Monday, August 17, 2009

The Importance of Understanding

That sounds like a really hippy-dippy title, but follow me on this one, please.

On one side, you have the Core audience shrieking like Glenn Beck about casual gaming, and on the other side you have Nintendo fanboys shrieking about core gaming.  It's basically a shoutfest with some sickening gloating thrown in every time something goes the right way for either group.

It's not enough to merely make "whoo-whoo" noises and imitate a train, explaining that the future is in casual gaming so get on board.  It's also not enough to merely snicker derisively at people who are freaking out over the casual "boom."  In order to get to the heart of the matter, we need to figure out why people are getting concerned on both sides.

First, I've said it before and I'll say it again:  The core is scared.  They're scared because they know, as everyone knows, that whatever sells keeps getting made.  Therefore, if games like Wii Fit and EA Sports Active sell, companies will start making more of those style of games instead of better, deeper content.  In effect, they're screaming, "You're ruining EVERYTHING!  Stop BUYING those things!  We've worked very hard to get gaming to this point, and we're not going to let it be wrecked."

Indeed, many people, including myself, have given years to video games.  We've given our time, money, and emotions to something that we care deeply about.  Games touch you on a different level than movies or music since YOU have a stake in how well it turns out.  If YOU play the game well, you enjoy it and if YOU do not, you won't.  They're a very personal experience for all involved.

Another sticking point for them is that they remember what happened when Mario first hit the scene.  Everyone tried making their own colorful 2-D mascot, and the NES was littered with piles of crappy 2-D platformers.  It was a trend that continued until the Playstation rolled around and RPGs exploded.  Then everyone and their mother littered systems for the next couple of years with crappy, uninspired RPGs.  When shooters took off, everyone started making their own bland shooters.  They know more than anyone else what happens when something gets popular:  It gets repeated endlessly and by everyone.

That's why there's so much passion on that side.  It's not because they're grating fanboys (although sometimes you might be excused for thinking so).  They're not ignorant.  They just care an awful lot.

On top of that, they're scared of a repeat of the 1983-84 video game crash.  As is the case with history, it's gotten distorted over the years.  Now, most people draw a straight line from the failure of the E.T. game to the crash of the Atari to the crash of the industry.  The lesson is simple:  Crappy games leads to an artificial bubble of uninformed players leading to a gaming crash.  Of course, there were far more issues at play, such as oversaturation of consoles on the market and a recession, both of which COULD be perceived as happening now.

So what's the truth?  Do the Hardcore have anything to fear?  Well, yeah.  Their fears are not unfounded.  As much as acolytes like Sean Malstrom may not want to admit it, there are risks involved with a more inclusive approach.  In the next article we'll figure out what the risks are, but why they're not that risky.

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