Editorial

Out With the Old, in With the New — Dissecting Familiarity in Video Games

Gaming today is no longer seen as just a hobby that one participates in during their spare time, rather the industry has transformed itself into an entertainment business as well. Many people devote their lives to playing video games, even finding ways to make a living from it.

With the gaming industry consistently improving upon itself with each coming year, changes are made all around to both what is being played and how it is played. Sometimes these changes can have both positive and negative impacts on how people experience gaming culture, and for the latter, jeopardize a lifestyle that individuals have created for themselves. A player’s familiarity with a video game franchise will ultimately determine how they associate with the product, and whether they will continue with their support.

Players will associate well with a product when they are able to understand what they are playing. The level design of a game can often predict what kind of experience the player will have. Games that are able to achieve success in this category will never leave the player confused with level progression, or question how a mechanic is to be executed. Modern video games are often over reliant on the implementation of in-game tutorials and HUD mechanics, limiting self-discovery and encouraging guidance.

Most franchises that become successful within the industry will want to achieve more, even if that means abandoning certain principles that they are found upon. This change can affect a player’s familiarity with the product, leaving them to question whether they will continue to support it. Dissociation with a brand can come from having a game transition into new territory within the industry and alter its ideals in favor of a new audience. A player’s dissociation with a video game is thus a result of how the game is being played.

The introduction of the smart-phone, and consequent the App Store, has marked a significant shift in the video game industry, forever changing how people play games. People no longer have to set aside specific time for gaming, since apps can be launched in mere seconds. Mobile gaming has also changed the way developers structure their game’s mechanics and ecosystem.

The mobile gaming scene is where microtransactions became most prevalent, and where poor quality, reskinned games obtained notoriety. The mobile environment has impacted the way core video games are now made, further disassociating players from the franchises they once loved. Almost all big budget titles now have a mobile counterpart, encouraging players to incorporate touch controls and interconnected systems into their traditional gaming habits.

As gaming creeps further into mainstream media, developers are beginning to compromise the experiences in order to make them more consumer friendly. Before the modern era of video games, gaming was seen as a niche culture, where they were either played from the comfort of one’s own home or at an arcade surrounded by like-minded individuals.

With gaming culture now a multibillion dollar industry, anyone is able to participate due to the barrier of entry being gradually lowered over the years. Gamers are witnessing a transition of power taking place, where before developers would create to drive the fanbase, believing success would come as well, to now creating for the everyday gamer, knowing that success lies in them.

Simplifying a game for the masses disassociates certain players from the experience by restructuring the ideology of a video game. On-screen tutorials and head-up displays have become more excessive over the recent years. They are made with the intention of providing the player with as much information as possible, while simultaneously limiting the level of mysticism found by exploring and experimentation.

The negativity surrounding the dissociation of players and video games does not entirely stem from the overreliance of tutorials and hand-holding, rather the necessity of them. While modern gaming is consistently exceeding the limitations of the medium, developers will often abandon traditional control schemes, creating alternative ones with each major release. This constant change distances a player with the product by alienating it from their previous experiences.

Looking back to the classic Super Mario Bros., the divide between association and dissociation can take place becomes more apparent. The player, as Mario, is tasked with completing the stage in order to become one step closer to saving the princess. To do this, they must consistently progress towards the right side of the screen, while jumping on or over platforms and enemies.

Upon start up, the game does not tell the player how they should reach the flag pole, rather the first thing that happens is a Goomba begins to creep in from the outer-bounds of the screen. The player can then react to this in a variety of ways. If nothing is done, the player dies, resulting in the loss of one life.

However, if the player experiments with the buttons, eventually they will find one that makes Mario jump, allowing them to progress onto the next screen. The level design presents a natural path of progression, while also providing the player with enough knowledge without ever having to teach them how to play.

From Nintendo to PlayStation, most games were easily accessible to players because of their similarities. Fans of a particular genre could easily understand any game that fell under that classification regardless of developer and platform. Every side-scroller required the player to keep moving right, just as every racer had a finish line. Modern gaming is an evolution of this concept, as developers continue to blend genres together and create hybrid experiences.

Games such as Nier Automata provide this experience by being part bullet-hell, side-scroller, top-down, and action-adventure, all crafted into one experience that provides a unique story as well. In addition, gamers are now witnessing a semi-unification of genre control schemes. Most modern shooters, whether first or third person, unanimously use the triggers to aim and shoot. Players have now become conditioned to this schematic, whereas the option to use any other layout feels foreign.

Along with level design, skill can ultimately affect a player’s association/disassociation with a game. The infamous meme of “Git Gud” that was once prolific within the Dark Souls franchise has now transcended and can be applied to any aspect of gaming. As aforementioned, by moving into the mainstream media, gaming has opened itself up to a wider audience. The barrier to entry has been significantly lowered so that the masses can now participate within the industry, creating a divide from the hardcore fans and the casual gamers.

The skill divide often creates tension within gaming culture, as many veterans are forced to watch franchises they grew up with shift towards mass media consumption. Whether the result is a beloved franchise transition into mobile gaming, or having unlockable content now become additional purchases, the gaming industry is changing at a rapid pace.

Over the past few years, an argument has formed within the industry that gaming today requires less skill, with many franchises simplifying the experience for the casual players. Call of Duty’s stories were originally intended to be played first before experiencing the multiplayer with friends, not only for the player to experience the level of hard work and production put into each game, but also as a way of introducing new players to the mechanics.

With Black Ops 4 eliminating the campaign from its roster of game modes, newcomers are forced into the multiplayer to fend off against series veterans. This ultimately affects the skill gap in the game, potentially ruining the experience for players on either side.

Additionally, the evolution of a franchise can often disassociate a player due to the radical shifts in gameplay and level design. When Call of Duty shifted from its modern military theme into that of science-fiction, many players expressed displeasure and outrage. After a few development cycles, the series has now found a compromise with the community, but not before shaking up the hardcore fanbase. Fans of the series only expressed outrage due to becoming disassociated with the franchise, leaving the developers to restructure their approach.

Gaming has come a long way from simplistic level design and gameplay. As technology innovates at a rapid pace, so does video gaming, allowing concepts that were once believed to be impossible now a reality. As a result of these changes, the way video games are played have become a byproduct of gaming culture’s changing environments.

The gaming industry is no stranger to experiencing new trends, causing players to undergo feelings of confusion and unfamiliarity. Transitioning into the mobile marketplace has proven to be profitable for the video game industry, but at the cost of distancing itself from many core gamers. A core franchise will always have its hardcore fanbase, even though some may abandon it due to ill practices. What most gamers fear, however, is the industry growing in the wrong direction, ultimately abandoning those who truly believe in its potential.

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