It’s true. I confess. I’m a fake gamer boy. I love lots of videogames and love to play games to earn gift cards at the local arcade. I think my Steam library has hundreds of them now, but I’ve barely played half of them. In fact, I only play about six games, and most of them on stream these days. Skyrim, Fallout 4, a few others. Dream Daddy. More and more often I play on easy too, so I can dig into the narrative I want while fiddling with the game’s system, rather than having to learn and re-learn under punishing difficulties. I love easy mode so much I wrote a song about it.
Of course, as a six foot tall white dude, nobody outside of Twitch chat calls me a fake. Still, gaming culture has fragmented sufficiently that you can fall down a rabbit hole of speedruns, half a-presses, and fandoms surrounding games like XCom, Dark Souls, and even the competitive Shrek Super Slam scene by hitting any one of those links. It will last for hours, and you may never emerge.
One of the things this seems to generate is reasonably unique accounts of what constitutes playing games, usually framed as “Playing games the right way is playing them the way I play them.” It’s a narrative that makes everyone, especially people who are different, or who enjoy different things out of games, into a fake gamer. Even while merely waving at the culture of harassment and marginalization this has fostered online through the past ever, it’s a narrative that flatly excludes board games, rpgs, and the seemingly endless amount of mobile gamers, who outnumber hard-core gamers by orders of magnitude. Nonetheless, one’s own gaming is the only real kind. Everyone else is fake. No items, Fox only, Final Destination.
That’s a narrative, and it’s tempting to push back against the idea of hardcore or r3al gamerz, but pushing back hinges in the notion that gaming is somehow integral to an identity. Somewhere in the mid-nineties, as one fateful nerd blew into his Super Nintendo cartridge, he decided that he was Nintendo, and he would be Nintendo forever. One of the best things about hardcore casuals and fake gamers is that games are disconnected from identity. They are fun things to do, but they are not us. They change and move with us, and we pick them up and put them down. I am not the things I play with.
Owning fakeness can be both hilarious and powerful. It affords the opportunity to laugh in the face of hardcore culture, and play games any way you want. All ways to play are the right way. Play for competition, for story, for exploration, for the biggest booms and the loudest noises, play on the bus, at home, at a friend’s, or in a notebook. Talk in funny voices, ship your characters together, maintain spreadsheets of quests and legends, make Facebook albums of your boardgames, or make it to raid night every week. If the fragmentation of culture around gaming pushes people to make real and fake distinctions, all forms of gaming are fake. Even hardcores are fake gamers, to their chagrin.
In another world, we might accept all gaming as real gaming, which seems much more straightforward, until we recognize that “Fake gamer” is chiefly deployed as a way of marginalizing women and people of colour who play games. It’s a term deployed only to exclude people who don’t play a particular way, or fall into that imaginary Super Nintendo nerd set. Many an internet fight has been fought. Dumpster the whole thing. All gamers are fake, and we deploy our frauds to the extent that it pleases us.