No Longer Mainstream
This morning I am struggling more than a bit to find a topic to write about. I keep coming back to a conversation last night on teamspeak regarding our identification or lack thereof with the term “gamer”. One of my friends talked about how he has slowly distanced himself from the title because it no longer really offered anything in way of meaning for him. It no longer really clearly identified his interests. I guess to some extent I am no longer a mainstream gamer either if you really think about it. When there is a big show like E3 It is evident that I no longer care about the games that seem to get the most press like the Call of Duty or Battlefield franchises. Granted there was a time where I was happy to throw money at both of these, but that time has passed.
Instead I tend to focus on the games that give me the most freedom to inhabit the worlds. The narrative game play experience is still fun on occasion but the games I tend to play every night offer some way for me to inhabit them. The top franchises seem to be mostly about fighting against other players, whereas I want to cooperate and collaborate with them in creating social environments. The thing that keeps me tied to Final Fantasy XIV right now is just how vibrant and alive the community is, and how easy it has been to find the social strata I have craved. It is something that has just been lacking from other games I have played in the last few years, and I am not really sure why exactly it is lacking.
I wish I knew why that sense of community flourishes in some games but not others. I think in part it is due to isolation from the more negative forces of the internet. The games that have had some of the best environments, have also been games that I felt where under appreciated. In Everquest II the Antonia Bayle server community is amazing, and has a thriving role-playing and community event presence. Similarly in Lord of the Rings Online the Landroval community is equally amazing, and offers everything from casual concerts at the Prancing Pony to intricate community events. In both cases these are games that are not pulling in the big attention and I think the end result causes a much more tight knit and insular community. Similarly Final Fantasy XIV has been somewhat isolated from the mainstream and developed a community that flourishes around a love of the game.
So I guess my pondering is, do these communities thrive because the mainstream gamer has shunned them? I’ve literally seen some of my more mainstream friends turn their noses up visibly when I have mentioned I was playing Everquest 2, or Lord of the Rings Online… and I am sure the same would be the case with Final Fantasy XIV. In the case Final Fantasy XIV there is still a lot of bad blood out there surrounding the failure that was 1.0. In the case of the others, I think it is mostly because they were “not WoW”. I am beginning to be of the opinion that playing a second or third tier MMO is the best experience, pending you find a server that still has a thriving and active population. The people that have stuck around there, do so for various reasons… but it often means that the community is well established and stable… and with a little effort welcoming to new comers.
Gamer Lacks Meaning
Now to drift back to the original discussion from last night about whether or not gamer is a meaningful term. There was a time where that term meant something, a shared experience that became immediately relatable. Now gaming in general has become so fragmented that just because someone self identifies as a gamer, doesn’t meant at all that you have any shared experiences. I ran into this Wednesday at the funeral with my cousins. There were four of us nephews… of us at one time or another have self identified as gamers. However as we started to talk about them two of them immediately started talking about their latest call of duty exploits, and another pair of us started talking role playing games. So when the term gaming was summoned it meant two vastly different things. I still find myself unwilling to fully abandon the title of Gamer, even though most of the images that currently evokes no longer really represent me.
Maybe I have shifted my focus in the way my friend Tam has shifted to “Game Designer”. Maybe the fact that I am now a “Game Blogger” better denotes my interest in gaming and my point of view on it all. Even “MMO Gamer” probably does a far better job of representing my interests than “Gamer” does. I think some of the discussion is about whether or not labels are important at all, and I think they are mostly. Labels, especially one ones someone self identifies with are a kind of social shorthand. It is like a sketch of the person that they want the world to see them as, and is meaningful in trying to align interests but not much more than that. Once you get to know someone you learn their hopes, fears and aspirations… the labels stop being meaningful at all. Prior to that however they act as a way to grease the wheels of interaction. The problem with this however is that gamer is coming to represent something I do not support and do not want to be part of. I would love to think that I could reform the title and bring it back to something just, pure and true… but I think we have long crossed the point of no return and are now seeing the last death throes of “Gamer”.