ImRage: The Good Side Of Casual Gaming
Sometimes it saddens me a little when I read about all the hatred for casual gamers. It’s not uncommon to see regular gamers (what do we call ourselves now anyway?) claiming that casuals have ‘ruined the industry’ and reminiscing about the old days before games were designed so that five year olds could finish them. And to an extent, I sort of understand. The shelves are flooded with generic brown shooters and we may never see another game as punishingly difficult as Devil May Cry 3 or as beautifully intricate as Neverwinter Nights. Instead we have the new ‘DMC’ game which seems to be aimed at adolescent drug addicts and the modern RPGs are essentially hybrid shooters like Mass Effect. It seems easy enough to blame the casual crowd since frankly if Neverwinter Nights 3 was ever produced it probably wouldn’t survive in our current market. And then of course the brilliantly noir Max Payne series was recently revived and downgraded into a sub-standard tropical cover shooter. There’s definitely been a demographic shift in gaming but I think it has to do less with casual gamers and more with factors outside of most consumers’ control.
In my opinion (and I stress that this is an opinion column), the recession and corporate greed has a lot to do with why the gaming industry has been in the state it’s in, in the last few years. You only need to take one look at the mainstream music industry to see what tripe is popular nowadays to understand how developers go about their business. But honestly that’s a topic for another time. I understand the issues that gamers have but what I’d prefer to focus on in this column are some of the very pleasant upsides that have resulted from gaming becoming more mainstream. For starters, the idea of playing video games is far more accepted than it’s ever been. When I was going through noob school, it was easy for people to brand me as a nerd for playing the Pokemon or Tomb Raider games. Same story when I got to high school and was hooked on playing DotA and Guild Wars online and the Tekken and Street Fighter games with my cousins. But it’s since I’ve gotten to varsity that I’ve realized how much things have changed in the last few years.
Maybe it’s just that I’m around more diverse and accepting people these days but it just feels like gaming has become a much more accepted part of modern culture than it ever has been before. The adverts are everywhere, everyone knows about it, an Xbox 360 or a PS3 are a common fixture in middle class homes and a lot more people view it more positively than they did before. It seems very common nowadays that when you’re hanging out at one of your friends’ houses you can end up playing FIFA or Singstar and I’ve actually had girls borrow games such as Uncharted and Tekken from me. Gone are the days where gamers are stereotyped as fat sweaty kids living in their mother’s dimly-lit basements. Nowadays you’ll meet all sorts of ‘regular’ people who play Call of Duty or FIFA in their free time and barely anyone’s going to label you as a nerd if you’re playing Diablo online with your friends. Even the language has filtered down into popular culture. You hear people talking about how they got ‘owned’ by that that exam paper and people actually know what you’re talking about when you call them noobs. It can be quite amusing at times to hear.
Another one of the upsides is that games are designed with the intention of attracting newcomers. Because of this, they’re much more accessible than they were in the previous generation. I’m not going to lie, I get very disappointed when games like Mass Effect get ‘dumbed down’ but simplification doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. I never really enjoyed Starcraft as much as most hardcore gamers did because by the time I got into it, I just didn’t have the free time required to get good enough at it. But despite my time issues, I still managed to thoroughly enjoy Skyrim without feeling the need to constantly read guides and I managed to become reasonably proficient at Mortal Kombat just by playing it every weekend with my cousins. I suppose what made me realize this was the other day when I was playing FIFA with one of my friends who’d never played any video games before (a girl by the way… because gamers nowadays know girls… hot ones even!). I set her up on two button control and we actually had a lot of fun and with a bit of guidance she picked it up very quickly. In fact, even my five year old cousin plays FIFA reasonably well and it always makes my day to beat him mercilessly and then throw it in his face (yeah I guess I’m kind of a prick). The point I’m trying to make is that you no longer have to be as dedicated to get the full enjoyment from a game. Diablo 3 might be one of the most perfect examples of this. Diablo 2 will always be one of the most glorious masterpieces of gaming but it was kind of disappointing for me at the time to get to Act 3 and then have to start the entire game all over again because I built my character wrong and found myself getting owned by dart-blowing midgets. In Diablo 3, by contrast, it’s virtually impossible to ‘screw up’ your character so it’s much more user-friendly and forgiving. I found the same difference when I compared Skyrim to Oblivion: in Oblivion you can make the whole game hard from the first level if you build your character wrong but in Skyrim there’s few ways to permanently ruin your game.
At the end of the day, I’ve never been ashamed of my gaming habits; on the contrary I believe that gaming has actually contributed far more to my intellectual development than watching TV ever could have. So I’m not saying that us gamers had to hide our faces before and now we can come out of the closet; I’m just saying that it’s nice to know that your girlfriend or your wife or whatever won’t think you’re a loser just because you bought the Devil May Cry HD Collection… although if you play Kinect Star Wars then you most certainly are a loser…
See you in two weeks time…