Talking to Women about Videogames: I'm not a real gamer?


It looks like from here on out, Sony-published PS3 games will require players to enter a single-use code in order to play online. People who buy their games used will likely have to purchase a code separately to get online. Some say it's bad news but fair play, as Sony is only asking for players to directly contribute to paying for their servers if they plan on using them. Others are against this idea on principle, while still others are just mad that they may have to pay to play used PS3 games online at all. It will be interesting to see how this situation affects Uncharted 3's sales, if at all.

Even more interesting to me is that some gamers are willing to prioritize the way they are treated by publishers -- and exactly how much their videogames cost -- over their own enjoyment of videogames. If you care more about saving $10 than you do about playing an awesome game, what does that say about how much you love videogames in general? If you're going to let a few bucks come between a you and a game you want to play, are you really a "gamer"?

Just as someone who loves reading the Twilight books may not necessarily love literature, or just as a Cry for Dawn lover may not truly appreciate the qualities that make comic books a unique art form, not everyone who loves playing videogames is a "gamer." Let's break down exactly what kinds of gamers are out there, and how they differ from true fans of the medium.

First, let's define what a "gamer" really is. To do that, we'll need to take a look at what makes videogames different from other forms of art and communication. That's a tough one, as in many ways, videogames are the culmination of every attempt at communication that human beings have created. Film, sequential art, animation, music, acting, drawing/painting, sports design, graphic design, photography, amusement park rides, and installation art are just a handful of the different styles that make up videogames. That's a big part of why I've always said that videogames are the greatest art form known to man. Games can literally do everything that other art forms can do and more, without any restrictions. You can be telling a linear story one minute, then go into sequential art mode, then into exploitative installation art, and so forth.

That said, videogames are more than just an amalgamation of all other art forms. What makes them truly special is how we, the players, connect with the events that occur in the game. The place where the sound and visuals (representing the reality of the in-game world) meet the "real" world (the player, interacting with the game world via the given input method) -- that's what makes videogames special. For me, it's the place where controls, pacing, visuals, and audio come together.

That's why I think Nintendogs is one of the most unfairly maligned, brilliantly designed games of this generation. As shallow and simplistic as the game may be in theory, in practice, the place where the player's stylus meets the head of the player's puppy is magic. Breaking the wall between the game world and our world, both physically and emotionally, is the best that a game designer can ever hope to accomplish. 

I think we all know that on some level, but we sometimes lose sight of that vision. That perspective can be easily clouded by some of the more surface-level aspects of gaming. Let's run down some of those aspects, shall we?

Graphics and sound

This one is sort of a given. In any medium, fans are bound to lose track of the substance and get caught up in the style. People are more likely to see a movie that features actors who meet society's current standard of beauty. They are more likely to enjoy a song if that song is played in a way that meets their particular ideal of how instruments should be played. They are more likely to be immediately impressed with a "realistic" painting than an abstract painting, and so forth.

That said, it's not always shallow to appreciate these elements. They can be deep experiences in their own right, as Child of Eden and El Shaddai have proven just this year. Indeed, graphics and sound are a major part of what make some games fun, but they are neither all that unique to gaming nor are they particularly important to the game experience when taken on their own. It's where they join with all the other pieces that counts. When people say they refuse to try a game because of how it looks or sounds, or they only play a game because of its visuals, then I think it's fair to question how much they appreciate gaming as a medium. 

Writing and story

Take everything I just said about graphics and sound then double it for writing and story. Gaming has come a long way towards becoming a valid form of storytelling, but the capacity for linear narrative is far from the best thing that gaming has to offer. Part of that is because stories, in general, just aren't that special.

Every game tells a story, from Tetris to Mass Effect. In the case of those two games, I'd argue that the further you get from a story based purely on gameplay ("I started off with a a blank slate, but because I got greedy and stacked my pieces in a way to maximize potential for high score profit, I ended up losing the game") and the closer you get to a linear, acted, scripted narrative ("Shepard told the lady that he wanted to have sex with her because that's the part of the script I chose to play out"), the further away you get from what makes videogames special. Telling your own unique stories, and getting to know yourself in the process, is something that only videogames (and maybe installation art) can do. Watching actors play pretend? That's not all that special. 

That's really a topic for another time, though. For now, I'll just say that when someone tells me that scripted narrative and/or characterization are the first things they look for in a new videogame, I have trouble relating with them and struggle to see specifically what they like about videogames.

