Choose Your Weapon

Gamer Merchandise, Mosaic and Meritocracy

David R. Howard
8 min readAug 16, 2023

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Screenshot of a magazine featuring the phrase “CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON!” next to a drawing of a joystick with a background of diagonal purple lines. Source:

I’m searching for an image, one I’ve seen a thousand times but can’t quite place. You’ve probably seen it too–on a banner advertisement, flattened and compressed across the chest of a stock photography model. It’s more than a gift for the gamer in your life, it’s the gamer t-shirt design; a uniform of silhouettes, highly reproducible yet like an ice crystal never quite the same twice.

I call it the gamer mosaic, referring to the artform of creating images through the arrangement of smaller pieces, traditionally coloured stone, glass or ceramics. In the case of the gamer mosaic the pieces are two-dimensional representations of either gaming peripherals (such as controllers) and/or in-game items (such as power-ups and other collectibles). The gamer mosaic is a visual meme, one born on the Internet of the early 2000’s, both of which present challenges in researching its origins and dissemination. Firstly is that the Internet of decades past only still exists in fragments, largely scattered across the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Secondly is that visual compositions are not readily searchable without the accompanying language to describe them. Luckily, there is a three-word phrase commonly associated with the gamer mosaic, giving us some purchase in the swathes of information that comprise the gamer merchandise e-commerce industry and the discourses of games culture at large.

The phrase “choose your weapon” as a meme can be said to have coalesced out of several disparate sources in the cultural imaginary: choosing one’s class in a tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) such as Dungeons & Dragons (1974–2014), the “choose wisely” scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), the “choose your fighter” screen from Mortal Kombat (1992), the sequence in Pokémon Red/Blue (1996) where Professor Oak asks the player to choose their starter Pokémon and a challenge within the television game show Survivor (2000-present). It is comparable to other memes used in gamer merchandise such as the phrase “classically trained” (usually accompanied by a Nintendo Entertainment System or other retro console controller) or designs that parody Rudolph Zallinger’s “March of Progress”. While the specific sequence of words “choose your weapon” was published in relation to computer games as early as 1982, the coinage of the phrase can be traced to the 1987 song “Choose Your Weapon” by American thrash metal band Exodus.

16 years later the phrase was popularized on the Internet by a 2003 t-shirt design by Sean Gailey of J!NX, an early online vendor of gamer and hacker merchandise established in 1999. The design features a series of six dice used in TTRPG’s, with the text “CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON” underneath. Notably the design was worn by the protagonist of the 2006 comedy film Grandma’s Boy (2006). From there the phrase gained a life of its own: as a series of Flash games by glowmonkey (2007–2011), a 2010 graffiti piece by Banksy, a 2015 neo-soul album by Hiatus Kaiyote and the subject of numerous Internet forum games. In 2018 the Instagram user @BokChoiTV posted a video later retitled “Asian Mom Fighting Weapons — Choose Your Weapon (Mom Version)” (since made private on YouTube between time of writing and publication) which used a font that directly references Gailey’s design, but otherwise parodies videogame character customization screens.

However, the J!NX design is not an example of the gamer mosaic, it merely set the stage for its emergence. While I am certain that prior examples exist, a prominent version of the gamer mosaic is a 2013 design by Brian Campbell entitled “Choose Your Weapon: Gamers” via the popular merch website Threadless. The design features the words “CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON” in a pixelated font above a series of game controllers, accessories/input devices, handhelds and at least two instances of actual weapons. The arrangement is fairly standard and the individual components do not form a larger picture as compared to slightly later gamer mosaic designs like “Question Block” by Jon Kay for Fangamer or the aptly titled “Gamer” by John Haswell for Shirt.Woot.

A scan of an Electronic Boutique catalogue showing various Nintendo 64 and Game Boy Color games with a background of light blue spiky shapes. Source:

Where exactly the gamer mosaic originated from is seemingly lost to time. However, comparisons can be drawn to the practice of knolling that dates back to 1987 (Fritts 50), game store catalogue imagery of the 1990’s and the flat UI design of Michiko Sakurai from the 1999 release of Super Smash Bros. onward. The gamer mosaic also exists for a technological reason, namely the fact that screen-printed designs become more expensive to produce as more colours are added and thus lend themselves to monochromatic compositions which minimize overlap, creating negative space between the outline of objects.

To what extent can the gamer mosaic be considered a paratext? In some instances the gamer mosaic references a single videogame text, while in others it refers to a variety of videogames and gaming technologies. Some examples can be seen as promotional materials, and thus in line with Gerard Génette’s original definition of paratext according to Jan Švelch, while others can be seen as fan art and thus more in line with Mia Consalvo’s “expanded” definition. This distinction is made by merchandisers themselves, as Dan Long of Insert Coin Clothing says in an interview for an IGN article, “We didn’t want our community to be walking adverts for games, but we set about creating clothing that helped develop a real world community for gamers.” As Elizabeth Affuso and Avi Santo note, merchandise such as t-shirts allow media consumers to carry an overt connection to a media property with them, however other merchandise can be more covert, and this is reflected in Long’s comment.

