The Rise of the Word “Gamer”

People often ask me about the origin of the idea of the “gamer”, as something that you may or may not identify as.

I discussed this kind of “I am/am not a (casual) gamer” posturing briefly in A Casual Revolution, but what about the word itself?

Here is the Google Ngram viewer showing the frequency of the word gamer from 1900 to the present day.

I suppose the graph at first looks like what you would expect, but note how “gamer” only really becomes popular from 1990 and on – it was rarely used in relation to arcade games or early home computer games.

On a personal note this also explains why I never wondered that hard about whether I was or wasn’t a gamer: the word only became popular after my formative game-playing years in the 1980’s…


PS. Why is the curve flattening around 2005? Could it be that the rise of casual games is making the question moot?

6 thoughts on “The Rise of the Word “Gamer””

  1. Perhaps it flattens because (post PS2/Xbox and rise of the 360) the term gamer had earned an unflattering connotation that would put off the mass market of “regular guy” consumers who were now casually consuming Madden and Halo in record numbers but wouldn’t want to associate with JRPGs and Mario. Maybe “Gamer” culture matches the commercial games market best between the 16-bit and PS2 era hardware.

  2. Probably the rise of casual games has something to do with it. At the same time, gaming itself is becoming more casual. It has impact to call yourself a “gamer” when everyone “games”.

  3. @Bobby That’s very possible – the term being avoided as to avoid the stigma.

    @Mike Not quite sure about the peak ca. 1915-1918. The dates suggest WWI, but a quick google books search mostly comes up with Gamer as a last name.
    “Action by JT Thomson against Charles Gamer and others. From a judgment for plaintiff, Gamer appeals.”

    @Simon Agreed!

  4. i suggest you to compare it with something or try any kind of control before discussing anything..

    other “game-related” words, is it possible to look for cross-terms?

    very scientific indeed.

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