The top three things gamers should care about less

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[A recent experience that the normally cheerful Wry Guy had playing online games prompted him to write this article on some problems he sees in the gaming community at large. While it doesn’t quite fit the theme of this Month’s Musing, I decided to promote it separately because we all thought it was a great read — JRo]

So a little while ago I was playing Call of Duty: Black Ops with Funktastic and his crew. I’ve got to say I am embarrassingly bad at the game. If you watched from the outside it might have looked like I was a double agent sent to sabotage my own team. FPS games were never really my thing. It’s not that I don’t find them fun, because I do. Just consider the fact that the last time I was really into a multi-player FPS game was the era of Unreal Tournament, Counter-Strike, Tribes 2 and the original Halo. I haven’t played an FPS competitively for nearly a decade.

That said? Black Ops is a pretty stellar game. I can’t say anything bad about it except that I couldn’t make myself finish the single player campaign. Despite all the hate Activision gets, their poster child series has earned all the money it’s made. Call of Duty is well made and has a massive amount of general appeal. As a series it’s probably done more good for gaming than any other franchise I can think of in recent years. Pretty much everyone plays Call of Duty. It’s helping making gaming a normal part of peoples’ lives. 

For the most part I’ve had a really pleasant experience with Black Ops. When I played with my friends. When we were in a party on XBox Live. When we couldn’t hear anybody else talk. For me nearly any online game becomes unbearable when you add random people. That night with Funktastic we played Hardcore, which in certain modes will not allow private chat. We met some incredible jackasses who did not understand the meaning of the word fun. I was actually screamed at for not being good enough at the game… by someone on the other team. Think about how pathetic that is.

It made me contemplate something. I really dislike the stereotypical gamer. They just care too much about games. That’s my biggest problem with “gamers” in general. They very often act in a horrible, shameful manner and all because they care too much about things that don’t matter. Priorities are a huge problem in the gaming community. With the year 2011 upon us I’d like to delve into the top three things “gamers” should care less about.

Every once in a while I get into a gaming conversation. I’m asked what systems I currently own and I mention that I’m a 360 owner. At this point the other person will often assume that I must hate PS3 owners. Little do they know that the PS3 would have been my preference, but I’m happy with my 360. I find it ridiculous that anybody even cares about console wars anymore. Why does it even matter? This probably has to be the least justified console war ever. I have never seen a generation of gaming in my life where almost every game is available on multiple platforms with barely any differences between them. The 360 and PS3 have almost all the same games. All the biggest games this holiday season were NOT EXCLUSIVES.

Console wars have never been justified, but this generation reveals the complete stupidity that has always backed them up. Multi-platform gaming used to mean something. Playstation 1 ports were notably different than Nintendo 64 ports. XBox ports were significantly different than Playstation 2 ports. Arcade ports were different than home ports! You could tell the difference! Now companies like Capcom have constructed methods to produce the exact same game onto both the Playstation 3 and XBox 360 platforms. Gamers today are whining over loading times and 1080i versus 1080p, and the worst part of it all is they actually think it matters.

Nintendo bashers are quite annoying too, as people love to pull out the old “I haven’t played my Wii in months” line. For the average, modern gamer the Wii will probably not fulfill all their needs. Most people like to think of it as a supplementary system, if not just because of the console’s limited online. That much is understandable. No matter what, real people are more compelling than anything else you can add to gaming. It’s hard to go back after you’ve been in the 360 and PS3 camp. That said, the Wii has a lot of redeeming factors and people who think it doesn’t have its place in the industry really need to shut the fuck up.

If you keep your finger on the pulse of niche gaming you may need a Wii more than any other gaming console. When you eliminate the factors of visual fidelity and online gaming, the Wii has an incredibly interesting staple of games. The Wii is where you’ll find retro sensibilities and good old fashioned fun. For a lot of older gamers the Wii is where home is. The Wii is basically the new NES. Accessible. Cheap. Family friendly. If you grew up around the gaming crash in the late 80s and the rebirth of gaming with the NES you’d see a lot of parallels. You’d also realize the Wii is creating a whole new generation of gamers that will be big spenders in the coming years. It’s one of the single most positive things the industry has going for it no matter how much developers want to complain that their games don’t make money.

