There’s a divide in the gamer community that I’d like to address, if you’ll humor me for a few minutes. I was fortunate enough to grow up as a first generation console gamer with an Atari 2600 in my home and gaming has been at the forefront of my free time activities for my entire life. A lot has changed since that first decade of playing Combat against my older sister and later teaming up with friends in the arcade for some Double Dragon beatdown action, and not all of it is good.
Growing up, the gaming community was a very positive place. Games were made and played for fun, and people enjoyed them on their own merits. Alone was fine, but with a friend was better. Unless you were playing Battletoads, that is. That game’s co-op play was designed to ruin friendships. The games were much harder, but the atmosphere was somehow more casual. Even competitive play was fun rather than a life or death struggle to prove superiority.
Fast forward to present day. I’ve got a full time job, a non-gaming family, and precious little money to spend on my hobbies to go along with the time sucks of responsible adulthood. As I’ve grown, so has my favorite hobby. No more controllers with a single button and a joystick/wheel. My Xbox 360 controller has some 11 buttons plus two clickable joysticks and 4-way directional pad for 6 more inputs. Most major games use all of these in some capacity (aside from the guide button which brings up the system menu).
In addition to constantly improving graphics, the features of games continue to grow and evolve, and the storytelling aspect of interactive fiction has emerged so strongly this past console generation that I don’t think there’s a credible opinion out there that would deny that games can be classified as art.
As gaming has become more sophisticated and new generations have taken up the hobby, attitudes towards it have changed. The internet has added an avenue for anonymous interaction with fellow gamers and game developers, and the result has been pretty disastrous at times.
Is it awesome that you can team up with and challenge gamers from around the world? Hell yes, it is. But when many of those gamers are total assholes who behave as if their entire life depends on winning every single game, even if it means cheating or otherwise playing the game in a manner that diminishes the enjoyment of everyone involved, it kind of dampens the fun.
Likewise, there are the game developers whose job it is to make the games as enjoyable and balanced as they can so the largest number of people will want to play it and have a great time doing so. They are running into the same problem where the hardcore types are massing to shut them down, sometimes over the stupidest things. Small changes to game functionality, the option of paid DLC, or an underwhelming story ending can lead to an otherwise great game being slaughtered on sites like Metacritic where anonymous users can influence a game’s score by voting en masse.
So being a long time gamer who automatically bristles at the mere mention of the word “casual”, I’ve had to reevaluate my view. You see, I love complicated game elements, and I love for boundaries to be pushed and expanded, but at the end of the day I play games for fun and that alone seems to put me in the casual domain these days.
One thing I’ve learned is that there is certainly such a thing as too hardcore. Some of the most hardcore games aren’t even particularly fun, and a lot of gamers are beginning to push HARD for games to become less fun and more of a chore to play for the sake of humoring a crowd that considers anything new, different, or streamlined to be catering to casuals. And considering the meteoric rise of gaming over the last few decades, the last thing the industry needs at this point is a move towards stagnation.
Aim at the feet, noob!
Let me explain. Remember Halo? The revolutionary FPS that was so good it literally made Microsoft a heavy hitter in the highly exclusive console market almost overnight with the sequel that became a legendary online multiplayer smash? Well, the last couple of games added some controversial features, in particular “armor abilities” that allowed players to choose extra functionalities for their combatant such as jetpacks or active camouflage to make them difficult to spot.
Why wouldn’t you want to be able to do something so cool? Well, basically armor abilities and other loadout customizations add an element of randomness to the combat, meaning that you won’t always know what you are up against, making some of the old tried and true tactics semi-obsolete. To me, that makes a game more interesting because it requires adaptation and keeps you on your toes. But most hardcore players tend to gravitate towards repetitive behaviors and habits learned over countless hours of play that have led to success in the past, and in doing so, they become entirely resistant to change. If that sounds to you like a method that takes the actual fun out of playing a game, you might be correct. But this represents a growing preference in the gaming community.
Another hardcore gaming trope that’s becoming a problem in my opinion is looting. Loot drops are an indelible part of RPG’s. Gaining levels and fighting tougher enemies to gain better equipment is about as classic as it gets. But at some point, the loot started getting more important than anything else. Take a game like Borderlands. It boasted over 16 MILLION different guns.
The sequel has an essentially infinite number of firearm variations. This means that pretty much every time you kill some of the thousands of enemies or loot one of the endless number of chests, a new gun pops out which you must now check against all of the other guns in your possession and their numerous statistics to decide which one to use to shoot the next batch of enemies so you can repeat the process again.
I love Borderlands, but can I be the only one who just wishes I could find a gun I really love and have it not be obsolete in a matter of minutes, or to not have to constantly pause my game and examine the limitless crap that fills up my limited inventory space trying to decide what to discard and what to keep? Well, I’m pretty sure I actually am.
