Photo via Flickr user Jorge Figueroa
There's never been a better time to be a gamer.
Breathtaking big-budget blockbuster games are released regularly, ensuring we're never without a new world to explore or adventure to embark on. In the first half of 2015 alone we've soaked in the massive environments of Bloodborne, The Witcher 3, and Batman: Arkham Knight.
Indie games are also more prominent than they ever have been. The likes of Her Story, Thomas Was Alone, Spelunky, and countless others have gained fanbases that would have been unthinkable at the start of the millennium (and, of course, there's no better example of this than Minecraft).
There are more games than ever, too. We now live in a world in which, on a daily basis, countless new games are made available to us, some costing absolutely nothing. And thanks to digital distribution, we can have them in our hands in a matter of minutes. Bored with one game? Just download another.
And yet there are some gamers who are unhappy with the way things are going. Some who feel the definition of that very title—gamer—is being challenged, and they don't like it.
To some, you aren't a gamer unless you're playing a traditional console or PC game: a first-person shooter, an RPG, a 3D platformer. If you're the sort who only plays mobile games or are addicted to Pirate Kings on Facebook, you apparently don't count as a gamer.
It's worse if you're female. Since the late 1980s the term gamer has been mainly associated with males aged between 15 and 30. The term "girl gamer" has done nothing to help this, pushing the idea that a woman taking part in a traditionally male-dominated pastime should be considered an exception, with their own special term to point that out.
Because of all this, the idea of a businesswoman playing Candy Crush Saga on the train to work is about as far from the definition of a gamer as some can imagine.
Of course, these people are wrong. Everyone who enjoys playing games, regardless of format or genre or budget, is a gamer. Your little brother's love for Pokémon makes him a gamer. Your grandma's regular Wii Sports tennis matches make her a gamer. Your dad's Football Manager addiction and your mom's infuriating ability to hammer you at Tetris (well, mine does) makes them both gamers.
I remember a time when it wasn't like this—or, at least, when nobody admitted and embraced it. When I was young, I was a massive gamer, regularly running home from school every day to play on my NES, SNES, or Mega Drive. I had a few friends who also played games, but they were all boys.
The girls in my school never spoke about games. My parents never spoke about them. They were barely mentioned on TV, except when the fantastic GamesMaster—the prime-time UK show that gave gaming some sort of legitimacy—was on.
It's not like girls or adults didn't play games at the time. My cousin had an NES, too, and she'd swap games with me regularly: I'd give her Super Mario Bros., she'd give me Zelda II. And many's a night I'd sneak downstairs to find my dad playing Desert Strike on my Mega Drive.
Back then it was almost as if playing video games was something to be ashamed of if you weren't a schoolboy. If you knew of a girl playing games it was a big deal, and if you knew of an adult playing them it was even bigger.
These days that stigma no longer exists, certainly not to the extent it did 20 or more years ago. People of every age and gender play games these days—so why do some people see this as a bad thing?
It may be because for newer generations of gamers, gaming has had far fewer negative connotations. The PlayStation era made console gaming cool among 20-something men, ensuring it was no longer something you had to outgrow when you were no longer a child.
At the risk of sounding like an old fart, gamers my age who remember the NES and SNES days also remember what it felt like to wish our hobby could be considered legitimate by the rest of society who thought it was just for kids: a struggle the PlayStation generation never had.
For years, 80s babies got our console games at Christmas and quietly went to our rooms, loving our new presents, but secretly wishing the rest of the family cared enough to join in.
One of the greatest gaming moments in my life was when my family played Wii Sports' tennis at Christmas 2006. Yes, it was basic. And yes, as a "proper" gamer, I knew that the controls were limited at best. But seeing my parents enjoying something I'd loved alone all my life was a beautiful thing.
There are some who believe the Wii was the beginning of the problem, that it was Nintendo's attempt to embrace a new demographic of so-called-casual non-gamers that warped the landscape of the games industry and brought about an onslaught of party, brain-training, and fitness games. They believe this growth in casual gaming in turn led to the growth of mobile gaming and the evil of free-to-play.
Two things spring to mind. The first, frankly, is shush. Not only are the fears from some self-proclaimed gamers that their precious hobby is being taken from them by dreaded women and casuals completely unfounded, they're single-minded and annoying to gamers like me who are adamant of one thing: they don't speak for us.
Secondly, many of them fail to realize that the casual games they feel are harming the industry are actually helping fund the "hardcore" games they love so much. A good triple-A video game these days can cost tens of millions of dollars to develop, market, and release, and as systems get more powerful these costs only rise and rise. Some of these costs can be covered with stuff like downloadable extra content (DLC), but there's another way to fund them: by making smaller, less expensive games that appeal to a wider audience.
Over on Motherboard, which also covers these video game things: Watch some guy play 'Half-Life' on their smartwatch, because
Take major developer and publisher Electronic Arts A for example. Upcoming games like Star Wars: Battlefront, Need For Speed, Mirror's Edge Catalyst, and Mass Effect: Andromeda won't be cheap to make: far from it. But then you've got EA's mobile department, which releases smaller games that are much cheaper to make, appeal to a larger audience, and raise tons of money that the company can pump into its more expensive games.
The Simpsons: Tapped Out is a fairly basic city simulation game, but by the start of 2014 it had earned EA over $130 million in revenue. That's enough to make three or four triple-A console games.
Similarly, it could be argued that had Nintendo not struck gold with Wii Sports (82 million copies sold), the first two Brain Training games (33 million combined) or Wii Fit (22 million), it would have been in massive financial difficulty. Best-case scenario, they wouldn't have had the money to fund "core" games sure to sell in smaller quantities (like Pikmin 3, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Sin & Punishment: Star Successor, or Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon). Worst case scenario? Well, look what happened to SEGA.
What many people seem to be forgetting is that things are actually coming full circle: the growth of casual and female gamers in the market doesn't mean they're "taking over" gaming, it means they're coming back to it. After all, if you moan to me about a simple, casual game that people of all ages, genders, and skill levels play, I'll show you news reports from 1980 when Pac-Man was released and men, women, and children were packing arcades in their droves.
Had someone told me when I was a kid that one day everyone would play games—that one day boys, girls, adults, everyone would not only be gamers but openly discuss the games they played and not hide what they were doing for fear they seemed nerdy—I would have been delighted.
The term gamer no longer means what the hardcore wants it to mean. Everyone is a gamer now: from the teenage boy who takes part in epic ten-hour Battlefield sessions, to the businesswoman who's a level 70 paladin in World of Warcraft, to the aunt who plays Pokémon Y so she can trade with her nephew who plays Pokémon X, to the guy on the train who just wants a quick game of Angry Birds before he gets to work.
We're all gamers. Embrace it.
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