What struck me most about the aforementioned IGN article however was its unintentionally menacing ending, quote: “anyone wearing a product from any of the companies I spoke to is saying ‘I’m a gamer, and I’m proud!’ So let’s continue forward as a community of proud gamers, because as it becomes ever more popular, who’s going to stop us?” Written mere months before Gamergate, this sentiment casts gamer merchandise and the gamer mosaic in a troubling light.

Emma Vossen argues that gamer merchandise is a form of “objectified cultural capital”, something which “could be demonstrated by having items that are worth a lot of money (such as shelves full of vintage games) or things worth no money at all (such as obtaining in-game items or trophies). The key is that they are culturally impressive and can be shown off.” (18) Here the gamer mosaic functions as both a purchasable item and a representational collection of “trophies”. But what else can we glean from the gamer mosaic? What are the implicit values encoded within its design?

My use of the term mosaic has thus far been literal, but it is also an allusion to the concept of a cultural mosaic. In Canada the cultural mosaic model is understood in contrast to the American “melting pot”–wherein cultural groups (such as immigrants) are encouraged to assimilate–whereas in Canada different cultures may (allegedly) coexist harmoniously. By drawing this comparison I want to be careful not to insinuate that “gamerhood” is a comparable identity category to nationality, race, gender, sexuality, ability, et cetera–rather I wish to draw attention to the manner in which the gamer mosaic is an exclusionary mechanism in the guise of an inclusive gesture. The multiculturalism of the gamer mosaic is not one of different ethnic cultures but of different facets of games culture. I highlight this through the figure of the “everygamer”.

Vossen makes the useful distinction between a “gamer” as “anyone who plays games of any type” and “capital-G Gamers” as “someone who performs the hegemonic masculine tropes necessary to be accepted by other Gamers” (5). Though I have not adopted this syntax thus far my use of the word “gamer” throughout this piece is tantamount to the latter. Vossen also demonstrates how the goalposts of what constitutes a Gamer have shifted over the years. She writes, “[i]n some groups, a childhood knowledge of Pokémon (1996–2017) may count as embodied capital. In others, knowledge of or devotion to games played on Nintendo systems may actually detract from your capital.” (21) While being a type of Gamer, the everygamer is also unique as they demonstrate encyclopedic knowledge of every game agnostic of platform (or at least they think they do).

Although the everygamer is assuredly coded male (and cisgender), they are also distinct from the everyman, a stock character meant to portray the ordinary. The everygamer by contrast is self-fashioned as an extraordinary figure. As games collector and blogger Kimimi writes, “Internet gaming discourse demands nothing less than constant awareness of everything past, present, and future, and to demonstrate anything less shows a lack of passion for or education in the subject at hand.” It is the everygamer who is a master of all these domains; one identity, infinite experience.

The everygamer is also an early embodiment of a “post-console war” mentality, one which in recent years has become prominent even among the spokespeople and representatives of major console manufacturers. However, upon closer inspection the gamer mosaic that represents the everygamer makes telling omissions, for example mobile devices such as phones and tablets are often not included. In essence, the console wars were not really reconciled but merely sublimated into the broader culture war–the act of policing what is and isn’t legitimate–a legitimate way to play, a legitimate way to love, a legitimate way to exist in the world.

Therefore, the everygamer is not necessarily someone who owns every game for every console, rather as a subject under neoliberal capitalism they possess the knowledge required to make the optimal choices with their limited play time, and only play games with the highest replay value. Ultimately the ideology of the everygamer is that of meritocracy–the notion that all gamers enter into an even playing field. “Choose your weapon”, but what of those who have no choice? As Vossen explains in great detail those who are not Gamers (let alone everygamers) routinely face cultural barriers to fully participating in games culture.

Furthermore, the everygamer is in reality a product of cultural osmosis that is only made possible through the existence of the Internet and its myriad paratexts. Yet the network that created the everygamer is the same one that proves it’s impossible to know everything about every game, or even most games.

I see shades of myself in the everygamer, despite the fact that I find the gamer mosaic extremely tacky and would never wear something with one printed on it. Infinite experience is an alluring proposition, but for better or worse I would rather have my own.


Affuso, Elizabeth, and Avi Santo. “Mediated Merchandise, Merchandisable Media.” Film Criticism 42.2 (2018).

Fritts, Lauren. “Knolling: The art of material culture.” Art Education 72.1 (2019): 50–58.

Švelch, Jan. “Paratextuality in game studies: A theoretical review and citation analysis.” Game Studies 20.2 (2020).

Vossen, Emma. “On the cultural inaccessibility of gaming: Invading, creating, and reclaiming the cultural clubhouse.” (2018).