken back to our earliest ancestors. Videogames are just a natural extension of this phenomenon, the next step in the evolution of gaming.

Call me crazy, but from this vantage point, gaming seems more than just a frivolous pastime. Like breathing, eating and sleeping, gaming seems necessary for human survival.

  1. Robert Eng says:

    Thanks for giving a nod to the tabletop games. There seems to be a general stigma in the US that board games are meant for kids and outgrown.At their core games provide us with a chance to compete recreationally and assume roles that take us away from our routine lives. Video games do the same thing and with their technology can even surpass board games.

    I guess I see the relationship of video games to board games to something like the difference between movies and theater. Both seek to tell a dramatic story but the theater typically has less tech to work with so the everyone, audience and performers, have to work harder to create the setting and assuming a role. I am not saying one is better than the other but there something about that extra effort makes it more immersive on a cognitive level.

    • I know what you mean, and it’s unfortunate that the stigma exists. All you have to do is look at Forbidden Island or Settlers of Catan to realize just how off-base that perception is. There’s an immersive quality to both those games that, though it relies more on the player’s imagination, is arguably equal to (if not greater than) many videogames.

  2. abruk says:

    Do you also like boardgames?

    • I’m a huge fan of gaming in all its forms–boardgames, RPGs, videogames, ARGs. I find that boardgames, for me, play a different role than videogames. Though both can be social, the ability to adjust the pace of a boardgame based on the players, the social situation, the energy in the room, etc., can make them more relaxing and conducive to social interaction than a videogame. Don’t get me wrong, I love them both. However, I don’t typically turn to a videogame when I want to relax.

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