If you own a Wii and all you do is play first party Nintendo games it’s your own fault you’re not playing it that often. I’m not even going to start with the people who talk down on handheld gaming, especially the DS vs PSP debate. If you have any desire whatsoever to talk up your gaming consoles as the superior choices, you care way too fucking much about this. Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we really should constantly argue with each other over what gaming consoles we own. Perhaps we live in truly desperate times because PSP HAS NO GAEMZ.

Some people really don’t really understand what a game is. Games are recreation, but by nature they’re a form of mental stimulation that helps us learn and adopt new skills. What’s more they allow us to do this away from the danger of the real world. One game that does an incredibly good job of showing off this fact is Chess, which was in fact created to simulate war. When you start getting deeper into the strategy of Chess you can see it does a good job of it too. Most people have played games in some manner or at least taken an interest in them. There’s a ridiculous range of things that qualify as games. Consider that even some wild animals play tag.

You know something that games aren’t, though? They aren’t REAL. There is nothing wrong with being good at a videogame. If you love a game enough to constantly practice it more power to you. If games have helped you understand the meaning of good sportsmanship then that’s even better. That’s an outright skill that games have helped you gain, and it’s one that will help you greatly in life. There’s also nothing wrong with being bad at a game. Again, it’s not real. While there are benefits to being good at videogames you also don’t lose anything in life by being bad at them. Who gives a fuck if you can’t do a 32-hit combo or get a 10 kill streak in fantasy land?

Sad fact of the matter is that some people really do care. Some people think it really does matter if you’re good at games or not. These are the sort of people who get mad at themselves for not winning a game or look down on you for not being good enough. Why? I don’t even know. There are just some people who are only having fun when they think they’re better than someone else. They’re born snobs. They’re wannabe alpha dogs.

Alpha dog syndrome is something that really holds gamers back. Gamers feel a constant need to belittle each other. Sometimes I wonder if they even understand the meaning of the word “community.” It’s this thing that we all live in, and it’s a thing that’s better off when people are being friendly and helpful toward each other. It shouldn’t matter if we’re being competitive or not, being civil is in everyone’s best interest. You’d think it would be easier to understand these sort of things when playing a game. You don’t have to suffer the stress of real life while you’re playing. You should have plenty of time to think. That’s what games are supposed to make you do. Sadly many gamers can’t get it in their heads that they’re just playing a game and it wouldn’t kill them to be just a little cool to each other. They don’t even realize that if they can’t have fun playing a game, they probably shouldn’t be playing it.

As a fighting game specialist I wrote an article a while back. I felt that alpha dog bullshit helped to kill an entire genre. The worst part of this whole thing is that I’m largely speaking about online gamers. You know, people who play video games with strangers. Who cares about strangers? What benefit is there to being a dick to somebody you’ll never meet? A lot of people like to pull up the excuse, “Hey man, it’s the internet. I don’t care.” That’s not true. If you didn’t care about something you just wouldn’t do it. I genuinely don’t care about being an asshole on the internet. If I’m playing with strangers I’ll usually just mute my microphone so I don’t need to get involved. That’s what you do when you don’t care. Whenever somebody does something, there’s a reason for it. Again, the problem is that gamers care too much about things that don’t matter.

Why stop at helping to kill a genre, though? Lots of companies think that online multi-player games are the only ones worth making anymore. With some luck and the right circumstances maybe this mentality could spread far enough to help kill gaming in general.

One thing that gamers care way, way too much about is finding ways to talk down on games. They learn from the best: Game reviewers. Think about it. It’s basically a game reviewer’s job to think of reasons a game doesn’t deserve a perfect score. The industry’s obsession with a “perfect 10” game is entirely pointless because there’s no such thing as a perfect game. Despite that reviewers obsess over reasons that a game is not perfect, essentially turning them into professional whiners. If you ask me barely anybody in the gaming industry is genuinely qualified to review videogames. Far too often game reviewers can’t do a good job complaining. They think just because they don’t like something that it’s an excuse to put little thought into their reviews. Some common, stupid complaints reviewers like to use include: “This game is repetitive.” “This game lacks variety.” “This game has too much variety.” “This game is not challenging enough.” “This game is too challenging.” “This game lacks replay value.” “This game is too short.” “This game is too long.” “This game doesn’t have enough story.” “This game has a bad story.”

