Gaming is finding its footing in society, aided by the rise of technology as an integral part of day-to-day life and the cultural prominence of such productions as Angry Birds, Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. Yes, it still occasionally plays the role of scapegoat for violent acts perpetrated by mentally unstable people, but it seems that more of the general populace tend to roll their eyes at such claims and dismiss them out of hand. As the new kid on the block (in terms of entertainment mediums), the blame game isn’t likely to be put aside entirely for some time, but the reaction to it clearly points to an alteration in the way that game are viewed.
There is little doubt that much of this can be attributed to the family-friendly orientation and advertising of Nintendo’s Wii console, which opened the market up to people that had no interest prior. They may not necessarily have embraced it, but the hobby is now in the public domain, no longer looked down upon as the pastime of pimply teens and neckbeards dwelling in their parents’ basements well into their thirties. Now, the world truly is in play, with nursing homes and hospitals using it as a physiotherapeutic aid; militaries using it for training and families using it as an exercise in togetherness.
We “core” gamers have watched this explosion in popularity with hidden smiles, happy in the knowledge that our hobby is finally getting its due. However, it seems an exercise in the opening of eyes. Though our hobby is being accepted by the masses, what now amounts to the vocal online minority finds itself unwilling to extend a welcoming hand to outsiders. There is a culture of bitterness and disdain aimed at those that we consider interlopers and have so callously ascribed the blanket term “casual gamers”. And our conceit towards them has seen us turn even on the developers and publishers that provide us due to their desire to appeal to this new, larger market.
But from where does this dislike spring? It could very well be some kind of irrational backlash born of their ostracism of the hobby over the past forty years. However, I do not believe that this is the case. I labour under the impression that the collective scorn stems from a variance of opinion and the widespread belief that these other factions do not view gaming in the same light that we do. These so-called “casual gamers” view it as entertainment in much the same vein as most television or cinematic productions. As a result, they stick to those brands that are in the public domain and those that are geared towards them. And this is the reason for the obscene popularity of Call of Duty and the Wii, to say nothing of the multitude of annual sports games. There is nothing strictly wrong with this, but we see that have not embraced the diversity and true potential that gaming offers. They use it as an occupation of a few hours, but outside of the limited knowledge that they need to enjoy what they are familiar with, they know little, if anything, of gaming.
And with this blind, uncaring audience being the one that publishers seek to cater to, there should be little wonder that we have come to see them in a negative light as well. It is the general doctrine of them to force multiplayer into games that we clearly recognise as not needing, or necessarily benefiting from, its inclusion. It is they who then charge us for the right to use that tacked-on segment if we do not buy the game new through Online Passes. It is their meddling that sees the dismantling of unique elements, moving games towards homogeneity in an attempt to draw in a crowd that simply has no interest. Yes, publishers are guilty of all these things, but does that justify the general hatred towards them? The viewpoint that they enjoy is one of reason that most of us are unwilling to see: games are the product of an entertainment industry and a business in their own right, the inevitable goal of which is to turn a profit. Besides that, without them the industry would simply not be sustainable.
Publishers make some abysmal choices in terms of the games that they sanction the creation of, but they generally have an eye for quality and are willing to give free reign to those developers that are capable of creating greatness under their own steam. In spite of this ability, our ire is also occasionally directed towards those developers for making alterations to our favourite franchises or for not catering to our whims. Our attitude towards them is selfish in the extreme but, again, explained by a difference of opinion. While we see it as their duty to serve us with what we want to see, for developers, gaming is a canvas. It is a unique medium that allows those consuming it to interact with the stories that they create on a far more personal level than film and literature by virtue of the fact that it truly is interactive. Even were this not the case, any creator puts their own desires before that of the potential consumer. It isn’t about the audience, but about what matters most to the one providing them.
And there are many games to prove that, sometimes, this is the best way. Are we really going to abuse them for doing the very same thing that writers have been doing for centuries? We shouldn’t, but our ideal of entitlement makes us believe that we are right in doing so. Ultimately, it stems from us seeing things differently from them, but bearing this all in mind, what is the explicit viewpoint of we “core gamers” and why does it seem so irreconcilable to that of the factions that we have taken a stand against? If “casuals” view gaming as entertainment, publishers view it as industry and developers view it as a creative ends, why can’t we sympathise with any of them?
It is because we see it as a form of experience. We willingly throw ourselves into these productions and come out the other side a bit wiser and more practised. We live and breathe gaming, enjoying it not as entertainment but as escapism. We empathise with the stories or mechanics of them, making it personal for every one of us. Our histories may not converge, but our ideals do. This is what sets us apart from the rest. Our comfort in the knowledge that gaming is more than they see.