The anatomy of the gamer

Gamasutra
by Marcus Pettersson on 02/25/11 07:51:00 am

Posted 02/25/11 07:51:00 am
(Originally posted on The Biased Gamer:

Continuing on the theme of my last post, I now delve deeper into the various kinds of gamers that are out there; this is by no means a complete list, but rather a sample of personal observations I have made, having been a member of the gaming community for more than 20 years, seeing how the attitude towards games have changed, while the attitude towards gamers have remained practically the same.

So, what is a gamer? If you ask a random person on the street this question, they will immediately think of EverCrack, World of Warcrack, the pimply, sweaty teen living in his (yes, his, never her) parents’ basement, more or less living in front of a computer screen, contributing nothing to society and generally acting like a twat. Someone that is slightly more wide in their perspectives might also grant that they are often clever, but very elitist about it and rarely, if ever, have any social competence.

While stereotypes of this kind can provide some insight into how other people perceive gamers, it is not very productive or even warranted. Gamers today, as I defined them in my last post, are everyone from your granny to your kids, coming from all walks of life and all social layers. Gaming has become a global pastime, yet gamers are still seen as something bizarre or mysterious.

Well, let’s pull the veil aside and see what is behind the curtain. I promise that the Wizard of Oz is really not all that intimidating…

Are hardcore gamers more 1337 than everyone else?

The Hardcore Gamer. This is the stereotypical gamer that most people who do not consider themselves gamers think about. This creature does exist and is, indeed, usually in his or her teens or tweens, and plays their games incessantly. Gaming is not just a hobby to them, it is what they do and what they are. A hardcore gamer playing any game will often voice his or her opinions on various message boards, post blogs about the game and be fairly obsessive and protective of the game.

The natural gathering ground for hardcore gamers are MMOs, where they get a large audience to vent their opinions at, a social network that can consist of other gamers of a similar mindset and, to boot, a game that they can play for hours on end without any real “game over”.

While this also holds true for certain other genres, such as first person-view shooters with multiplayer modes, RPGs and certain strategy games, the vast majority gather around MMOs, because the pop-culture phenomenon of World of Warcraft, EverQuest, GuildWars and other such titles catered to these hardcore gamers when they launched, but have since taken a more casual approach to the gaming experience, much to the dismay of the hardcore gamers, who feel that they are entitled to respect and the ear of the developers as they very likely have been apart of the game community for a relatively long time.

We're all gamers!

The Casual Gamer on the other hand, is sneered upon by the hardcore gamers, seen as destroyers of the game the hardcore gamers have chosen as ‘theirs’, forcing the company do ‘dumb the game down’ so that it will appeal to those of lesser brain and ability as compared to the hardcore gamer. This is of course not true, as far as casual gamers go. Casual gamers are those who play games when they have time for it. The casual gamer is typically (note the disclaimer here, I am personally aware of the exceptions and there are plenty, but looking at the demographics, well, it’s ‘true’ for a given value of teapot) a female in the ages between 18 to 35, who is in a relationship and has completed at least a mid-level education.

To the casual gamer, gaming is not a responsibility – compare this to the hardcore gamer who might plan his social life around his guild’s raid times in World of Warcraft, or the clan’s match schedule in Counter-Strike. Gaming is all about taking a break when the schedule allows it and have some entertainment, taking on the role that music had in the mid and late 90s. It’s not so much about getting involved in a game, speculating about potential expansions or similar, it’s just about having fun for a given time and choosing to spend that relaxation time in front of a game, rather than the TV.

The casual gamer is currently dominating Facebook games, as well as the iStore and Xbox Live markets, buying smaller and more casual-friendly games such as puzzlers, point-and-click adventures and similar games that do not require a lot of time invested to reach a result.

Whether this is good or bad for the games industry, in my opinion, is not a relevant discussion; trends and peaks of interest occur frequently and an industry as flexible and revolutionary as the game development industry should and can not be concerned with every variation in the fluctuation of buys. Fads and hyped games will always sell good, no matter what the public thinks about the latest game application release to their iPad. But I digress…

Too cool for gaming?

The third kind of gamer I have personally had the pleasure of seeing up-close for several years is the “too cool for games” personality; I’ll dub his kind the “Pop Gamer”. The Pop Gamer is the kind of gamer that would never admit to playing a game of any sort, be it on his or her phone, console or computer, when in his regular social company. While the pop gamer is a frequent consumer of games of various kinds for various platforms, they too, like the casual gamer, tends to be drawn towards easy-to-understand and quick-to-play titles, such as racing games, sports games and other fairly social games that are best played with a friend, rather than as a single-player experience.

This social aspect of games, such as sports games (anything from football to Pong!), music games (Guitar Hero, various karaoke titles) and ‘party games’ (Avatar games on Xbox Live) play a large role in the pop gamer’s defense when pressed about playing these games. The pop gamer isn’t playing a game so much as socializing with friends and the game serves as merely a backdrop for the socializing. The pop gamer is a sub-species of the casual gamer, but with even more venom for gamers that do nothing but play games all day.

While there are several more kinds of gamers, these three outline the kinds I have run into the most as a member of the gaming community. There is severe animosity between certain groups of gamers, mostly due to the different approaches to gaming (taking time specifically for playing games as opposed to doing so when the schedule allows, or only when there are friends around) and the aspects of game development that change when you appeal to different demographics.

World of Warcraft and other such MMOs have successfully navigated these tricky waters and have with their “Hard Mode” dungeons managed to include the hardcore elements in an otherwise very casual-friendly, pick-up-and-play game. And while MMOs have a harder time catching the pop gamer, this group will also be drawn to the social aspect of the games; it very much depends on whether people in their social circles are playing it or not.

In conclusion, I want to point out that it is very important that all who care about the gaming industry and want to see more and better games on the market, whether it be casual-friendly, hardcore or social games, need spread the word that “we are all gamers, and we’re not weird!” because as GameSpy wrote last year, the steretypical gamer that people keep in the dark recessess of their minds does not, as it were, exist. Even though a hardcore gamer is typically so-and-so and such-and-such, I have met hardcore gamers that are well into their 50s, grandparents and living a comfortable life off their pensions.

A gamer is a gamer is a gamer. Spreading the word and making it a positive one, meaning nothing more than “a person who enjoys playing games”, we can work against the stereotypes and prejudices regarding gaming, gamers and the gaming community.

Seriously, what’ve we got to lose?


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