By these standards a perfect game must not be repetitive and have variety, not be too challenging or too easy, not be too long or too short, have replay value, have a story and have a good story at that. Great, now find me a room full of people with their own minds and their own opinions who will agree on what game fits that perfect description. Now see if you can get that whole room to agree on what makes the difference between a game that deserves a 10 and a 9.

What other industry grades its material like it was a high school assignment? At least your old teacher had to have a real reason to lower your test scores: You got something wrong. The games industry doesn’t exist in that realm, though. We’re dealing with something more complex than facts being right or wrong. We’re dealing with opinions. If this industry had any common sense it would embrace the fact that it was dealing with opinions and go with the same “thumbs up,” “thumbs down” method that many movie outlets use. It’s not as though sites like metacritic would suffer either. You can still get a review percentage for a game if you really wanted to. Check out Rotten Tomatoes. Hell, we could at least adopt a simpler 5 star system. It’s pointless enough that we use a 10 point scale. Some reviewers actually go with 100 point scales. I would LOVE to see a rational argument for what makes Game A a 9.5 and Game B a 9.8.

Most reviewers are not that good at their jobs. They presume themselves to be critics when you don’t need to critique something in order to be a reviewer. I’ve heard the argument that reviews would not be interesting if they were not negative. Personally I just don’t think the majority of reviewers are skilled enough to appreciate the things they have been assigned to evaluate, and I think it rubs off on the gaming community. Ultimately most reviewers will just come to the conclusion, “Well I really like this game and found nothing wrong with it, so it’s perfect. You should buy it. Oh, I didn’t like this part, though. Nevermind, you shouldn’t buy it.” It’s an extremely simple minded way to look at things, and it has indeed spread to a large portion of the gaming populace. The grand majority of people who review games cannot understand that the things they dislike are not universal signs that something is bad.

One of the biggest obstacles in gaming’s way is our industry’s snobby attitude toward itself. I’ve seen far too many gamers snub each other over something as stupid as what games they like. Have you ever tried recommending games to people? I have. Quite a lot. You shouldn’t ever recommend a game based on how well it reviewed or how much you liked it. Your opinions are yours and nobody else’s. Everyone has something different that they look for in their games. Everyone has different expectations. Unless you know EXACTLY what will appeal to somebody, you will fail to make good recommendations. It’s got absolutely nothing to do with you and your tastes, unless by coincidence the person likes the same sorts of things you do. It’s more useful to simply know about games so you can describe them properly and describe the appeal to it. People are far more grateful for your knowledge and insight as opposed to the reasons you disliked something.

Anybody out there who writes reviews should think about this before they decide to write another rant in a review about how repetitive or short a game is. I think most reviewers would be humbled if they could see how truly useless their overly opinionated reviews are to the average person. Most reviews and most of the gaming community in general are too jaded and negative to deserve to be listened to. Reviewers should spend their time trying to appreciate games as opposed to knocking them down. Gamers care far too much about their own opinions. You can tell as much when they spend so much time trying to debate over what numbered score their opinion deserves.

And there you have it. I should let it be known that I don’t care if you call yourself a gamer. After all you need to call yourself something and there’s nothing wrong with that. When I use quotes around the word I refer to the overly negative and self-involved stereotypes that I see far, far too often. There’s too many people out there that think in the way I’ve written about in this article. I have to spend a fair amount of time around them. Thanks to this, I don’t care about being a gamer. I don’t respect the gaming community as a whole enough to want to be bunched together with it. I want to become the anti-thesis to what gamers are known for: Caring too fucking much about too many things that don’t fucking matter. I just love video games and I will talk to anybody about them. I openly acknowledge that games are my hobby and nothing more, even if almost everything I do revolves around games. If I could become a widely heard voice I’d focus my attention on cutting the bullshit out of this entire industry. Positivity is something in sickeningly short supply in the gaming community. It makes me think that some gamers have no ability to genuinely love something. That’s pretty sad.

How’s this for a New Year’s Resolution? Stop caring about shit that doesn’t matter. Just learn to be happy with your hobby. If you want to do any one thing to help make gaming a normal part of society that’s exactly what you’ll do. Don’t suck. Wasn’t that a rule around these parts one time? If any particular gaming community can overcome all these roadblocks, I think it’s Destructoid.

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