Hobbies, Handles, and Hangups! The Labels that Define Gamers!
The characters of Gamers! struggle with the labels they use to define others and themselves
Alongside ruthless high school politics, independently directed dreamworlds, and superhero intrigue courtesy of director Nagahama, it’s an achievement that Gamers! has become one of the most difficult to follow anime of the season. With complex charts mapping out the relationships between characters and individual occurrences building up to massive misunderstandings, the jokes seem almost secondary to the narrative network that supports them. Despite a great deal of unfortunate happenstance supporting Gamers! angst, the origin of many of their problems can be reduced to one of two causes. First is their shared character flaw of being unable to confront one another, but a more interesting issue is the difficulties that arise from assigning and identifying with labels, most often the eponymous title of “gamer”.
The idea of using “gamer” as a label is introduced almost immediately. When Tendou forms a connection with Amano due to their shared interest, she asks him if he is also a gamer. She identifies as a gamer and introduces the members of the gaming club in a similar manner. It seems purely utilitarian at first, but the ramifications of this form of self-description are introduced in Uehara’s arc. He associated his gaming habit with his unpopularity in middle school and went to a great deal of trouble separating himself from that identity so he could enjoy an active social life. To him, being a gamer didn’t just mean playing video games, but described his entire identity as a social outcast. Gamers aren’t cool and don’t have friends so, to find social success in high school, he felt had to abandon that aspect of himself.
This was Uehara’s conceit going into episode 2, when he becomes frustrated with Amano’s love of videogames and self-defeating personality when it comes to Tendou. Uehara sees himself in Amano and knows firsthand it's possible to pull yourself up from the bottom rung of the high school social hierarchy. He later learns Amano doesn’t consider himself worthy of Tendou because of his self-identity as a gamer, itself based on its comparison against her more prestigious and unapproachable title of class president. Uehara’s ends up experiencing his own revelation when he discovers why Aguri first became interested in him before his transformation. Uehara realized that being a gamer is a label rather than an identity, a truth that’s supported when he is reveals his interest in gaming to his friends, and one he later attempts to pass on to Amano to aid in his pursuit of Tendou.
The introduction of new labels in Amano and Chiaki’s relationship has also changed its dynamic. Although they have a lot in common, their strong feelings about moe character designs has driven them to consider each other enemies. Learning of Amano’s online tag Tsucchi, Chiaki discovered a new dimension to their relationship. Their friendship was much older than either of them had known and was much more difficult for her to write off due to their divisive opinions. Despite supporting an aspect of gaming she had strong negative feelings toward, Amano had been one of the central supportive voices of her own creative endeavors for years. On the same note learning more about her longtime online friend revealed they have drastically different opinions about gaming. By simply learning of a new label Amano used to describe himself, Chiaki’s opinion of him was completely changed.
Chiaki recognizes that Amano learning of her own aliases of Mono and Nobe will force him to recognize their shared past and similarly change his feelings towards her. Aware of his relation with Tendou and uncertain of how to proceed, Chiaki passess these labels, and their accompanying emotional connections, onto her little sister Konoha. This hasn’t proven as successful since Amano can sense there is something not quite right about the situation, but talking about his admiration for either of Chiaki’s aliases has causes both Chiaki and Konoha embarrassment. Despite knowing that Amano isn’t talking about her, his praise for the label that has been attributed to her has the same effect as its actual owner.
Then there are the labels the characters don’t even understand. Tendou is at first confused by Amano because she doesn’t understand the way he approaches games. Her own definition of being a gamer is defined by the attitude of herself and the gaming club, who enter competition and play games to win. Amano, although he does want to win, would rather play games for the experience of the game itself. This alien idea at first confuses and frustrates her, but also forms her initial attraction to Amamo that eventually develops into their relationship. Even terms like “dating” and “in a relationship” suffer under the characters many understandings of the word. Ignorance of Uehara’s relationship status plants the seeds for drama later in the series and confusion over what social interactions are suspicious for people who aren’t dating have created the disastrous dynamic that currently defines the series.
There are several causes for all the romantic confusion in Gamers!, chief among them being lack of anything approaching direct communication, but the origin of many of their misunderstandings lies in a human tendency to categorize everything we run into. Whether it’s pigeonholing one's own identity as Amano and Uehara have or reducing others to simplistic labels like “gamer” or “moe lover”. The characters in Gamers! are all multi-dimensional humans with various interests and friends outside of their romantic relationships. Seeing someone hanging out with another member of the opposite sex besides their significant other means just as little as them playing a fighting game instead of an RPG. Recognizing this truth may be the key to untangling the complex love hexagon of their relationships.
Peter Fobian is an Associate Features Editor for Crunchyroll and author of Monthly Mangaka Spotlight. You can follow him on Twitter @PeterFobian.