Because I play PC games as one of my leisure activities, that apparently makes me a “gamer”. I find this curious because I also like to read books, yet no one seems to be in a hurry to call me a “reader”. So I thought it would be interesting to explore this matter further. For convenience sake let’s just call this post a discussion about labels. It’s a subject I’ve written about before but I wish to return to because I think it is something that is becoming more pervasive in contemporary culture.
We live in a world where everything is quantified and measured. By doing so we can create a frame of reference and strive to understand the world we live in. Therefore I do not find myself at odds with labels such as Humbolt Squid, Tsunami or Châteauneuf-du-Pape. They are functional and serve a clear purpose. Marcus Aurelius perhaps said it best in his book Meditations (Book 8, Meditiation 10). This quote was subsequently paraphrased by Doctor Hannibal Lector in the novel The Silence of the Lambs.
This, what is it in itself, and by itself, according to its proper constitution? What is the substance of it? What is the matter, or proper use? What is the form, or efficient cause? What is it for in this world, and how long will it abide? Thus must thou examine all things that present themselves unto thee.
However there are many other kinds of labelling, some of which are not so transparent or benign. We are continuously pigeon holed by the government, business and the press. We even do it ourselves at a conscious and sub-conscious level. Society is based around defining and quantifying its respective members. Wealth, politics, class, ethnicity, sexual preference, intelligence, faith (or the absence of it) are some of the ways in which we are all categorised. These factors and others shape how we interact with the world, how we pick our friends and who we choose to love.
Now my concern over the use of labels is not just arbitrary. I am not offended because they tend to generalise. You won’t hear me say “You don’t know me, man. I’m more complex than that”. Quite the opposite, I think that my personality can be quite easily distilled, delineated and analysed. Furthermore, I can probably correctly predict the results. No my primary objection to systematic labelling is that its frequently a blunt tool and often used for the wrong reasons. In many respects it is the proverbial sledgehammer to crack a Walnut. As a result its can often be erroneous.
As I like gaming and have been labelled such, many third parties will subsequently assume that I like other “similar” pastimes. Amazon frequently tries to make appropriate recommendations based upon my purchases. Unfortunately, it has no means to determine if I am purchasing for myself or others, which I frequently do. So, if this data is extrapolated, it may well result in a profile that is far from the truth. Plus we currently live in a very binary world were thinking has taken a back seat. If you are labelled one thing, many people are happy to leap to the conclusion that you are a dozen other similar things as well, regardless of whether you are.
Now some folk like labels. A lot of my fellow bloggers, podcasters and such like will happily embrace words like Nerd and Geek. They see them as non-threatening terms which identifies where their passions lie. I’ve personally never liked them as they were originally pejorative terms meant to cause upset and offence. To me they’ve never lost that taint and I’m not sure if they’ve been reclaimed in the way that some like to think. Overall I feel that they are mainly marketing terms. However, the fact remains that some people like that sense of belonging and community that can be associated by certain labels. I guess it doesn’t have to be a negative thing all the time. I just feel if we must deal with such terms of classification, why not define them ourselves?
I still cleave to somewhat old fashioned notions such as a person being defined by their actions. You can label me white, British, middle-aged, gamer, drinker and a host of other terms that are all factually correct. However what do these labels say about me overall? Not a lot really. If you got access to a full psychological profile of me and the list of terms that were used, then that may well provide a fuller picture. However, such data is seldom available, so society tends to fall back on these more nebulous nuggets of information. Most of the time the only details we have at our disposal is superficial and non- contextual. That means that being labelled a “gamer” really doesn’t say much except play to some peoples prejudice.
So there you have it. There’s my beef with non-scientific labelling. More often than not it has no real relevance and the only people who favour it, are either those who want to sell you something, or have an axe to grind. It is the latter group who willoften be most eager to place one round your neck.