There are a lot of things that keep me awake at night. I worry about the next day: do I need to make copies before class, will I have a chance to grade a set of essays, do I have the answer key to the vocab sheet. Stuff like that. I think about my Dragon Age rogue armor: can I pull it off? Can I get it made before PAX East? Is my new design idea viable? I think about finances and bills and how a relationship might be nice if only to have someone helping with the bills. I think of a lot of things. Usually my identity isn’t one of them, but today I got to thinking about my identity as a gamer.
I’m a high school English teacher, so the fact that I game instantly gives me +50 approval with a lot of students. Suddenly I’m not so alien. My interests are the same as their interests, and there’s suddenly common ground for us to talk about. For a few moments I don’t hold their grade in the palm of my hand, and they aren’t expected to learn about literature and writing and vocab. For a few moments we’re just people.
In a way, I think that’s what I’ve always liked about games and gaming: they bring people together. There’s no gender or age discrepancy. Growing up, there weren’t any girls my age in my neighborhood. They were all just a few years too old to be bothered with me, or just a few years too young. My best friend lived across town. So what did I do? I hung out with my brother, my two male cousins, and their male friends. I remember the year one of my cousins got the first Nintendo console… and everything changed. It didn’t matter that I was a girl, or that I wasn’t a fast runner or didn’t like sports. When we played Mario and tried to get to the Minus World we were all the same. When we struggled through dungeons in Zelda, or tried to figure out the mysteries of Metroid, we were all on the same level. Beating a game? Was a big deal. We started a club: the Nintendo Nuts. That was the year I got a Nintendo calendar from the Scholastic book order, and we all chose characters to be our code names, and diligently wrote our meetings into the calendar.
If I can recall all those details so clearly, then it’s evident gaming always has been a big part of my life. I’ve had my hiatuses from it: high school and college and summer jobs and homework and everything else made me drift away. But now that I’m an adult, living on my own, I’m back into it, and it’s a major hobby of mine.
But am I really a gamer?
I have consoles: my most current is an xBox 360, which I purchased in 2010 just before Kinect came out, so I don’t have Kinect. I have a Nintendo GameCube, and an N64 I got a couple years back at Game Stop. I have a DS, but it’s a first-generation one from 2005-2006. I could have traded it up for a DS Lite when they came out, but since I got it in Belfast, Northern Ireland, it has some sentimental value. I have a GBA-SP, which I keep so I can play my ancient, ancient Gameboy cartridges. I do not have a PS3, a 3DS, or a Wii. My gaming library consists of 22 titles, quite a few of which I bought with the system (it was a good tax return that year).
We’re now in the dawn of 2012, and so far the only game I want is Mass Effect 3, which is coming out in just under two months. I’ve never played Portal or Portal 2; never played Assassin’s Creed or any of the Final Fantasy games, and ironically, I know a great deal about Call of Duty Black Ops without ever having played it. My gamerscore isn’t in the tens of thousands; heck, I was just happy to break four digits! By some standards I have large gaps in my gaming background. And of course, when talking about games with my students the question comes up: “JayRain, are you going to get insertepicnewgamehere when it comes out??”
Usually the answer is no. Most of the times it is financial; I am a public school teacher with grad school loans, after all. But the real reason is I’m just not interested. I subscribe to Game Informer, so I am informed about what games are coming out, but I’m just not that interested in purchasing most of them. If a game really intrigues me or is another installation in a franchise I like, I’ll find a way to shell out for it. With Gears of War 3 I used my tax refund and paid in its entirety when I pre-ordered, for example. I pre-ordered Mass Effect 3 today, and used some gift cards. For Halo: Reach I put down $10 a month for the Special Edition.
But I didn’t get Battlefield 3. I didn’t get the Halo Anniversary edition, much as I love Halo, and while Homefront and Bulletstorm looked cool I couldn’t bring myself to shell out around $60 for them. Even Dante’s Inferno, based on a work of literature I love, didn’t sear my wallet begging to be bought.
This all begs the question then: what is a gamer? And with this I think I’m referring just to videogaming– I know there’s card and tabletop gaming, as well as roleplaying, all of which were included with video games at PAX. But as for what makes a video gamer: Is it someone for whom gaming is life, regardless of price or time commitment? Is it someone who just enjoys picking up a game and playing for a few minutes to relax, and then moving on? Is it someone who engages in social gaming on Facebook or with iPad/iPhone apps? I don’t know. But I do know that when I think about it, I think I really am a gamer. I don’t have a wide range of games, but the franchises I do enjoy I am loyal to and I play them frequently. I read through my Game Informers every month for the insider news and information as much as for the previews and reviews of games.
But most of all, I love game culture. I like analyzing the storytelling elements and the characters. I love puzzles. I love becoming someone else even if it’s just for a few hours, and I love exploring new worlds or new versions of our own. I don’t have a lot of games, or the newest consoles. But what I do have I enjoy and it’s big part of who I am. So when I shut down Skyrim tonight after joining the Bard’s college, I may have other worries that keep me up. But my identity as a gamer will not be one of them.