Gamers are Strange, When You're a Stranger

Gamers are Strange, When You're a Stranger

Game Executives Bemoan Gaming's "Bad Reputation" at the Electronic Gaming Summit

The recent news from Ziff Davis's Electronic Gaming Summit has seemingly prompted a bit of soul-searching in the game industry. To wit: According to Seth Schiesel, the author of the above-linked NY Times article, the chief concern at the amongst the industry's elite executives in attendance was the trite concern that gaming was still perceived as a "niche hobby with a bad reputation." He cited Microsoft's Peter Moore as saying that step one to "Opening Doors for Our Industry" was to go "Beyond the Boys in Their Bedrooms," and Sony's Phil Harrison's presentation titled " Having It Both Ways: Holding the Core and Reaching for More."

It's no surprise that Microsoft and Sony are looking to change gaming's "bad reputation." Sony and Microsoft are not game companies; they're huge conglomerates that just happen to have game divisions - divisions that are losing both companies millions of dollars each year. In order to justify the existence of these huge money-sucks, Microsoft and Sony must at some point demonstrate their potential for future profitability, and there are only so many "boys in bedrooms" willing to plunk down an entire paycheck to feed their "niche hobby." Nintendo, on the other hand, is a game company, which has long been in the number three slot in terms of market share, but has been turning a profit in the process; a feat which must have the heads of Microsoft and Sony's game divisions burning with envy - and feeling the noose.

If Nintendo manages to sell its Wii console to it's target market of "people who have never played a game" while Microsoft and Sony are still peddling their over-priced, over-sized, self-heating muscle machines to the anti-social gamer elite then the axes are sure to come out at Microsoft and Sony headquarters, and it will have nothing whatsoever to do with social perceptions. Honestly, these people don't care if they're selling games to boys or girls, children or adults, homemakers or mass murderers; what they care about is turning a profit, and once the boys in the boardrooms start demanding green ink, the boys in the bedrooms become irrelevant.

So what should you and I, the boys in the bedrooms, take from this hubbub? The question of when more people will consider gaming "normal" has to be of concern to us all, not only for what it might mean in terms of future development and pricing of hardware and accessories, but also from a sociological perspective. After all, if the Big Two are looking to change the "bad reputation" of gaming, then what does that say about those of us who've been gamers all along? Are we part of the problem or part of the solution?

I say: Neither. You and I are simply pawns in the game of market share, and the side we represent has been entirely won over, but is still only a fraction of the total potential consumer base for the industry. The bad reputation to which Mr. Moore refers is the image in most people's minds of the gamer as a sedentary man/boy/child staring at a screen for hours on end while holding a controller. This image, in large part, is entirely accurate, and at the risk of alienating my entire audience, I have to agree that those portrayed in this picture aren't "normal." I include myself.

Normal people go outside, have barbecues, play softball, read books, knit, go to church and have dates. They do all of these things and many more besides, but very few normal people spend the majority of their free time playing video games. And I maintain that this is not normal, in spite of the fact that it describes me almost perfectly. It is a lifestyle choice, and there is nothing wrong with it, but it is not and never will be "normal."

For gaming to catch on among a wider audience therefore, games will have to become playable by people with a lot less time to devote to gaming. That means not only actually playing the games, but learning how to play them as well. 80+ hour fantasy games, or games requiring a third-party hint book are simply not going to sell outside of a certain demographic. For an example of the problems this may present to game companies, allow me to point you towards Bruce Nielson's fantastic article from The Escapist Issue 55 about his experience working at a small company making videogame versions of popular tabletop war games. The company managed to capture their target market, but still collapsed, because their target market was incredibly small and could not support the cost of making the games. In order for today's game companies to avoid a similar fate, they will have to market their products to people who would not ordinarily see a place for games in their busy and/or social lifestyles. "Casual gamers" in other words. And it is just these casual gamers to whom Messrs. Harrison and Moore were attempting to reach out with their EGS presentations. Or, more precisely, it is their shareholders they are attempting to placate with promises that their money-sucking game divisions will soon break free of the stigma associated with gaming.

By way of comparison, I offer this completely unacceptable analogy: Remember when being gay was a crime? Back when the only gay people straight people ever saw were the ones on TV dying of AIDS? That was not a good time to be gay, and many who were gay shared much angst over this fact - privately, of course, because nobody outside of the gay community really cared. That has since changed (thanks largely to Tom Hanks, Ellen Degeneres and NBC), and although there are still many parts of the country where life can be hard for homosexuals, most Americans are willing to tolerate them, if not accept them outright as fellow human beings with feelings, health care needs and the right to marry.

As the world turns and more people who have played games (or who know people who play games) enter into positions of power in government, universities and large corporations, the gamer stigma will slowly start to fade and those of us with controllers glued to our hands will no longer be considered social pariahs. So long as we remember to bathe.

Actually, if the fact that the New York Times now has a more-or-less dedicated video game correspondent is any indication, it has started to happen already. We've just been too busy writing to each on internet forums to notice, or as Lara Crigger deftly pointed out in The Escapist Forum, are perhaps too afraid of the consequences of this "invasion of normals" to greet their arrival with anything but fear, uncertainty and doubt.

If we want the normals to get over our "gamer weirdness," then we, as gamers, have to get over their normalness. The next time you're in your local game shop and see a 50-something man in a tie buying a PS2 and GTA: San Andreas, resist the urge to laugh or sneer, and the next time you're interviewing for a job at his company, wearing a t-shirt with a joypad on it, he may do the same. Who knows? He might even hire you (then ask you how to enable the Hot Coffee mod).