Escapism and fantasy

Here's the aspect of gaming that most people in the "mainstream" assume that the art form is really all about. It's arguably the reason why gaming is still considered "nerdy" to many and why so many people still seek to distance themselves from gamer culture in general. People look down on escapists -- they are assumed to be weak for their desire to run from their lives. Gaming inarguably provides the most potentially engaging and engrossing form of escapism out of any form of human communication. Of course, many of us don't play games to escape, but rather to engage with the mind of the developer through their creation. Regardless, it can be argued that a well-designed game causes you to exit our world and enter the game's world. Escapism is an inevitable part of the gaming equation. 

That said, if you only play videogames to escape from your life, chances are that when a newer, more all-encompassing art form comes along, you'll drop gaming like a bad habit. I'm talking about the people who used to love games like like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Mega Man X but will now only play games like Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto. Chances are that if their interests are limited to only the games that provide the most convincing worlds to escape into, then game design isn't one of their top priorities.

Tech and gimmicks

On the other side of the coin, we have the tech-and-gimmicks crowd. These are the folks who don't care that much about escaping into another world. They care more about bragging about having a novel experience or a high-tech rig to up their rep (in their own minds) in the real world. There may be some overlap here with the graphics-and-sound gang, but at heart, they are two separate groups. Those who prioritize graphics over all other aspects of gaming may go for all kinds of visual styles, from Mega Man 9 to Child of Eden to Uncharted 3. Tech-focused gamers only want games that look the tech-iest, as they feel like totally novel tech masters by association.

Likewise, gimmick gamers will value games that are the most different from everything else. It's a similar way of thinking as the tech-focused gamer, except instead of valuing processing power and megapixels, the emphasis is put on how special a game is. These types include the folks who bought a Wii, Kinect, or PlayStation Move just because motion controls were a new experience (then never used them again after the first month) and people who only play videogames that have "offbeat" themes and ideas (regardless of how well or poorly they are implemented). If you're the kind of person who was only interested in playing BraidLimbo, or Flower when you found out they were about... whatever those games are supposed to be about, and you started to like those games less once everyone else started liking them because they were "no longer special once they got popular," then you just might be a gimmick gamer.

Ownership and prestige

An ever-increasing population of gamers plays videogames for a sense of ownership of their consoles/games, to gain a kind of of pseudo-achievement from their collection of games and/or their achievements as gamers. This is the type of gamer who collects games that they never actually intend to play or who plays games that they don't even enjoy just to score some "easy cheevos." Then there are the highly competitive players who don't enjoy playing a game unless they win. For these guys, it's not about the journey but about the destination, and that destination must include being the very best (like no one ever was). If you find that you've stopped enjoying a game but are still playing it -- that the game is playing you instead of you playing it (that you need to win just one more match, catch one more Pokemon, etc.) -- chances are that you have prestige gamer tendencies.

This competitive focus can carry over into gamers' relationships with their modded consoles/PCs as well. Some gamers hack and mod their consoles in the same way passionate car owners may trick out their cars with custom hydraulics and rims. I have a lot of respect for those with the passion and ingenuity to hack their consoles/PCs in this way (meaning: please don't hack me, Anonymous/LulzSec), but I'm not sure how much they always care about the videogames themselves.

Scared and/or lazy

These are people who really don't like videogames that much. They don't get much from the story, the graphics, the escapism, the tech, or the sense of accomplishment that comes from being a gamer. They don't really value their time with the games they play or their time with much else. They just play videogames because it's easier than their alternatives. They play some Call of Duty or WoW all daycall a few strangers some bad names online, watch some porn, then go to bed. It's not that fun, but it's easier (physically and emotionally) than going out in the world and trying to make friends, learning how to play a musical instrument, dating a boy/girl, writing a blog, walking around the park, etc.

These are the few gamers I would actually advise to stop playing videogames, at least for a little while. As soon as I hear them say, "I wasn't even having fun anymore. I just kept playing because it was the path of least resistance," that's when I tell them I think they have a problem.

Oh, and about that online pass thing...

So what kind of gamer is the most likely to be ticked off about this whole Uncharted 3 online pass nonsense? To me, it's sort of a catch-22. If you really want to play the game online, then it doesn't make that much sense to be upset, because you'll likely be buying the game new anyway. If you don't really want to play the game, online or offline, then it doesn't really make sense to get mad at Sony for asking that you do the code thing, because you never really cared about the game in the first place. 

Maybe you do really want to play the game online, but you're just really poor. If that's the case, then why are your using your valuable time playing yet another game online for God knows how many hours on the most expensive home console on the market today? I'll leave it up to you to draw whatever conclusions you will about that scenario, as well as what kind of gamer we're talking about here. 

