A Hierarchy of Gamers: Falling Out & Back in Love with The Sims
My best friend loves The Sims. When I asked why, their response was, “I get to fill a world with queer POC and all my friends, then give them amazing houses and stuff. What’s not to love?” They’ll send me pictures of houses they’ve built, give me tours of their neighborhoods when I come over. They’re so proud of their world-building, and they should be: they built an exact replica of their own house, down to the piles of dirty laundry!
It took me a few months to tell them that I, also, loved The Sims, even though I hadn’t played in years. I said it in a hushed voice, lest a Gamergate neckbeard was hanging in the rafters like some kind of annoying boogeyman. In fact, I quit playing out of shame.
Because The Sims wasn’t a real game, depending on who you asked. And my identity as a “real gamer” was important to me.
For those of you who are perhaps unfamiliar with the term, the Gamergate controversy stemmed from a harassment campaign using the hashtag #GamerGate on Twitter, Reddit, 4chan, and other social media platforms. Gamergaters, by and large cishet white men, target women, LGBTQ+, and POC gamers, as well as any representation of these groups in video games. They feel that there is some kind of collusion between the media and feminist progressives to dismantle “their” games and take over the industry. Their critiques often manifest as death or rape threats to women in the industry.
The fact that representation of women as more than sex objects, of POC as more than background characters, or queer characters simply existing is enough to set Gamergaters off on a Twitter tirade is indicative that their arguments have less to do with logic and more to do with feeling their inherent privilege being threatened. For a long time, gaming has been (and still is) an old boy’s club. The mere idea that other groups of people can and always have been gamers infuriates them for the same reasons cishet white men always get upset when marginalized folx enter the conversation: they are not interested in discussing or acknowledging their privilege, and feel challenged by the notion that perhaps they should be interested.
I have been called a fake gamer more than once in my life, despite the fact that I have been playing video games since I was a toddler. Here are some reasons I have been told I am not a real gamer:
- My gender identity. “Girls aren’t gamers.”
- I’m bad at Halo.
- I never finished [insert a game I didn’t complete or never played here].
- I like Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley, or The Sims.
Number 4 comes up again and again. These three examples are, of course, games. So why does playing them disqualify a person from being a gamer, even if, like myself, you also enjoy RPGs, shooters, and platformers?
For one thing, they only disqualify you if you’re a woman. Cis men can play these games without challenging their gamer identity.
More importantly, however, these games focus on things cishet white men don’t value: relationships, world building, and task completion that doesn’t involve violence. The idea of having a virtual playground where you can do nice things for your friends, build a little house for yourself, and rebuild your community perhaps requires a kind of emotional maturity that many men lack due to their erasure of their own feelings. How can these men relate to the pleasure of building strong relationships/communities when they have been raised to be unfeeling or, at best, aggressive?
Nevertheless, these accusations stung. I wanted very badly to be perceived as a “real gamer.” I felt a similar desire in school to not be lumped in with “those kind of girls.” I was a “different kind of girl.” I was cool. I wouldn’t get mad if you made sexist jokes around me. I wasn’t hysterical. I was “one of the boys.” It took a long time for me to dismantle that behavior in myself and recognize it for what it was: internalized misogyny. But I still stopped playing The Sims. It was still shameful to me. Like a dirty secret.
Then my friend kept sending me pictures of their little pocket universe. And I realized that I missed mine.
The bottom line is, a game is a game. Even if I may roll my eyes at phone games or games on Facebook, those are games. If playing them makes you feel like a gamer, then you are a gamer. Even if the game adds up to a cinematic experience with some quick time events, that’s a game. Gamergaters often try to have hard definitions of what qualifies as a “real game” the same way they try to qualify “real gamers.” But they don’t get to decide. The world is so much bigger than them, and so much better.