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Why Do We Game?

Ask me any question about gaming but this, and I’d have an answer in a heartbeat.

When’s Prey 2 coming out? When Bethesda lifts up the massive orbit that is their ass and gets into gear.

Why did Mass Effect 3’s ending suck so much? Because EA is a greedy, manipulative corporate entity with no regards for things like “feelings” or “quality control” or “professional courtesy”.

Why are there rumours of you avoiding trees in games? Go f**k yourself.

Why do you hate Mindjack so much? GO F**K YOURSELF!

But when you ask for my motivations for gaming for… as many years as I have, my mind goes blank.  Then one flash of psychedelic colours associated with LSD later, I go into shock from the near-infinite number of answers trying to babble out of my mouth.

Truth is, I’ve been doing it so long, I never stopped to ask why I cared about gaming.  I guess since I’m a video game journalist, and I’m representing the community of avid gamers to big name companies, I should at least figure out why it all matters.

However, I think that understanding why I game will only come if I explore those around me.  You see, for over a decade, I have gathered essential data from observing four subjects – gamers of various builds and mindsets.  These individuals, whose real names will be represented by codenames out of respect and a desire not to be sued, embody four very common stereotypes among the gaming community.

Perhaps in discussing these four and seeing how their minds work, we can better understand our own habits and reasons for supporting gaming.  Anyway, I’ve got nothing better to do and I hoping neither do you, so let’s move forth with…

The Elder (a.k.a. “Mutation”)

There were a lot of different names I considered using here: “The Veteran”, “The Crab-Apple”, “The Father Figure”, “The Hardcore”.  Ultimately, though, “The Elder” fits the bill best; he’s well versed in the old ways of gaming culture, wizened by years of experience but limited in modern knowledge.

Let’s say that Mutation’s a fan of racing games… oh, don’t turn your head to Motorstorm or Split-Second.  No, no, no, The Elder sticks with what he knows – he’s been hooked on Need for Speed since the early ’90s, going as far as to call something intense like The Run “a great game” (really, to me, only an okay game with lots of action).  Modern brands like Grand Turismo or Burnout are mere distractions in this gamer’s eyes.

Let’s also give notion to the thought that The Elder’s a PC expert: well-versed in the technology, long time supporter of classics like Wolfenstein 3D and Deus Ex.  Then factor in nostalgia: this gamer loves to reminisce about the good old days, when graphics were blocky and games like Custer’s Revenge were still shocking and unexpected.  This gamer’s likely to take any opportunity to go after vintage games and consoles, or “subtly”  pushing for others to do the same.  He games because it’s what he knows best, and what exactly he knows is extensive – believe me.

Basically, this gamer is an ambassador of the past, and with that comes difficulties.  His views are solid as obsidian in Minecraft, only to be shaken by a life partner, and if pressed into conflict he will go on about a topic … and on… and on… and on until you drop dead from frustrated exhaustion.  He also has a tendency to hang onto ideas or, say, issues – particularly if they involve trees…or rear bumpers…or coffee tables…

Never, though, will I say The Elder is a bad person.  Mutation is the sort of person who’d be lenient and optimistic about you playing Half-Life 2 for the first time, leaving you to experience it for yourself at a young age.  He’d introduce you to games and franchises a single parent might never consider, and would never even consider crushing your wildest dreams and interests.  He might be old-fashioned and fanatical at times, but Mutation’s got honor –  and a big damn heart.

Next we have…

The Young Cynic (a.k.a The Kid)

Don’t even begin to ask me why I chose that codename.  Unless you know me and you know my inner circle, it’s never going to make sense.  Just take this to heart: “The Young Cynic” is easy-going on the surface, but a churning pot of doubt and low self-esteem within.

In many ways, they’re a protege of mine, a student of the old ways of gaming.  Their tastes are varied and diverse – The Cynic would just as easily turn to Black Ops II‘s Zombies gameplay as they would Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  Open-mindness is key to this gamer’s surface persona, but generally they have strong feelings about most genres; The Kid, for instance, avoids open-world games in favour of focused role-playing and action games.

They also wield a vast range of knowledge, sometimes matching (and conflicting with) my own.  The Cynic is very much a representation of most gamers: he knows the ins and outs of the games he plays, but he is often careful not to flaunt it.  On occasion, other types of gamers will draw a rise out of The Kid, particularly when they question the desire to play typically violent games, but he’ll stand his ground and speak his mind.

Unfortunately, this brings to light the key issue: he’s emotionally attached to games.  Very emotionally attached.  The Cynic takes his name from his outlook on life; only gaming provides respite from what appears to be daunting circumstances and less-than-sympathetic people in a seemingly cruel world.  When Far Cry 3 reaches The Cynic’s hands, they immerse themselves completely.

This results in some rather unpleasant moments from the poor sad saps that get drawn into this little bubble of immersion, often failing to realize how raw this person’s emotions are.  As one such sad sap, I have the displeasure of having experienced such outbursts and lash-outs on two notable occasions: one which I have dubbed “The Rannoch Debacle” and the other occurring during a spirited debate about the merits of a certain 2010 Star Wars game.

