The Changing Face Of The Typical Gamer
If, not less than four years ago, I said to a member of the public, “Please describe a gamer?”, I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear references to hating sunlight, obesity, facial complexion issues and generally ‘not having a life’. Gaming has oft been reviled by the general populace as something akin to getting the plague, thanks in part to media sensationalism and the relative youthfulness of this entertainment form. Personally I think that landscape has changed quite rapidly.
I’ve always been a gamer at heart, but more recently I’ve found myself trapped between two very different gaming groups. I am, of course, talking about the hardcore vs casual split. I tend to refer myself as a ‘casucore gamer’; I play games with enough of my spare time to be what I consider hardcore, but I tend to shy away from multiplayer PvP and the vehement hatred towards anything that doesn’t run at 60fps and requires a £2500 gaming rig to run. Likewise, I don’t often find myself belittling or abusing other players over Xbox Live or in-game chat because they aren’t ‘team players’ (which, translated, usually means “you aren’t doing what I commanded you to do”) or just aren’t that great at the game. I think that before I get onto that divide in great detail, a quick recap of how gaming managed to come so far, so fast is in order.
Gaming has, for most of its life, arguably, been a two-horse race: Consoles vs Computers. From the Atari 2600 fighting off the Commodore Vic 20 to the Sega Megadrive fighting the Commodore Amiga 500 and, more recently, the Sony PS3 vs the modern PC, the two have always been vying for the affection of a gamer’s heart, with each side bringing multiple offerings to the table and constantly flipping gamers from one medium to another.
As if the battle of the hardware crown wasn’t enough there has always been a bit of a jostle between the gaming genres. Usually someone leans towards a favourite type of game, be it platform, puzzler, RPG (role playing game), FPS (first person shooter), etc. and comment boards are a breeding ground for gamers to praise or berate the genre, as well as the game in question. Role Playing Gamers don the robes of truth and justice, grab the Ancient Sword of Harrowing Despair and prepare their inventory with potions, spells and raw crafting materials for the long journey ahead to plead their case. Then two steps into their great adventure they fall to the ground with a smoking bullet-hole in the head; the camping First Person Gamer then emerges, jumping repeatedly towards the fallen corpses, bestowing the obligatory teabagging and bouncing off to set up camp on the spawn point once more with twitchy fingers on the trigger.
In recent years the lines have blurred for the above factions with developers breaching the confines of the traditional genre boundaries. A shining example is Bioware and their penchant for making the likes of Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect – games that combine action with a traditional RPG dialogue and story-led feel – while on the flipside you have Gearbox Software taking a very strong FPS in Borderlands and adding the inventory and quest elements of an RPG into it. At worst, the cross-pollination of these archetypes may have put a few gamers off who were too scared to dip their toe into the waters of another genre and, at best, it has spawned a whole plethora of outstanding games that appeal to a larger audience.
You are probably nodding your head in agreement (or not) but, still, the above is specific to those within the gaming community. Traditionally those who were not gamers did not see the micro-wars happening and to all intents and purposes, be you a console RPG gamer or a PC FPS gamer, you were just a gamer. A spotty, teenage/student, overweight gamer (as per the typical stereotype).
Times, they are a changing though. The national media became interested in gaming a while back as it was easy pickings for shocking sensationalism and profound statements about links to violence, similarly in the way VHS and DVD movies were the decade before. Naturally the fact that there is a system in place to stop sales to minors, and really this is as much a parenting issue as anything else, is always ignored. In the last couple of years it’s even started to become a political tool with politicians aligning themselves with gamers (Ed Vaizey & Tom Watson for example), and those still throwing about arguments from the 90s (Keith Vaz, for instance) – that playing Sonic will turn you into a rapist (perfect example) or murderer, or something equally as bad. I think something along the lines of ‘playing Hannah Montana turns you to paedophilia’ will be next on the list since they’ve exhausted all of the usual horrific crimes by now. Initially the above sensationalism by the press didn’t help put gaming in a good light, but as those stories dry up and easier tabloid pickings come along (such as the insane obsession with reality TV that the nation seems to have acquired) then it has allowed the industry to make use of the media to promote itself to the masses.
2010 is spent, but it came at the point when a revolution in gaming was occurring. The traditional model of consoles vs PCs has given way to portable options. Starting out in the dim and distant past, the handheld market was usually a luxury second option for gamers when they weren’t in their own home. The Nintendo Gameboy’s monochrome tetris blocks and theme bring up good memories – and fires of jealousy burned for friends with the Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx – but they always played second fiddle to the main gaming machine. Now that phones have properly waded into the fray, things are changing rapidly; people that would have never considered buying a mobile gaming device suddenly find themselves playing Plants vs Zombies or Angry Birds on their work-issued iPhone. More importantly, they are loving it and not instantly going out and murdering people.