Or maybe you don't really care about Uncharted, but you're upset on principle that Sony would try to pull something like this. Maybe the facts -- that game development costs have never been more expensive, that servers have never been more costly to maintain and protect from piracy, and that the market has never been more competitive -- mean nothing to you. I can't blame you for that, because it's not your job to care about the profit margins of game publishers. That said, if you really wanted to play Uncharted 3 online, and have the money to buy the game new and/or used with code, but are refusing to do so on grumpy principle, then I have to question how you're dealing with your anger and resentment.

Is shortchanging yourself out of an experience that you both want and can afford really worth it to you, just so you can attempt to express your projected rage towards a disembodied father figure like Sony? If so, that's weird to me. Now, if you aren't all that interested in Uncharted 3's multiplayer, and you'd like to send the message to Sony that you think online passes are a bad idea, then by all means, abstain from picking up the game new and grab it used on the cheap later (I know I will). You can buy whatever you want, but you don't have to throw a fit about it, ya dingus!

So what the hell am I talking about?

I know this post has been even longer than usual, but I felt a need to try to include each and every type of gamer possible in order get the idea across to as many people as I could. Even still, I left out gamers who play games because it's part of their job; because their older brothers told them they were "too young to play videogames with the big boys," so now they have a chip on their shoulder; because they think being a gamer makes them look "cool"; because they are dealing with an injury or a major life circumstance, and gaming is very therapeutic for them; or other reasons why someone may pick up gaming other than a love of what makes gaming unique. I tried to be as inclusive as I could, but I'm sure I missed plenty.

Why did I feel the need to be so inclusive? Well, there are a lot of reasons, but one of the big ones is my hope that this article helped you to go through the same kind of identity crisis that I had in this week's video, if even just for a second. I know it's painful and scary to question the terms of your self-perceived identity, but it's necessary if you're going to find out who you really are.

Twist ending time! No, you are not a gamer. None of us are. We should not tolerate being that easily branded. We should not tolerate being categorized, especially in the ways that I just tried to categorize all of you. We are not "gamers." We are people who like many different games for many different reasons, and we should never be categorized, either by someone else or by ourselves. There are way too many gamers who declare at some point that they only play games for the story, on a specific console, in the arcade, or based on some other arbitrary standard (see last week's episode). That kind of thinking only limits our potential to get to know ourselves and the games we may potentially enjoy. 

Life is too short for that. We can't think that way. No, we are not gamers. We are all just human beings, biding our time before we die, trying to make the most of the opportunities we have with the time and energy we have available to us. Some of us just don't have the emotional energy at the moment to do more with videogames than play them for the escapism, for the pride, or for the fact that the rest of life is just too damn hard to deal with sometimes. Others (like myself) choose to expend loads of time and energy analyzing games and the people who play them in order to make the pursuit of gaming emotionally rewarding, thought-provoking, and productive. Maybe that's just another form of escapism. Maybe that's just another way to seek pride and accomplishment. It's not really for me to say. 

In the end, I will say that there is no measurable difference between people who play games for various reasons at various points in their life. If there is a difference, it's certainly not one that can be condensed and generalized in a term like "gamer" or "game-not-er." We're all just people who, like the accordion player in today's video says, like to put our "fingers on the thing, and it's fun." It doesn't matter if you only like FarmVille, Tetris, Wii Sports, Call of Duty, or Madden, if you hate online passes, or if you don't care about them at all. We're all just putting our fingers on the thing and trying to have fun.

Everything else is just labels and details, which for the most part, only work to inspire elitism, discrimination, and miscommunication. Those are the prime sources of conflict and hostility in the world. The less of that we have in the world of gaming, the better. 

Past Episodes:

Talking to Women about Videogames: 3DS 2nd nub panic

Talking to Women about Videogames: Gears 3 isn't perfect?

Talking to Women about Videogames: Sexy vs. sexist?

Talking to Women about Videogames: What makes you want?

TtWaV teaser: Sony's online sucks now?

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Jonathan Holmes
Jonathan HolmesBad Joke Uncle   gamer profile

"Where do dreams end and reality begin? Videogames, I suppose."- Gainax, FLCL Vol. 1 "The beach, the trees, even the clouds in the sky... everything is build from little tiny pieces of stuff. Ju... more + disclosures



Filed under... #Destructoid Originals #Sony #Talking to Women about Video Games #Top Stories #video



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