PAX Panel Attempts To Define “Gamer,” Sparks Casual ControversyS

The PAX panel, Game Culture: How Gamers Impact Society & How Policy Affects Gamer Culture, had some mildly interesting moments – but it got really interesting right at the end, during Q&A.

Throughout the event, panelists Joel DeYoung of Hothead Games, Jennifer Mercurio of the Entertainment Consumers Association, James Portnow of Divide By Zero Games and moderator/journalist Aaron Ruby tried to define what "gamer" really means. There were some arguments made that we don't need that term anymore, or at least that it no longer means 1) fat, 2) unwashed or 3) male. But ultimately nobody could quite put their finger on what made every single person in that room different from every single person over at the Bumbershoot festival.

Then, a man who'd been waiting in line for nearly half an hour for a turn at the microphone put it something like this: "[I define] ‘Gamer' as someone dedicated to the perfection of fun. You can't do that in 10 [minute intervals]."

There was an audible hiss from the crowd and the panelists shifted uneasily. Was this guy saying casual gamers didn't count as gamers, or just classifying all short gaming experiences as casual games?

Either way, it pissed a few people off. My QA tester friend who'd been sitting next to me put down her DS and loudly said, "Have you ever heard of The Sims?"

I'm pretty sure most of the women in the crowd were annoyed, plus a few of the panelists. I imagine especially so DeYoung who'd made a point about the need for episodic gaming experiences that family-minded gamers could work into their busy everyday lives.

The statement was wrong-headed, though, not just because it alienated all of casual gamers, but because it implies that short games are somehow not really games.

Alright, fine, people who play Bejewled exclusively probably aren't "gamer" enough to comment intelligently on Mass Effect 2. However, it's not fair to say that Plants vs. Zombies doesn't contribute in some way to the perfection of the real time strategy genre, or that the storytelling in Portal didn't have an impact on the way longer games construct their narratives.

Come to think of it, lots of what we call "core" games (that is, the kind aimed specifically at "gamers" and not at anyone else) are short or episodic experiences. Games like Ico, Uncharted, Rez, Shadow Complex and even Batman: Arkham Asylum were all on the short-ish side at or around 10 hours each – and yet all contribute in some way to the "perfection of fun" somehow, don't they?

Ruby responded to the question right away with, "Those are fighting words." Sadly, though, there wasn't enough time left in the panel for a discussion to kick off.

So, Kotaku, I leave it to you to weigh in on the casual versus core debate with respect to the term gamer. Is one flavor of gamer somehow less gamer than the other? Does length have anything to do with it, or is that a penis joke waiting to happen?