This week, I have repeatedly found myself wondering about the modes of self-identification that games and other stereotypically “nerdy” pursuits can evoke or hinder in their participants. Jane McGonigal’s “Growing Up Gamer” is intriguing to me because of the fervency with which she feels compelled to defend the type of self that she chooses to describe with the word “gamer.” I’m not sufficiently steeped in Althusserian theory to give a full analysis of hailing “gamers,” but I do find it curious that the appellation seems such a slippery one. Patrick Jagoda’s essay “The Dark Side of the Digital Humanities — Part 3″ includes the statement that there “approximately 183 million American ‘active gamers’ (that is, people who claim to play digital games an average of 13 hours a week).” Who has determined that this is the threshold for claiming the identity of “active gamer”? By treating the term as one that needs further explanation, Jagoda implicitly acknowledges that the definition he is using is not necessarily self-evident. I am now pondering these questions alongside my experience at the GEO conference this past weekend. During the “Cyber-Realities” panel, Kevin Kilroy began his presentation “Kurzweil, the Cyberman” by asking the audience whether they knew what “cybermen” are. The audience (including me) were silent, so he explained that they were monsters from the British television show Doctor Who. At this, several audience members (including me) gave a murmur of recognition. Actually, Doctor Who is among my favorite shows and I did immediately think of it when I heard his title. Why, then, did I assume he was talking about something else — something with which I was unfamiliar? Perhaps because I was in a session of presentations that was prominently labelable as being about Digital Humanities (capital D, capital H) and I therefore assumed that the presenters held deeper knowledge of the field than I (digital immigrant that I am) possessed? All I can say for certain is that Kilroy hailed “people who know what cybermen are” and I did not think he was talking to me.
Also during that session, I was fascinated by Nigel’s brilliant presentation. He raised questions about the implications of achievements in games that had never occurred to me, but about which I now can’t not think. What surprised me most was that I was able to follow what he was talking about, even though I went into the session thinking that my only reason for being there was as moral support to my friends. In other words, since I have frequently felt bewildered or wrong-footed as I try to forge onward into new realms of digital existence (a phrase which here means “I had never before heard of most of the things we have talked about in this class before it began”), I assumed that any research project in a Digital Humanities topic would be mostly over my head (at least, if it involved stuff we haven’t gone over in class). Nigel’s presentation used World of Warcraft as a focal point in discussing how achievement systems work. I started playing it a few months ago, so I was familiar with the system and can now contemplate how my own game-playing behavior is affected by or reflected in the achievement log. However, I don’t consider myself a “gamer.” I don’t play every day (or even every week) and I certainly fall short of the 13-hour-per-week threshold for “active” gamership according to Jagoda. However, I enjoy playing often enough that I consider it worthwhile to subscribe; Blizzard Entertainment is quite happy to consider me an “active” player in that I have a valid credit card and fork over their monthly fee (which would be the same whether I played for one hour per month or 24/7). When I tried to determine why I, a player of this game, do not call myself a “gamer,” I came up with two possible reasons: 1) I haven’t been doing it for very long, so I don’t have the lifetime of social memories that McGonigal connects with her gamership and I could therefore imagine myself ceasing to play with no emotional trauma, and 2) I’m not very good yet, so I don’t have the warm aura of accomplishment that I could imagine feeling if I was actually really awesome at smacking monsters with a giant virtual hammer (though it has been ages since I died by falling off of buildings, thank you very much).
So, fellow DH-ers, my question is this: How do you identify yourselves in the digital world? Are you a gamer, a game-playing non-gamer, a nonplussed non-gamer, a digital native, digital immigrant, “active” [blogger, tweeter, Facebooker, instagrammer, etc.], conscientious objector, or none of the above? Why? How do we decide what to call ourselves, and how (if at all) does that decision impact the reality of of our digital lives?
Nice post, Jenny. Self-identification can be very empowering, but it also seems to be at the crux of a lot of anxiety within DH (as well as the wider digital world). What do others say? How do you identify?