Ultimately, this breed of gamer is a bridge between my generation and the next.  They have the tendency to act as entitled adults with all the world-weariness and knowledge that entails, but the truth is they’re still young and figuring things out.  I wish the very best to The Kid, and I pray for him, but he will always follow the path of independence (most of the time – anything involving milkshakes, newspapers or Fullmetal Alchemist requires direct intervention).

For our third subject, we have…

The Casual (a.k.a. Mystique)

Ah, yes, Mystique.   The person who avoids video games with a vengeance – and yet is more integral to the industry than they realize.  Whenever someone writes up a consensus for the gaming population, Mystique is important to note.

This, however, comes from the fact that The Casual has a complicated relationship with games.  The Casual is likely career-driven, focused on academic pursuits rather than attempting Dark Souls or finally watching someone play Uncharted 2 (even though it can claim to be one of the most easily-watchable video games in history).

To be fair, it’s not Mystique’s fault: perhaps money was tight and entertainment was Tintin, or their lifestyle was limited by personal conflict.  Maybe they stopped playing after Super Mario Bros. became “old news” – blasphemy to me, but understandable to them.  They’d have grown up buying into the anti-gaming protests after Mortal Kombat‘s home release, and they would likely question the merit of young people playing such games today.

Mystique lives for work and real life, viewing video games as an occasional distraction.  To these people, playing Farmville and Solitaire can be considered a “gaming session”, leaving them time to ask the important questions: “Is this relevant? How can you support this? Why should we let someone so young be exposed to this?”  While they may be ignorant to the specifics of the industry, Mystique is an impartial third party fairly capable of judging the industry.

With that said, it’s still a bit of a hassle to deal with The Casual’s on-and-off questioning.  Like Mutation, they are tied to the old ways of society and can be resistant to reconsidering their views.  If ever a casual gamer gets into a conversation with a hardcore gamer, chances are one of two things will happen:

1) The hardcore gamer (in this instance, The Cynic) will feel somewhat resentful and get into a quiet but still heated argument over a particular topic

2) The hardcore gamer (in this instance, basically anyone else) will carefully and tastefully respond to the wisecrack that The Casual inevitably spouts

If you understand that, then interacting with any Casual gamer should be a walk in the park.  And much respect to you, Casuals of the world – your dedication to life and reality is admirable.

Let’s get to the fourth subject…

The Newcomer (a.k.a Little One)

Again, don’t ask about the nickname.  It’s just one of those personal preferences that will never escape my work entirely.  The Newcomer is very much a child of the 21st Century, a next-gen kid who experiments with games like teenagers experiment with vices.

Little One lives in a world of technology, of instantly accessible content on the Internet.  They’re shaped by their experiences, yet they’re still too young to decide what their preferences are, so they test and dabble into every experience they can.  One day, Little One is playing The Santa Clause 3; tomorrow, it’s New Super Mario Bros.  One year, they’re using an old Game Boy Advance; the next, it’s a Wii U.

What you need to understand is The Newcomer is exactly what it sounds like: someone who’s new to the party.  In fifteen years, these gamers will have developed enough traits to align with one of the other groupings.  Perhaps they will become lost in the past but focused, like The Elder.  Or they may lose their emotional youth and become Cynics, using gaming to cope with their issues.  They might even shun gaming almost entirely as a Casual.

To emphasize, though, this lack of focus isn’t necessarily a good thing.  From experience, I can tell you that Little One is not known for consistency nor reliability.  They can appear flaky, unresponsive, and downright disrespectful.  They don’t understand that gaming can have a greater depth than meets the eye, or that it can deliver meaningful messages.  They live in the moment, for better or worse.

So, to summarize:

The Elder – Motivated by tradition, plays video games out of habit

The Cynic – Motivated by self, plays video games for comfort

The Casual – Motivated by reality, plays video games as occasional distraction

The Newcomer – Motivated by curiosity, plays video games to experiment

Where does that leave me? What does that say about gaming as a culture?

Well, it tells us that gaming is complicated, and it is interpreted in an infinite number of ways.  It plays the role that it needs to, nothing more and nothing less.  The industry evolves based on the needs, the desires, and the interests of people out of a wish to serve and fulfil us.

In that sense, these stereotypes represent the four aspects of every gamer: the nostalgic adherence to tradition of The Elder, the cautious optimism of The Cynic, the grounding in reality of The Casual, and the youthful optimism of The Newcomer.  That is what I, The Critic, represent to you people: the average gamer, divided into four distinct quadrants.

Perhaps it is too easy to label people as one thing or the other.  Perhaps what we should be doing is embracing aspects of other people that we share, and accepting the simple fact that we choose the reason we game.  That elusive reason for chasing the dream of becoming a great gamer, or completing the bulk of all games created, exists as something different for each one of us.

I am the Codex Admin.  I game because I can, because it’s what I know best, because I seek comfort, because I can separate it from reality, and because I believe in what it can become.

I know now why I game.  Do you?


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