A Glimpse at the Social Stigma Against Gamers

The room was as brightly lit as a classroom could be while the boys set up their TVs for the upcoming Smash tournament. A weekly ritual that brought together the college’s Super Smash Bros. players on a Friday evening. A couple of tables were pilled with off-brand snacks and people began to pour into the room. Most of those who attended brought their own controller while often bringing extras for other players who might not have any. Students also brought in their own TVs and consoles to share with the entire club. The room and people provided a rather friendly, yet about to be competitive, atmosphere. Everyone chatted with each other comfortably until it was time to begin the games.

The social stigma around people who play video games is generally negative. By people, those that are perceived to be “gamers.” Although there are different ways to define a gamer, this article focuses on the stereotypical “nerd.” There are many traits associated with those who presumably or already play games. It is often common for people to choose to hide the fact that they do play video games unless it is mainstream such as Call of Duty or FIFA. When one pictures a “gamer” in their head, they think of the basement dwelling, neck-bearded, probably fat or lanky, and unhealthy white male. While sometimes this image may appear to be true, it doesn’t reveal any information about their character or likes or dislikes. Which can be unfair for many who play games because they will be judged before being spoken to and might not even have a chance.

Despite the fact that most of the people that were interviewed had a positive experience while growing up with games (versus my own), a common feeling among them was that in the earlier years of their lives, they felt it was unacceptable to share that they played games. Whether it was hiding it from friends, family, or love interests. The acceptance also seems to depend on the social situation at the school they attended, as well as their friends and family. For example, one student said that, “It was my parents! They had an SNES and they just bought a PS2 with Gran Turismo 3.” He was about four years old when they introduced him to video games. Already, he has some support from his parents, which let him know that this is an acceptable behavior and activity to engage in. Yet when he reached elementary school, he felt pressured to keep his game playing to himself, “In elementary school I felt pretty embarrassed to share that I liked games, as many thought it was either uncool or were kinda jerks that bragged about rated M games they played (which they probably didn’t really play).” He then added that the games often helped him through social issues or bullying, “which was nice.” Games do provide an outlet for many people who struggle with problems in the real world.

Middle school was a bit different. “The only group of game-playing friends I could really find only really liked to play Mature, violent games. I kinda had to convince myself I like to play with them and that I liked those games. That caused some distress for me at times.” During this period, many of the games that were popular revolved around first person shooters or other violent types of games. There were definitely those that genuinely enjoyed these types of games but there were others who did not take to violence, like the person who was interviewed. He felt what many others felt, which was pressured to conform to a “cooler” and more conventional type of game. If he had played a more “childish” or less violent games, he might receive negative comments. But fortunately, he still had his best friend from elementary school and two other new friends that he could still play the games he liked free of judgment.

High school seemed to be the turning point in the ability to share his love for gaming. “In high school, things got much better, where I could talk openly about games and with a group of people that I liked (especially at the town teen center). I got to try new games too. Also, me and my brother got to play more together, which was awesome.” As those around him matured and additional people were added to his class, it became easier to find others who played similar games or weren’t embarrassed to discuss the fact that they played other games besides shooters. College was also an improvement because there was already a club to join that involved video games and because of the fact that a lot of the people were accepting and non-judgmental. He made the point to mention that, “I know that a few friends still feel a bit stigmatized at points, but that never effected me as much. Rarely I heard cliquey things in high school, but again I wasn’t really involved in that. It’s a little sad that that apparently happens here. Anyway, I still have a mix of popular and obscure games that I like, and love to talk about both.” One can understand that the community he surrounded himself with was a bit more accepting than it could have been if he hadn’t found a certain group of friends or if he were involved with the cliques. It is wonderful to see that students are able to share their love for games and openly talk about them with whomever they feel. There is nothing wrong with a person who likes to play more obscure or non-mainstream games just as there is nothing wrong with playing a conventional FPS.

The next interviewee had a somewhat similar experience in the sense that he wouldn’t want to share it with girls or go over the top with explanations to other guys. He grew up in Vietnam and Laos, which from his descriptions seemed to have a more accepting community. One of his family members, his Grandfather, also introduced him to games with the purchase of a Gameboy Color. “Mom wanted me to play less but all my friends played video games. I didn’t really care telling them. If there was a cute girl I never mentioned it unless it was publicly obvious to begin with.” In high school, Warcraft 3 was a major game to play at Internet Cafés in Vietnam. Because he moved around a lot, he was never able to keep a consistent group of friends, which is understandable.

Even though he experienced new groups, they were never outright aggressive or mean about the fact that he played video games. “All of the guys played, I wouldn’t say I played competitively, but it was normal for most guys in high school. I was never ostracized.” He wouldn’t want to mention he played competitively back then because it might come off as obsessive or provoke the negative stereotype, “I feel like there is a rift between being a nerd and just playing video games.” Back then, he said, it was more for social reasons that he played games. His school was small with a class of no more than 50 students and everyone knew each other. “There weren’t any major cliques — no jocks, no nerd groups.” But he said that if he had lived in the US, “I feel like it would have been worse at one of the public schools.” All of his schools were open minded, but perhaps the schools in the US were not, which was often true as seen with one of the other interviewees.

College was really no different. Maybe even more accepting. “[The] thing about college, liberal arts, everyone is kinda accepting and very open to other people’s ideas — outside world not as ideal. Most of my friends play but not all of them do — even so, there are some females that play games (more mobile games like candy crush because they just aren’t into it).” There are so many different reasons as to why females choose or do not choose to play games but this is not the place for that discussion. He had joined the eSports club freshman year and continued throughout his senior year. He noticed that everyone was supportive of each other and liked to tease one another in a non-harmful way. There were some subgroups within the main club, but that didn’t prevent anyone from speaking with each other. Everyone was friendly and interacted. Yet even in college he still felt pressured to hide his more serious gaming from girls until he realized it didn’t matter, “idk to be honest, just instinct, just negative stigma, I feel like a lot of the girls knew in high school” but he still felt uncomfortable to share it with some of the girls he met in college.

From these examples, it is clear that there are some concerns about sharing one’s love for playing video games, especially those of the obscure variety. Many would feel that they needed to hide the fact in order to fit in or not be bullied. Luckily, the communities of the people interviewed were generally friendly and accepting, The general census was that it became easier to share once one got older and began not to care as much what others thought. In my own experience, I could never share my deep love for games until college. I was able to tell my closest friends that I played World of Warcraft but I could never reveal that to the majority of girls in my grade. The only games that appeared acceptable were Dance Dance Revolution and maybe Guitar Hero or Rock Band. Otherwise, playing video games was extremely strange and “weird.” I had always played games since I was little — I loved my various handheld devices and consoles like the PS1. I’d go over to one of my friend’s houses (one of the only friends I had that had a GameCube) to play Mario Party or Super Smash Bros. College was truly the first place I felt free to share my interest. I didn’t feel pressured by anyone to hide it. I no longer cared.

By 7:30 pm the tournament was over. People packed up their electronics and helped finish cleaning up the leftover snacks. Though the club meeting was over, the night had just begun. Many continued on to their peers homes or to their own homes to play more Smash or other games.

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