Next to “are games art?” (Yes, indeed) the other burning question that often leads to passionate debate amongst a certain crowd is what makes someone a ”true gamer” these days. As a gamer since 1972 and collector since the 80’s, I can report that despite amazing leaps in technology and an ever increasing variety of titles available, the answer is still the same as it ever was. It’s not what types of games you play, it’s playing ANY game and enjoying them enough to keep coming back for more that’s key. You don’t need overpaid industry analysts, PR-created buzzwords like “casual” and “core” or social media sites to tell you this, just a bit of experimentation on your own. Whether you’re a fan of Cate West, or Call of Duty, you’re part of a nicely-sized crowd of normal human beings that loves interactive entertainment.
Even if you’re totally clueless as to the development process, you’ll soon find that most video games are layered artistic experiences designed to attract your attention and at least get you to take them for a spin. As with food and drink, experimentation is key to discovering what you’ll like. You won’t appreciate everything you taste, but you’ll often be surprised as something hits the right spots and brings a smile to your face. If you’re on the hunt for a deeper experience, fear not. Some of the best story-driven games can be as stimulating as a good book. Granted, one can argue the academic value of Plato is better brain food than an issue of Superman, or the deep emotional impact of Heavy Rain is superior to the well-hyped addictiveness of Angry Birds. Nevertheless, all stimulate enough grey matter to be rewarding at the end of the day.
Look carefully beyond the cosmetic appeal (or lack of it) and you’ll find similarities that leap at you across different genres. Some gamers on either side of the fence might not think much of titles outside their comfort zones. ”Casual” players who prefer family-oriented content may refuse to be lumped into the same category as those who play more violent games. Some ”core” gamers hate the fact that a wider range of age groups are encroaching on “their” territory. Both camps, as well as the industry, should understand gaming has ALWAYS been for all. Granted, there is indeed content out there that’s absolutely not for everyone. But there are more than enough genres and sub-genres available that anyone can find his or her own niche without exploring areas they might find unsavoury.
Even the simplest game played on the way to school or work is cleverly training your eyes, brain and reflexes as you tap and swipe away while trying not to miss your stop. All games have the added benefit of being a form of language translated from design document, to code, to final product before being translated one more time by users playing the way they like. There’s a subtle learning process in every game that’s easy to miss, but can be quite rewarding once uncovered. Finally, a good game can help unlock one’s own creative energies, particularly if a player finds something that activates the urge to make art, music or writing based on their play sessions. Whether you follow the crowd or become a seeker of random experiences, there’s going to be a game out there just for you. In my next column, I’ll gently toss a few suggestions your way. While you’re waiting, absolutely do a bit of exploration on your own as you let your gamer side out to play. Of course, sharing your discoveries with others is highly recommended…