Gatekeeping a Hobby
Yesterday was one of those strange days where a lot of people were talking about the same ideas. I was not privy to the original source that sparked the discussion, but several of my friends over twitter were talking about the definition of a “real gamer”. It seems that someone was spouting off in their lack of knowledge that tablet and mobile gamers were in some way lesser gamers than the those on the console or PC. This once again gets back to the definition of what exactly a gamer is. Over on the Moderate Peril blog he questioned exactly why we need a label at all. In other hobbies, you don’t see the attempt to exclude people the way that we do within gaming.
I am very much one of those people that wants to assemble as many awesome people from as many different points of view around me as I can. As a result I am always open to new interpretations of what exactly gaming is. While I am not a huge fan of mobile and tablet gaming, just because the types of games I enjoy playing do not translate well without physical controls… that doesn’t mean there are not actual gamers there as well. If you boot up bejeweled while waiting on a bus, you are just as much of a gamer as someone who camps a rare spawn for 20 hours. There have been times in the past that I found mobile gaming to be lacking, but at this point there are tons of really detailed games that you simply cannot get on any other platform.
After seeing Hearthstone on a tablet for example, I feel like any other platform is somehow lesser because of just how cleanly it works there. After playing Carcassonne on my phone, it felt so natural and perfect to be playing a turn based board game that way. The big area that I am seeing taking over the mobile markets is the various kinds of simulation games. While it started out with things like Tiny Tower, it has involved into extremely detailed and lengthy games. Similarly I can see a lot of role-playing games flourishing on the mobile markets. All of these things are real games, played by real gamers. Shouldn’t we be including everyone in our big happy family instead of trying to exclude them?
Change is Scary
The cynic in me wants to think that the exclusion comes from a form of gaming Hipsterism. The realist in me however sees that it is pure and simple fear. Change is a scary thing, and we get rooted in our own inertia of the way we think things ought to be. This is the gaming equivalent of “I walked to school uphill both directions and I liked it”. In order to stay a vibrant and interesting market it needs to adapt to trends. While I deeply love the Fallout series for example, I don’t expect every game to be the Fallout series. Additionally while I have certain things that I like to play, it is perfectly okay that things exist that I don’t want to play. Guild Wars 2 has become somewhat of a whipping boy for me over the years as a way of explaining what I don’t want to play. That said I love that it exists because it makes a large number of my friends excited and happy to be playing it.
Expecting everything to be custom tailored for you is the surest way to end up angry in the end. It is like walking into a store and complaining that a red shirt isn’t blue enough for you. If you don’t want to wear a red shirt, don’t buy a red shirt and then expect it to change into the color you want it to be. If you are like me and don’t like sports games… simply ignore the fact that the sports games exist and move on with your life. If you want to spend your nights playing nothing but Japanese Role-Playing games then do that with your free time, but realize that there is still a lot of room for games in even that niche that you may not like. As the video states… it is perfectly okay to not like things, but don’t be a dick about the things you don’t like. There should always be room in our community for folks that don’t look, think, act or experience things in the same way as we do.
Harder Isn’t Better
Similar to all of the above, there was a second topic floating around that Liore specifically wrote about. I guess the old argument had resurfaced that you aren’t a “real gamer” unless you are always playing everything on the hardest settings. For starters I don’t even know what a “real gamer” is, because if you are playing games of any sort you are a gamer. There is no sign that says you must be this tall to ride this ride. Now granted it is perfectly okay for there to be skill checks in order to unlock certain things. These give us challenge and something to push for. That said when a person accomplishes said skill check, it does not immediately make them a better person than someone who didn’t. I find it completely valid that some content be gated behind these skill check mechanics, but the sort of elitism and classism that surrounds them needs to die in a fire.
Similarly playing something on hard mode does not immediately make you a better person. I personally mostly play games on medium to easy mode depending on what exactly I want from an experience. More often than not I am playing a specific game because I want to experience the story, and while I enjoy the moment to moment game play I am not there because I want the rush of excitement from being able to twitch my controls at exactly the right moment over and over enough times to unlock a special achievement. I just want to see the story through the point of view of the experiences of my character. In these cases I absolutely play on easy mode, and I personally love it when a game is like Wolfenstein New Order and allows me to drop the difficulty on the fly in the middle of a game session if I encounter a roadblock.
“Twitch moments” are absolutely the number one thing that kills my gaming experience. When I encounter a moment that is significantly harder than the rest of the game play surrounding it, that is often a roadblock that keeps me from completing the game. In an MMO or a Role-Playing game I can wander about and level up or get significantly better gear to mitigate the difficulty. In most single player games however I simply have to have faster reflexes. While I realize I can train myself to have faster reflexes, years of not playing twitch games have caused me to dull significantly. The problem is… most games are not worthy the time commitment it would take to improve. I don’t generally find achievement getting fun, nor do I find repeating the same mission over and over until I finally grasp it. One of two things happens, either I lower the difficulty and beat it… or I simply stop playing the game likely to never return to it.
So I ask you the question, am I no longer a gamer because I do this? No and I feel like you would tend to agree or you wouldn’t be wasting your time reading my blog on a regular basis. I am a gamer because I game, not because I live up to some artificial bar set by someone being elitist and exclusionary. Gaming is about having fun, and if in the course of whatever you choose to do you are enjoying yourself… then mission accomplished. While gaming is about the journey and not necessarily about the destination… anything that stalls you out along the path is a bad thing. This is why I love mechanics like the Echo system in Final Fantasy XIV and the system that World of Warcraft has. Where over a series of wipes you are slowly buffed until you can defeat the content, because it maintains bragging rights for the folks who don’t need the buff… but still allows things to be fully accessible by anyone else. At the end of the day I am an easy mode gamer… deal with it.