Social Identity and Video Games: Online Communities and the “Gamer” Identity

The concept of social identity is seen at work in a variety of contexts, such as sports teams, political parties, ethnic groups, and many other affiliative groups. One interesting context in which social identity can be observed at work is the online communities that have sprung up around video games. Video games themselves are a relevantly new phenomenon, being only commercially sold since 1971. However, the prominence of video games has risen in a similar fashion to the prominence and prevalence of the internet. As such, the fans of video games, much like the general populace of the world, have taken readily to the internet, convening often on message boards, like NeoGAF and Penny Arcade. These sorts of websites have been able to provide a virtual community in which those who enjoy video games can meet to talk about video games or even just have a general discussion. These communities have served to solidify an emerging social identity, that of the “gamer”. Many who frequent these message boards (or forums) refer to themselves and other enthusiasts as “gamers”. The gamer identity existed for a significant period of time as a relatively socially undesirable identity, often negatively stereotyped as a “nerd” identity for social outcasts and associated with images such as immature adults huddled around a computer screen in their parents’ basement.

Googling "gamer" results in this.

However, the gamer identity has eventually evolved into a more relatively common identity to embrace, with celebrities professing their love for games and featuring prominently in advertisements for video games. The gamer identity may seem to not be a social identity until you consider the role of gaming forums in the development of the gamer identity. Those who frequently played video games were fairly isolated before the prevalence of the internet, as they could only talk to their friends and others they saw in person about video games, limiting the number of people they could communicate and share their enthusiasm with. However, with the emergence of the internet as commonplace in society, gaming forums also started up as a way for video game fans to share their opinions and also make new friends with similar interests. Furthermore, even though the “gamer” identity coalesced with the help of online communities, one such community, Penny Arcade, has translated the virtual gathering of gamers into a real, physical gathering of gamers at an event called Penny Arcade Expo (or PAX). PAX is a convention focused specifically on gamers, especially those who are fans of the Penny Arcade comic strip and also frequent the Penny Arcade forums, with attendance figures reaching 70,000 people last year. For a more concise and visually affecting description of PAX, I present:

PAX has served as an effective way to bring gamers with similar interests together, further solidifying the social identity of gamers by adding on to virtual interactions with in-person face-to-face interactions. Despite the value in meeting other gamers face-to-face, the evolution of the “gamer” social identity has shown that identities can be constructed through the medium of technology, and that you don’t need to physically meet to have a shared sense of community.

Photo Credit: http://www.motifake.com/tags/gamer

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