But this only addresses half of the problem. Now that we've resigned ourselves to accept (perhaps even embrace) our new tie-wearing overlords, we're still left with the question of what will happen to our games (or us for that matter). After all, if Sony and Microsoft are throwing their marketing and development might behind the search for an expanded market, will the result be a game industry which is no longer hospitable to you and me, the boys in the bedrooms who helped conceive the industry in the first place?

I doubt it. So long as there is a market for the kinds of games we like to play, those games will continue to be made. It may become harder to sort out the deeply-immersive, hour-crushing software titles we know and love from amongst the easy-to-pick-up, easy-to-put-down companions-to-the-busy-lifestyle-of-the-casual gamer that are sure to be flooding the market in the days ahead, but hey, that's what those internet forums are for, isn't it?

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I for one welcome our new tie-wearing overlords.

ouch - Saw that coming Archon.

This is a wonderful piece Fletcher. I happen to agree with you wholeheartedly. I take my un-normality with a little bit of elitist pride. By no means do I believe that gaming as I do it is "normal".

However, I have found that very few people I know are "normal", counting those I don't spend a lot of time with such as co-workers and tie-wearing overlords. Most people have a quirk or two (or three). I've found if you can accept theirs without effort, (As in, you aren't putting on a show of politeness) that they can generally accept your quirks. The stigmas associated with being wierd / different / strange / "not normal" all dissappear shortly after.

Is it just me, or would this topic make a really good theme for an edition of the escapist?

Do you think that the fact that most games are made by hardcore gamers means that hardcore gamer's games will always be made, even after people start making a jillion dollars by making the Next Tetris?

Also, gotta disagree with your depiction of gays in America. Last time I checked, gay men and women can't get married in most parts of the country and the majority thinks there's something "wrong" with them. Just 'cause Rosie and Ellen came out on TV and Tom Hanks made everyone feel guilty 13 years ago doesn't mean America's gotten used to people being queer and here.

Also-also, I count myself as both normal (well, borderline-normal) and a gamer, but I think that people being okay with gamers & videogames is an offshoot of the geekification of pop culture in general, not just the fact that all of us who grew up with the NES are getting older.

I think the reason "gamers" may be afraid of a mainstream influx of new players is a possible WoW effect in all games.

Anyone that has experience with MMOs knows that WoW doesn't really do anything special, nothing different and that if it wasn't for the Warcraft license that game probably would have fallen flat on its face.

But WoW is everything Microsoft and Sony want to do for the gaming industry.

Streamlining gameplay to the point where just about anyone can pickup and play without prior experience in the genre or in videogames in general.

Right now I am one of the "boys in thier bedrooms" and to be honest I am completely bored with all videogames and I am seriously thinking about selling off my Alienwares and ridding myself of my xboxes.

Games have been getting easier and easier and more friendly to people who don't want or can't spend the time to get good at them.

But I want a game that's heavy on the action, makes me multi-task like a RTS and test my twitch skills like the most heated of CS matches. Things a videogame begginner would never want as thier first.

But I have my game already Phantom Dust unfortunately MS doesn't think my game is compatible with the new 360.

So what's guy like me to do? If the majority of companies are going the Wii route of wanting to cater to the mainstream?

I don't know. I think everyone has to make that decision for themselves I know that I won't pay $600 for Sony's version of the Wii or $150 for Nintendo's.

Perhaps I will get a more "normal" hobby like watching 6 hours of movies a day and start eating barbeque outside.

I, personally, anticipate with gusto the arrival of more artistic games. And Spore. I'm sure these, classic games, the indie scene, and maybe an MMO will keep me alive during the long winter of Bejeweled/Nintendogs/Brain Age/Myst/Wario Ware/GTA imitators that must pass before the industry enters its true renaissance. In order for more sophisticated games to go truly mainstream, gaming will have to lose its novelty for those who don't play now. Which basically means the market will go through the same sort of evolution that proceeded twenty-odd years ago, only with greater numbers and slicker graphics. There will be gems released during that time - current "hardcore" gamers are far too affluent to be ignored, and it's just about time for the SNES/Genesis generation to start entering the industry on the developer side - and in general things will be improving, but the money will be in the simple things.

My ideal game is not necessarily an instantly accessible one, nor necessarily one that provides a perfect challenge or endless opportunity for interaction, but one that showcases the full breadth of the power of games as an artistic medium. And, let's face it - that'll be more likely to happen as the hardcore crowd becomes less powerful in the market.

Thanks, Fletch, for more finely crafting my short tirade on the forums. You said exactly what I would have, had I had more time. I'll read everyone's replies here, but... I have to go be an overlord for 9 hours or so. Back in a (soul-crushing) jiffy.

thewanderer14:
Thanks, Fletch, for more finely crafting my short tirade on the forums. You said exactly what I would have, had I had more time. I'll read everyone's replies here, but... I have to go be an overlord for 9 hours or so. Back in a (soul-crushing) jiffy.

Thsi actually started as a response to your tirade over the weekend, wanderer, but I decided to use my Editor's Hall Pass to put it in here when it capped the 1000-word mark and I still wasn't finished ;)

Bad reputations notwithstanding, I also would like good games that are accessible to the "casual gamer." I am not a casual gamer... well, I would not be except for the fact that having a family and a job/career now precludes me from spending significant amounts of my time on computer or console games. While I love turn-based strategy, I have not picked up Galactic Civilizations, and probably never will. I know that to enjoy the game I would have to spend hours playing, and the commitments to my kids and wife wouldn't allow it.

So, I find myself turning to consoles, to make gaming more social. And instead of playing Beyond Good and Evil, I'm playing Karaoke Revolution. Although, I must say, Lego Star Wars was a breath of fresh air.

 

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