Learning the Language

Posted By on Jan 24, 2013 in General Discussion | 4 comments

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks in the video game world. EA is taking a fair amount of (deserved) heat in the blogosphere; there has been a renewed discussion of game violence, its affect on society, and the industry’s place within that conversation (a topic that we addressed this week on the podcast); we’ve seen yet more stupid marketing decisions that make us all look bad; and some interesting – if odd – product announcements at CES. And despite my intentions to write something here more often, I’m not yet in the habit of reacting to these things by spitting out words here. I’ll keep working on it, though!

Even with all those juicy topics out there, I’d like to talk about something else today. Specifically, the way that we, as gamers, deal with those that are less involved in our hobby. A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me a link to a video on College Humor that poses a “what if” – what if all games had a super-easy mode? It goes on to show Sonic charging off in search of coins, running a single loop-dee-loop and then passing through the end gate. Pac-Man is shown eating pellets around the outside of the map while the ghosts flail about helplessly inside the caged walls. And it goes on.

Look, I don’t want to be the comedy police here, and in a lot of ways, I think the video is funny! It takes things that many of us feel from time to time and pursues them to their ridiculous end. They’ve also done a pretty good job of actually constructing the animations in a way that look like they belong. So, that’s cool, too. And, honestly, I think I’d seen that video before (it was originally posted in 2010) – and probably thought it was sort of funny, at the time. However, having seen it again, I think the underlying assumptions that it tries to play off of are flawed. Namely, I think it promotes the same sort of “us vs them” mentality that leads to outrage in “casual vs hardcore” arguments – or the somewhat more insidious “fake geek girl” discussions.

There is an thought-provoking post here that suggests that, perhaps, we as gamers (or, more widely “geeks” or “nerds” or whatever) have a tendency to look down our noses at those that are not as educated as we our in our chosen discipline – an education that is evidenced either by gaming credentials like how many games of XYZ subgenre you have played, how many games you have 100% achievements for, or simply how many hours you have spent teaching your fingers how to handle an Xbox 360 controller. I don’t think this is a particularly large stretch, but the corresponding questions that are raised about how we treat so-called outsiders are a lot more interesting to me.

There are huge swaths of people that play games (the ESA has a ton of information here), and the numbers are growing every year. While it is certainly true that some of us dedicate more of our energy to games than others, I’m struggling to see why that should make us better than them on a fundamental level. Even if those of us who self-identify as gamers spend more money and more time playing games, should our desires completely override everything else? More importantly, shouldn’t we want to bring even more people into the fold?

I think that last bit is really the clincher for me. I love games. I love playing them and talking about them and thinking about them. I love playing them on my own and playing them with other people. So why in the hell would I want to keep other people from enjoying them? If a game has an incredible story and camera work, why wouldn’t I want to share that with my uncle who loves narrative fiction – books and movies both, but hasn’t really played any video games since Doom gave him motion sickness? Why would I decry the Wii as a platform for kids and old people and “non-gamers”? What does that even mean? I played a hell of a lot of Wii Sports with my family, and in doing so, my dad started to finally understand the language of controllers – and video games. In that case, it hasn’t turned him into a consistent gamer, but it certainly made him more willing to try out some other games with my brother and I.

And this is how you get through to people. It’s how you shut down the arguments of the people calling for an end to all video games. This is how you give the proverbial middle-finger to people like Ralph Nader who call the game industry “electronic child molesters” (yes, he actually said that this week). It’s also how you get your friends and relatives to start enjoying one of your passions. You don’t do it by making fun of the fact that they can only get through a game on “Easy” mode. And you certainly don’t do it by decrying that mode – a mode which literally affects your gameplay options in ZERO WAYS – even exists. You do it, instead, by being glad it exists, so that people who otherwise might not have years of gaming experience behind them (or people who are simply interested in experiencing things differently than you are – a novel concept, I know) can be drawn in and captured by all the things that you already know are great.

So, look, there can be some humor taken from a video like the one I linked. But you know what a world where “Super-Easy Mode” exists looks like in my head? One where we can share our passions with a wider group, and not feel stigmatized for doing something that a huge number of people do. One where I can hand a game to a friend/co-worker/relative and say, “This is cool, you should really check it out – just put it on easy mode, and it will be fine.” and then, a few days later have them respond with, “Wow, that was fun! Have you got anything else you can show me?” Because yes, yes I do.