At the turn of the century, if you stopped somebody in the street and asked them to describe a ‘gamer,’ their description might be generic and none too complimentary, as well as involving inaccurate assumptions about levels of social skills.

While this is clearly not correct, it is an image that has persisted for much of the last two decades. However, if you tried the same thing now, you might not be able to stop anybody in the street because they could actually be playing a game on their phone.

What is a ‘gamer’?

While you could highlight the rise in mobile technology as the point of when the idea of a ‘gamer’ changed shape, you could also argue it changed much earlier than that. It could have been either when World of Warcraft introduced MMORPGs into the mainstream, or before that, even when every home owned either a console by Nintendo, Sony, or Sega (or all three).

The definition of a gamer is an odd one to put your finger on. After all, you might not call somebody who played solitaire on their PC at work in the ’90s a gamer, but you probably would give that name to somebody who spent exactly the same amount of time playing Tomb Raider on their PlayStation when they got home. Taking that forward, somebody who obsessively plays Candy Crush or one of those similar match 3 type games on their phone for several hours a day would not consider themselves a gamer. Yet, they might describe their friend who is playing one of the Heroes of Might and Magic versions available for mobile devices as one. So, for many, it’s not so much the amount of involvement but the type of game as well.

The rise of games for mobile devices

It’s not just the match 3 games that get a mass audience on mobile devices either, as there are plenty of others that tick similar boxes. There are other games, rather loosely described as ‘simulations,’ where you are managing a farm, a town, a city, or even a whole island. These are free to download but offer extra resources for cash, often in the form of a subscription. Even one of less well-known games of this genre, Township, has become a billion dollar game.

This has shown that playing games, either online or on consoles, has the same size audience as the blockbuster movies that grab all of the headlines or spectator events like sports or music festivals. This is also underlined by the number of online forums for games attracting universal engagement from a worldwide population.

To wrap things up

So, while it was never in doubt that the stereotypical image of a gamer was inaccurate, defining what really makes a gamer in 2021 is difficult. If you are including everybody who plays video games, you could in fact refer to the majority of the population in many countries. With that in mind, the best definition is probably just to go with however people describe themselves, and if they call themselves a gamer, that’s what they are!


  1. I think the biggest difference between 20 years ago and now is the online aspect of gaming. Back then, people just played games whenever they could, and would socialize more with other people in real life (even play games with other people, like on a GameBoy).
    But now that everyone’s connected to the Internet, gamers find it convenient to play games all in one sitting and join game servers with online friends.
    Mobile games are indeed influential to gaming, but the online aspect is probably the most influential.

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