Friday, May 01, 2009

There's a rather awesome VG Cats comic this week that's an homage to Stephen Colbert's 'The Word'

The word for this comic? Gamers.

The funny thing is that less than a year ago, this comic summed up my feelings exactly. That we 'true' gamers spent decades being made fun of for our love of gaming then suddenly gaming becomes all fashionable and mainstream… and the next thing we know, people who've never held a controller in their lives are paying movie stars (who've also never held a controller in their lives) to give made up awards to the makers of crappy derivative games.

Ok, if I'm honest, that bit still needles me a little. Watching someone like Samuel L. Jackson giving Halo an award for originality gives me a little twinge…One, because Halo isn't original, the first one was mediocre to say the least…and how exactly are the producers at Spike TV qualified to hand out awards?

I guess what I'm saying is that I don't have any real interest in 'gamer elitism' any more. Sure, I still find it annoying when a clueless celebrity goes on TV and claims Halo was 'groundbreaking', but I think that's understandable. I had the same reaction when I heard a teenage kid claim that Lord of the Rings 'totally ripped off Harry Potter'. It's just a reaction to someone clueless claiming to be an authority on something I care about.

However, the idea of looking down my nose at someone just because they cut their teeth on a Nintendo DS just doesn't sit right any more. I mean, during an online Halo session I had some idiot teen trying to tell me he was 'more of a gamer' than I was because he'd looked at my gamer-tag and saw that he had a higher gamer score than me. At the time I laughed my ass off and pointed out that I was playing games before he was born, and the fact he bought a 360 before I did and had bought more games for it did not make him 'more of a gamer'. Now, I have to ask the question…does it really matter?

I call myself a 'gamer' because I enjoy playing games. Winning and losing is secondary because the fun of the experience is why I play. I couldn't care less about my win-loss record in online Gears, I couldn't care less about my 'Gamer Score'. Gaming is something I do for fun and I don't feel the need to define myself by my hobby, or prove I somehow rank higher than another person who has the same hobby I do.

The thing is, I can't work out whether this is just me finally growing up and being 'mature', or whether it's the exact opposite and I feel this way these young whippersnappers and posers have turned the gaming community into something I don't want to be a part of any more.

On the one hand, I'd like to believe I'm finally getting a soupcon of maturity at 28…but part of me believes that it's more to do with the kids who spend ten hours at a stretch doing the same thing over and over so they can get that last achievement and prove they are 'Teh Hardcorez', or go online, not to have fun, but just to beat people.

In fact, I think I've just worked out exactly why it is.

VG Cats makes the case that by going mainstream, gaming has 'softened' and everything's too easy and based around marketing to kids who not only play Halo, but also want the Halo hoodie, sports drink and lunchbox. I claim the opposite is true.

Basically, I feel that the gaming community has joined the mainstream and has moved away from its 'fun for fun's sake' roots and has switched to the same hyper-competitive, win-at-all-costs mentality that turned me away from sports and towards gaming in the first place.

When my friends and I used to get online for a bit of multiplayer Doom or Duke Nukem 3D, we did it because it was extremely cool and insanely fun. We enjoyed the experience, and when someone snapped off a last minute, desperate grenade launcher shot, bounced it off a wall and took out the entire opposing team, we laughed our asses off…we didn't scream racial epithets.

Don't get me wrong. Winning is a lot of fun, but when winning is the only reason you play, you might as well put down your game with it's awesome story, beautiful environments and innovative gameplay mechanics and pull out a deck of cards and play snap.

In closing, let me use my missus as an example. Sunny loves playing Zelda, but she has little interest in the actual story or going on quests. She just likes the fishing mini-game. She doesn't go and fight monsters and progress the story because that's not as much fun to her as the fishing. At first, I laughed at her about doing that…but then I realized that she was playing a game for fun and was simply refusing to play the parts that weren't fun to her.

Having just spent an hour that morning trying to beat a particularly difficult and frustrating boss (and having no fun at all while doing so), after watching Sunny play for the sheer fun of it, I couldn't help but feel a little like a monkey pulling a lever. I was spending time on something that wasn't fun because that's what you're supposed to do.

In that context, how can I claim that I am 'more of a gamer' than Sunny? Sure, I play a hell of a lot more games and I'm better at beating them…but given that the main purpose of gaming is to have fun, who really is the 'better gamer'?    

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