With a topic such as this, it would be easy to quickly slip into tried-and-true negative territory and launch into a spirited discussion of how Halo 3 players are frat boys or how turn-based strategy gamers all live in their mother's basements (we do not). While that would indeed be easy, and probably fun, I think this is a golden opportunity to focus on a more positive aspect of gamers that is so obvious, yet so often overlooked.
Gamers play games; games of all types: Some like to role-play, some like to shoot, some like to manage the lives of faceless minions, wielding a god-like power over them that can be used for good or ill. Whatever their chosen gaming haunt may be, however, I have noticed that a vast number of gamers share something in common: the drive to create.
Gamers, when give the opportunity, seem to have an overwhelming desire to take the games they love and to change them, to enhance them, or even to recreate them in new and exciting ways. I know that personally, when I was younger, I would spend hours in school drawing out new levels and enemies and items for Super Mario Bros, yearning to find some way to put these concepts into action.
To be sure, it's true that any time someone finds a connection with something, regardless of the medium, they can often be inspired to emulate or improve upon it. In my experiences, though, there is something about games that drives far more people to make that jump from simply thinking about the act of creation to actually creating. The real adventure is figuring out where he got that cloak.
Perhaps part of it is the availability of tools. Sure, in the beginning, if you wanted to make a game, you needed punch cards and a whole lot of caffine (the caffine part is mostly still true...). And the idea of taking someone else's game and changing it? That was just right out the window. Technology advanced quickly, though, and by the early 80's, anybody with an Apple IIe or a Commodore or whatever personal computer of choice you owned could sit down with the Pinball or Adventure Construction Sets and create a game of their own from start to finish with no more programming knowledge than was required to actually play
the games. These types of games provided endless hours of amusement for my friends and I. One very industrious friend of mine created a full 10 level adventure in my honor! You could play as me, armed with a mighty spitball shooter, or you could play as the Punisher, armed with a minigun. Did I mention I hate my friends?
57.6!? Back in my day we had 14.4 and we liked it!
These early tools were great, and they gave many a gamer a creative outlet, but there was still so much more we wanted to give. As time marched onward, the tools just kept improving. Some game companies started including editors for their games with their software, graphics tools became more readily available, and home computers grew more powerful. The advent of modems and BBSs suddenly meant that one dedicated fan could put together a tool or game that could now be shared across the nation.
I remember my first experience in the world of mapping came from a shareware Wolfenstein 3D map editor I got from a local BBS. It was the easiest thing in the world to use; just pick a wall, place a wall. It even had a graphics editor so you could change any of the wall graphics to anything you liked, all with an easy to user interface! I put together a map of my middle school (something that would probably get me arrested these days...) and shared it with my friends. Because honestly, what could be more fun than gunning down Hitler in your own cafeteria?
SPOILER: No matter how many times you kill him, Hitler will keep appearing in video games.
Soon, modems and BBSs gave way to the wonder that was the internet, and with that it became even easier than ever to not only share the tools, but to share the results from those tools. "Modding" became a term that grew more and more common, and with that grew this new concept of the modding community. This idea of Community is key here since, when you get right down to it, gamers love to share. Sure, someone could sit in their basement for months, working on a Cheers total conversion of Command & Conquer purely for their own enjoyment, but that's highly unlikely. For more likely is that, the moment it was finished, that mod would be up on C&C (and Cheers) fansites around the globe. By the next morning, a gamer in South Korea would be marching hordes of Norms across the streets of Boston, gunning down young Woody Harrelsons.
You know you would play this game.
Gamers create, gamers share, because they feel a connection with the games they play. Gamers want to take something that has given them much joy (or sometimes, frustration) and add to it, improve upon it, to make it do something it was never intended to. And they do it a lot. Any cursory search of the internet will show you that for almost any game you can think of, someone has taken the time and effort to change it somehow. Time and popularity are no obstacle once a gamer gets inspired. Be it something as simple as recording silly noises for the monsters in DOOM to essentially rebuilding a flawed game like Master of Orion III from scratch, someone is doing it. I've seen someone take a game like Emperor of the Fading Suns, which wasn't that well known to begin with, and spend years recoding it into the awesome game they always knew it could be. Sure, maybe only a handful of other people in the world will even bother to notice, but that's all it takes to be worth it.
When gamers get an idea in their head, they find a way. When I was ready to try my hand at making maps for TF2, there were so many people out there willing to share their knowledge and experience to help out, it became a joy to learn instead of a pain. And even if I didn't have the skills, no doubt I'd be able to find other people with different skills that would love to come together and create something great. Look, for instance, at Project Top Secret,
an experiment to bring together people of different skills and different ideas to try and make a fan-made MMO. Sure, some of those people are there to try and win the "prize," but the vast majority give their time and energy simply because they want to, and expect no reward from it. Sometimes gamers don't even need skill or knowledge, they just need other people willing to try something new. Was Civilization meant to be played as a cooperative, role-playing infused team game?
Nope. Is it fun? Completely.
Two guys with an idea took Half-Life and made a whole lot of changes... see how that worked out?
Games beget gamers who beget more games. New games, changed games, games that they are ready to share with the world. Gamers have a drive to create, moreso than I have seen in fans of any other medium, and with time it will only grow even more. We play games because we love them, and we make games because we want to spread that love to others. Hardcore, Casual, FPS or RPG; it doesn't matter. This creative urge is an oft ignored but vital facet of gamers, and one that we should all be proud of.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go make fun of fighting game fans; those dudes are losers.