And when you get into the traditional RPG’s, it actually gets worse because not only do you have weapons, you often have numerous individual pieces of armor like gloves, greaves, boots, and so on; and that’s before you get into enchantments and whatnot. It’s not unusual to spend more time fussing with your equipment in a game like Skyrim than you spend actually adventuring. Add an entire party of characters to that mix and you’re not even playing a video game anymore; you’re just playing stat-based digital dress up.
Okay, I’ll admit it. This image makes me drool a little.
Dragon Age 2 attempted to simplify this process and prevent the visual sameness that often occurs from parties that all equip the same kinds of armor by having your main character be the only one to benefit from individualized equipment. The other characters just got general upgrades as the game progressed. Players were not pleased. It wasn’t the biggest complaint over the game, but it was one that was brought up endlessly as a reason why BioWare ruined RPG’s and is now one of the most vocally hated companies among the hardcore crowd.
The biggest complaint from hardcore gamers regarding Dragon Age 2 was the combat. In the first game, you selected an enemy to attack and pushed the button and your character then moved to the enemy and attacked it. In the second game you had to move your character to the enemy and press the button to attack it. Does that sound like a deal breaker to you? For the record, I did enjoy the first game’s semi-turn-based approach more, but the amount of breast-beating and teeth-gnashing over a pretty minor control change was way out of proportion.
The term “Skinner box” is being used a lot these days to describe games whose appeal is limitless loot drops. This, of course, references B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning chamber where animals were trained to perform repetitive behaviors in order to receive positive reinforcement. So, if need be, a game basically can potenitally overcome a lack of actual content by just training players to continuously jump through hoops trying to get better and better equipment heedless of the actual gameplay ceasing to be challenging or enjoyable.
This is likely a single chest in a room full of chests that is also littered with enemy loot drops. So why do I want them all?
Normally, I’d say “to each their own” and that’d be the end of it, but the online mobilization of these types of gamers is actively attempting to wipe out non-Skinner box games as well as all variables and variations in competitive multiplayer games and it’s something that could potentially have disastrous results. Driving out casual gamers by making less creative and less accessible games or by giving mass bad reviews to quality games trying something different with the goal of driving consumers away from them is not going to do anyone any good. It’s just going to drive more developers out of the industry and eliminate game variety. In fact, it is believed that constant mass online attacks from the internet community were responsible for the sudden departures of BioWare’s founders last year.
My instinct is usually to defend my geeky brethren as the ones who support the industry and live and breathe in these fictional worlds that others merely visit, ignore, or ridicule; but in video games I think the time may have come to draw the line. Gamers have already built a reputation as entitled man-children who are hostile towards human contact and out of touch with reality. It’s not a stereotype that is accurate by and large, but it’s not entirely false either, as any sojourn to a gaming message board will show you.
And that’s just with “normal” people.
The problem is that naturally the gamers who have absolutely nothing else in their life to do are the ones spending hours of every day raiding comments sections, message boards, and review sites to overzealously voice minority opinions and appear to be a larger factor than they actually are. It isn’t helping.
I love games, you love games, we all love games. We may love different kinds of games more than others, but I think we should at least agree that there is room for everyone. I don’t want to be stuck playing cart racing and platform games for the rest of my life, but I also don’t want every Halo to be just like every other Halo and I want developers to feel like they can experiment and introduce new ideas without being run out of town for daring to try something different.
There’s a happy medium that can be achieved here, but the only way we are going to get it is if we all think before we type and respect that other people’s opinions are as valuable as our own. Crazy talk, I know. But a lot of people will post 0/10 ratings for a game they have a minor beef with and even admit in their “review” that the game deserves a higher rating, but they are rating it lower to offset the high ratings.
One does not simply “play a Bioware”. Also, Mass Effect 3 confirmed as “COD-alike”.
Most of these types of “reviews” were posted on the very first day within hours of ME3′s release.
All of this is to say that even though you may spend 16 hours a day farming rare item drops, practicing combos, or searching for exploitable glitches on multiplayer maps and most of the remaining 8 complaining on the internet, you pay the same price for the game as everyone else (assuming you’re not a PC pirate) and your opinion on what makes a great game is not necessarily better than anyone else’s. Naturally, you are welcome to make your case, but the unbridled hatred, venom, and spreading of misinformation that has resulted from this culture clash is not the solution.
Nothing is going to kill this expensive and growing industry faster than snobbish exclusivity. We should be welcoming more people into the fold instead of fighting against their inclusion just to make ourselves feel important. More gamers mean more money, which means more games, which means more diversity, which means more innovation, which means more quality. And just remember, a casual gamer is nothing if not a potential future hardcore gamer. So be nice! I need more clueless noobs to smash and bitch about on the internet while I hide in my cave for days on end being all casual and stuff.
Sound off below! I want to hear what you folks think about the state of the gaming industry regarding hardcore and casual tropes.