Likewise, social media is pulling people into gaming with the likes of Farmville, Mafia Wars and other such games. We all remember the Flash games that were all the rage a few years ago on a Friday afternoon in the office. Kitty Cannon or Yeti Sports anyone? Yes I thought that might jog a few memories. Although great fun for an hour, they tended to get forgotten after a while and you certainly wouldn’t bookmark a games site on the office PC! Luckily social media has, in some cases, relaxed the bonds of internet access in the workplace and now there is a constant stream of “X farmed X and gave you X coins. Use them now!” status updates to suck people back in.
Even though gaming in general is still getting the odd sucker-punch from lazy journalists that have no clue about gaming, the emergence of gaming in social media and mobiles, and even the shift towards family orientated entertainment with the Wii, Xbox Live and Playstation Network is proving that gaming is not the so called ‘Devil’ and not all gamers are the traditional stereotypical ‘socially reclusive fat kid in a bedroom with the curtains drawn’. In fact, I’d even go out on a limb to say that gaming is riding the coat tails of geekism’s current popularity and gamers are now happily declaring themselves to be ‘cool gamers’, where once they may have hidden that fact for fear of ridicule.
All the time, more people flock to the gaming banner be it casual or hardcore, or even ‘casucores’ like me who flit between the camps and like the odd bash on Angry Birds or Bejewelled, but who also spend entire sleepless weekends taking over the western world in Medieval Total War 2. The great thing is, gaming is becoming so universally accepted that soon it’ll be impossible for the likes of Keith Vaz to stir up such stupid, irrational and totally false media frenzies over gaming because the masses themselves will have played some games and know that they haven’t turned to a life of crime because of it.
The ‘hardcore’ gamers do seem to have some ruffled feathers about the whole ‘casual’ scenario though. There are less inter-faction arguments and more general rallying around to cast out the casual gamer from their domain. There are worries that micro-transactional games and the much wider audience of casual gaming will steal the focus of publishers from traditional AAA games and hardware to the newer markets, but I think that the average gamer still provides enough of an income to the publishers to ensure the AAA titles keep coming. Red Dead Redemption, Call of Duty MW2, and Call of Duty Black Ops sales records are proof enough and, to be honest, I think that the competition being forged in the casual arena is only raising the bar for the quality of games, especially as the choice and method of purchase is becoming infinitely more numerous (PC, console, mobile, DLC, subscription, expansions). This in turn pushes only those games that are good to survive long enough on the charts or featured pages to make money for the developers.
Another gripe you hear regarding catering for casuals is difficulty. The hardcore worry about games becoming too easy. Well I tried Halo Reach on legendary and it was stupidly hard – enough to bring a 32 year old man to tears for the first time since Optimus Prime died in 1986, hard. For those who laugh at my inability to play FPS games with any modicum of skill, then if the AI bores you there is always the multiplayer aspect. Too many people see casual games as easy games and that just isn’t the truth. In my mind I treat casual games as those you can pick up and play almost immediately; no waiting to get through a 35 minute level to the next save point, learning controls or combos, etc.
I think more than anything the hardcore crowd sometimes feel threatened by the new crowd, kind of like being bosses of the school in 5th year but finding yourself tumbling back to the bottom of the pile among a mass of unknown faces when you go to sixth form. Perhaps embracing them rather than indulging in the usual coarse forum remarks and verbal abuse over the in-game chat might help? Yes, you are to some extent anonymous, but it doesn’t mean you have to be a total prick. If a little more friendliness was given to noobs then there could be a lot more people picking up new hardware and games that they had, perhaps, been previously put off from getting. Gaming is about fun and sometimes it is taken a little too seriously. Now, of course, I have used the stereotyping brush a little there to demonstrate the roles of hardcore and casual gamers, but, in essence, even if its the few idiots spoiling it for the general crowd, the animosity exists and for no real reason. More gamers equals more games, equals more fun – I don’t see the issue.
Ultimately though, the gaming landscape has completely changed and the old stereotypical gamer is dying out. We now have families gaming together; Xbox 360s and PS3s are permanently housed in living rooms as opposed to being shunned to the bedroom or unplugged and tidied away after use. If I were to ask a member of the public to describe a gamer today I would half expect them to say “Me, I’m a gamer.” I’d just pray I wasn’t in their bedroom with the curtains closed having just watched them finish off a KFC bucket to themselves at the time, as that would destroy this whole article. The new war of hardcore vs casual is probably far from over, but you can’t deny that the world at large is beginning to treat gaming as an equal to TV and movies, not some deformed mutant entertainment to hide in the basement when the neighbours pop around.
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