Everyone has an image in mind when they think of a gamer. You know the one; living in his mom’s basement, with no job or life to call their own. Perhaps even fat, lazy, and dirty. There are those who fit that description, but the reality is most of us are actually quite functional members of society.
I guess the thing to figure out is what makes a gamer. You can try and define us by the types of games we play, but if you know more than one gamer you’ll know that we can argue about the dumbest aspects of a game. The tiniest thing can mean loving it, or hating it. So we can’t be put in that kind of a box. Simply, a gamer is someone who enjoys playing video games. This means that the Grandmother who plays Wii Sports is a gamer. Anyone who plays solitaire at work, is a gamer. The lines are blurring, and society is finding it more and more difficult to keep up their shunning of this new age of human entertainment.
The world has changed, and video games have become the new books; that fact will frighten some and sadden others, but it remains true. If you go around and survey people between 20 and 30, asking if they’ve ever read Moby Dick, they might answer yes only because their parents read it to/with them as a child. Ask the same group if they’ve ever played Mario, and I would be willing to bet 90% or more would say yes, and then be able to go on describing their favorite part. The success of recent games like “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” is not just because there’s more kids playing video games, but because their parents are playing them too. An entire industry has grown up, and almost nobody has noticed. The ones who have noticed have been trying to deny it, or capitalize on it; there really seems to be almost no middle ground.
The beauty of games is that they come in so many styles and types. No two are the same, even if they share some of the same elements. “Battlefield 3” and “Modern Warfare 3” are direct competitors in the shooting genre, but ask any gamer which one is better and they can go into great detail about why one is better than the other. Same type of game, two completely different styles of implementation. I prefer “Modern Warfare 3,” because of the better response from the control system.
People ask me why I like games so much, and I have never really taken the time to consider it in great detail until now. If I had to sum it up, I like them because of the complex things that make it all work; and because they can be just as effective, as an escape, as a good book. In truth, many games now have more involved and developed story lines than modern books. The process of getting your attention has gone far beyond simply making it fun to play.
They have to engage you mentally as well. “Final Fantasy 7” still has thousands of players around the world (including your writer) even after 2 new console generations and countless graphics improvements in the industry. The story captured peoples’ imaginations and took us to a place no book can… A place where we actually get to make choices in the story. Sure, they have choose your own adventure books, but those just encourage you to spend more time organizing a system, to reach every possible ending, than actually enjoying the story.
Creating a game is a very time consuming and complex thing. It seems that most people think they just sit in a room for a month or two and crank one out like a movie, but it is vastly more stressful than that. You have to code everything so that when you press “A”, you jump. You have to have extremely talented artists to make it all look amazing while you play it (even a game as simple as “FEZ” took immense thought and creativity.) There are people whose’ only job is to make sure that a single level works the way it should.
The process of fixing a bug in a game is very misunderstood by most gamers as well. If you browse the forums for any game, you will find people complaining about things that they don’t have in game, or that are broken. Often they just demand immediate solutions, but they don’t understand that it takes time and many people to get there. First someone has to identify where the problem is in the code, then they have to either fix it or write a new feature (which could break something else) and send it off to the artists. The artists make sure it appears to belong in the game, because if the menu shows Mahjong tiles in a solitaire (Klondike) game, it confuses the player. That’s an extreme example, but true enough.
After the code is implemented, and the art work is done, the testers take over. Their job is to find as many bugs in the new system as possible, and report any they find back to the coders. One new feature can run through this circle many many times before it’s ready to be given to the gaming masses, and even then it might not be perfect. It’s easy to say “fix the bugs before you release a game” but the number of different possible actions are magnified thousands of times once it reaches the public. If I have 10 full time game testers, they may be able to execute a few million actions in a month. Millions of gamers will execute billions upon billions of actions, and can uncover a lot more errors simply because of the number of them going through the game; and that’s not even mentioning the ones who deliberately try to break the game in the search for exploits.
As a person who’s interests lie in writing and graphic design, I love games of all kinds. I’ll take a simple game with interesting graphics and a great story over a super complex game with a bad story every time. Role Playing Games are among my favorite, and Resident Evil types are the ones I despise most, because they are great examples of what I am talking about. Resident Evil started off as an intricate hybrid of a shooter and a puzzle game, with elements of a “find the object” game. The story left a lot to be desired, and I found myself never going back to the series after the first one. Role Playing Games put almost all of their eggs into the story aspect of the game, so they draw you in and make you want to know what happens.
I’m often asked why I want to go to school for graphic design and photography; I usually end up being honest… “I want to work in movies finding shooting locations, or making video games. I know that even if I never get to do that people will always need someone to design their web pages, logos, fliers, and advertising materials.” Graphic design can help me get to a dream job, but it will also allow me to continue with a viable career even if that doesn’t happen, which is a win win. Photography can also help me get a dream job, but it can be done freelance, which will help boost my income no matter which direction I end up going in.
I went off in a few directions here, so thanks for putting up with my late-night ramblings. I guess that means everything above is useless, and the lesson here is that gamers have short attention spans. I have a short attention span, and I am a gamer. I just can’t figure out if I have a short attention span because I’m a gamer, or if I’m a gamer because of a short attention span.