Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Depending on how I feel after this, my other blog will have a similar, if less coherent, rant about anime. So here goes.

Not surprisingly, the Game OverThinker's latest video did something to piss me off. Surprisingly, it wasn't the primary content of the video. I largely agreed with what he said. It was his continued dichotomy of brightly colored, old school platformers versus pseudo-realistic military shooters. He seems to be under the impression that anyone who honestly enjoys Modern Warfare 2 is also a fratboy jock who masturbates to Glenn Beck. All TRUE gamers prefer the Mario games (and all TRUE Americans don't live on the coasts). He states he has no problems with the casual gaming image Nintendo is building for itself, but considering his Nintendo fanboyism I find it hard to take this statement at face value. Instead of dividing gamers into casual and hardcore, let's instead divide game culture into "accessible" and "impenetrable". The question isn't whether grandma can figure out the controls, but if a non-gamer would play the game to completion. I begin to suspect that the more militant aspects of the platformer crowd (some people just prefer platformers, but some douchebags believe it's the One True Path and Miyamoto is it's prophet) would prefer games to be impenetrable, that special thing that only the nerds have.

People have a habit of categorizing themselves. The nerds, the jocks, the gamers, whatever. It goes beyond the stereotypes of the high school cliques and is proudly on display at any sci-fi convention or baseball game. We divide into Us and Them, and any overlap makes us uncomfortable. There is the crowd that consistently got 100% runs in Super Metroid, and the crowd that only knew the consoles as that thing to play the new Madden game on. Then came the game that changed that for a generation of gamers, specifically my generation. Suddenly there was a game that the football players were playing to completion on the higher difficulty levels, a game that could finally unite the jock and the nerd in an ultra-violent nerdgasm of alien carnage. Yes, I speak of Halo. Finally, there was common ground. Many have embraced this common ground, others have recoiled in horror. The sacred ground of the nerd, the video game, had been sullied by the uninitiated.

I'll be honest, I don't like Halo. Halo 2 failed to impress at launch, and while the original was impressive at the time, it hasn't aged well. But suddenly there was a whole new market in a revamped genre, the FPS had found a new niche on the console (let's not get started on how the PC nerds reacted). Gaming was undergoing yet another evolution. And by that I mean you young'uns wouldn't believe what we had to put up with in RPGs back in the day, I still shudder to think of those interfaces. I don't say this often, but thank God for Final Fantasy. Gaming was evolving, and many of us rode with it. Others retreated to their cabins in the woods to await the End Times.

This, I believe, is the primary cause of friction between the old school and the young bloods. Well, this and that the young bloods seem to be brutally ignorant of history. But the problem was that previously impenetrable games that only nerds could tolerate were now accessible to the mainstream American. The club was no longer exclusive. Anyone could be a gamer. The modern argument of casual and hardcore first started out as gaming nerd battling lacrosse player. If "hardcore" gaming today is a club, then old school gaming back in the day was a clan. You weren't in unless you were born in and marrying in only meant your children were in, you were still out. It was that exclusive.

Part of me wonders if this doesn't also have to do with national cultures. Domestic, American game companies didn't really start to hit it big until the PSX era. Prior to that, everything came from Japan. A lot of platformer enthusiasts make the arguments about colors versus real-is-brown, and to a shocking extent that's a cultural barrier between west and east. Japanese games still have a market in the west, but not on the same scale that American and European games have. I'd buy Idolm@ster if it ever came out here, me and ten other people (four of whom are convicted sex offenders). Meanwhile, American games (and to a lesser extent, European games) don't do well in Japan. The primary reasons cited by Japanese gamers is that they look too hard (this from the country that brought us Ninja Gaiden and Castlevania) and the main characters aren't cute enough. I wish I was making that last part up. It's all part of the kawaisa aesthetic. They like things cute and colorful, while we like big manly men. That's why the military shooter has done so well in America amongst people who previously wouldn't be considered gamers. It's muscular men grasping long, hard objects and shooting off in other guys' faces. If that seems overly harsh to American cultural preferences, I point you to Japanese sociologists who view all this colorful cuteness as a dangerous cultural neurosis and symptomatic of an entire society refusing to grow the fuck up. My point is that the nerd was dedicated enough to gaming to leap over these cultural boundaries (or embrace them, but that's a whole other rant) whereas the less traditional gamer wasn't. But then games were produced that played to his own culture, and suddenly he was a gamer. Much to the horror of some older gamers.

Gaming has gone mainstream. It is part of our culture now. And that means it's not exclusive anymore. The gamer isn't a specialized class of nerd, but a noticeable portion of the American market. That scares some people. They have lost all special entitlements and considerations. Gaming has come to the masses. Nearly every gamer has publicly argued that gaming should be recognized and respected by the mainstream of American society. But now that it's happening, some of us are afraid that we're not so special as we thought. We can march forward, or we can insist that everything was better when I was younger. As a guy who still owns the original Super Mario Bros. trilogy on that front loading NES that's still plugged in (okay, Bionic Commando is in there now, but that's not the point), I'm marching forward.

No comments: