While everyone loves to see me bludgeon inept game design with my rhetorical bat, allow me to turn around for a minute and take a few well-deserved swings at the audience. I have noticed a trend among gamers to jeer at the whole casual games market. The word “casual gamer” seems to have become a euphemism for “retard.” This is an idea that needs to die screaming.
This attitude does the hobby and its surrounding culture no credit. It’s sad to think that the geeks of the world overthrew the ruling douchearchy of grunting jocks and bullies in high school so they could replace it with something even more shallow and infantile. Displaying arrogance because you’re a musclebound brute is rude. Displaying arrogance because you’re good at a videogame where you pretend to be a musclebound brute is a form of lameness that transcends our current understanding of human stupidity.
For historical perspective, I’d like to point out that those NES games where all you had was a d-pad and four buttons are laughably simplistic by today’s standards, even though they gave birth to an alarming number of still-running franchises. We started with simple games like Pac-Man or Metroid, and if they came out today I doubt they would make the cover of your average gaming magazine. They were hard, but they were also incredibly straightforward and easy to understand. As the years went on, the controllers evolved. Each generation added a new knob or stick or button for us to assimilate. Each time the controls became more complex, games added new layers of gameplay and depth to take advantage of them. Games built around a single mechanic (like platforming or shooting) gave way to genre-blending mutants where the player needed a handful of different skills just to get in the door. Eventually 3D arrived and we had to learn to ply our skills while mastering the art of camera wrangling. We learned and grew as the changes came. We went from d-pad and a button to a game controller that has a d-pad, twelve buttons, two analog joysticks, rumble feedback, motion sensing, and isn’t nearly as resistant to throwing damage as I’d like it to be.
Now gamers and developers are sneering at newcomers who are daunted by all of this complexity, acting as if everyone knew how to mouse-aim and circle-strafe back in 1993. We learned to crawl before we could walk. We learned to walk before we could run. Making fun of new gamers because they can’t jump right into modern games is like making fun of a baby because it sucks at pole vaulting.
We all started with casual games. We just didn’t call them that.
The most common lamentation to rise from the chanting faithful is that casual games are “ruining” mainstream games. But last time I checked, Hideo Kojima wasn’t working on the script for Peggle III, and John Carmack wasn’t writing a new “shiny things” engine for Bejeweled VI: The Jewelening. Romantic comedies didn’t “ruin” action movies, they just got a different group of people to go to the movies. Games are still evolving and inbreeding the way they always have, and I don’t think we’re getting less just because someone else is getting more. This is how things work when new markets open up.
An entire console has been dedicated to helping people over the wall and turning them into gamers, and the existing gamers seethe with rage not because they personally don’t enjoy the console but because the thing even exists. Part of this is due to the absurd clan warfare between the various console tribes, which is another stupid trend in gaming that needs to die in a woodchipper.
I see threads where Xbox 360 and PS3 users set aside their infantile blood feud to make fun of the Wii. They say the Wii is “lame,” “annoying,” or “stupid.” The Wiimote is a “gimmick” and the console is “underpowered.” The fact that the machine has brought in waves of new gamers to the hobby, shaken up the controller world, and provided a low-cost consoles to gamers on a budget is irrelevant to the fanboys. The mere success of the Wii has become some sort of threat and insult to the fragile egos of jabbering fanboys who see themselves as the keepers of of an exclusive priesthood.
I’d prefer to think of these Wii users as “newcomers,” and welcome them with a handshake and a pat on the back. But if we’re going to call these new players “casual” gamers then we need to set aside the notion that “casual gamers” are part of some strange new species of drooling imbeciles. They’re just people who haven’t learned to play God of War yet. A lot of these “casual gamers” will stick with the low-key “pasttime” titles and be content with that. But many will inevitably get bored watching colored blocks go pling and start looking for something with more depth. (And I must admit that I do enjoy a little colored-block plinging myself on occasion.) They will then begin to look for new fare, greater depth, and more challenge, and some of them will end up joining us here in the world of quick time events, experience points, and space marines.
Yes, the Wii has a lot of crappy shovelware titles. This is inevitable, because Wii owners haven’t discovered the magic of gaming sites, magazines, reviews, and forums where you can find out if a game sucks before you buy it. Once they notice the vast difference in quality between Mario Kart and The Adventures of Lame-O in Suck World II, they are going to start looking for ways to guide their gaming dollars, and from there they will begin learning about the hobby. They would probably be doing so faster if existing gamer culture didn’t regard them with such petulant contempt. The shovelware is an emergent result of having a lot of people who don’t know the culture yet. Like hucksters hanging out near Ellis Island and fleecing new immigrants, this is a problem with abrupt growth, not the newcomers themselves. The solution is to get these people on their feet as quickly as possible, not peer at them through your monocle, adjust your top hat, and dismiss them as a bunch of dirty newcomers who have come to despoil your wonderful cosmopolitan paradise with their foreign ways.
Hardcore gamers arise from mainstream gamers. Mainstream gamers start out as newcomers. And newcomers begin as non-gamers who see something that looks like it might be fun and who pick up the controller to find out. The Wii is making people take that all-important first step, and for this it should have our gratitude, not our scorn.
Also, there needs to be a moratorium on using the word “Wii” in awful article title puns.