Gaming has changed in many ways since I was a kid, but most of those changes have involved an increasing number of people yelling at each other. High review scores for genuinely good games such as Call of Duty can kick up more controversy than a war itself, and a lot of this is due to a schism that has developed over the years between the mainstream gaming crowd and those who consider themselves hardcore, old school, straight up pimped out HC, or in our case: Original Gamers.
Back in the day, I got dumped on repeatedly for liking video games. In the city it wasn't so bad, but when my family and I moved to a small town in the middle of northern British Columbia, just about nobody played videogames, and those who did were hardcore PC gamers who also played Dungeons and Dragons frequently. There was no middle ground, and that particular group was ostracized by nearly everyone else. As someone who had a collection of dozens of games and nearly every console, it was a very strange experience to have to go to a house where a long haired teen and his younger brother sold Magic: The Gathering cards, comic books, and other material out of their basement to the few geeks who populated the town. Finding video games was truly an exercise in futility, as only one shop sold them and they were all computer games.
I lived in that place for years, and it wasn't until I moved back to a big city (and Pokemon hit) that gaming once again became “cool” to anyone I knew. Even then, it was still lauded by the jocks and the preps, but as I grew up I could definitely see the gap beginning to close. Eventually my demographic became more vocal and prideful, and it was easier to find people who enjoyed video games. And then one day I realized that games were somehow starting to become loved by nearly everyone I met.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly when video games became completely mainstream, but as soon as that became a reality, so did the backlash from the hardcore geeks everywhere. What once was an almost taboo past time was exploding like it had during the golden age of gaming, and this time it wasn't just a passing fad. When games like Halo and Modern Warfare 2 began to setting incredible sales records, it was very evident that games were here to stay, but a lot of gamers were not happy with that situation.
Frequently, you hear about gamers are trying to preserve the "sanctity of games," with hateful rants about how games like Call of Duty are ruining video games, and about how award shows like the VGAs are perpetuating gamer stereotypes and doing everything they can to appeal to the lowest common denominator by having high profile movie stars and pre-teen rock bands promoting games. With categories like “Best Independent Game Fueled By (Mountain) Dew” it's easy to see where the rage comes from. Some might say, and these hardcore gamers definitely would, that the anger is justified. The real problem is that very few people have been able to articulate the reasons behind the rage and say why these sorts of apparent missteps are so offensive to the people who have loved games since the early nineties and before.
There have been moments where these so-called “real gamers” have had opportunities to step up to the plate and challenge these new conventions, but most of them have ended with a whimper. The moment where comedic game reviewer Angry Joe attempts to corner Geoff Keighley about the nonsense happening at the VGAs and fumbles in nearly every way possible is a fantastic example of who should NOT be a spokesperson for hardcore gamers. There are plenty of edge-walking journalists who are doing a good job of keeping artistic value and perspective in mind when talking about and reviewing video games without letting their emotions get in the way. These are folks such as Yahtzee from Zero Punctuation, Jim Sterling from Destructoid, and even our own Original Gamer, Oscar Gonzalez. Does anything else really need to be done at all? Do hardcore gamers need a martyr that is willing to crush the mainstream opposition?
As someone who has been ridiculed and is now completely accepted for my lifetime hobby of playing video games, I can honestly say I have no problem with “mainstream” or so-called “fake” gamers. I know the stereotype of a beer swilling jock playing Call of Duty with his equally vapid buddies is in full force. I know that the likes of Angry Birds has managed to rake in millions despite being a fairly simple, phone-based affair. I know that the VGAs frequently miss out on hundreds of fantastic titles, despite the vocal horde that constantly attacks and ridicules them year after year.
I view the controversies, the missteps, and the focus on a more mainstream demographic as positive things. Video games have become highly profitable ventures, and the industry itself employs an enormous amount of people on a scale we have never seen before. We now have two big conglomerates, EA and Activision. According to many gamers everywhere, these are evil companies who are eating up a significant portion of the market with yearly titles and franchises that don't seem to do much to advance the medium. However, their popularity is also allowing small developers to get a piece of the pie in an expanding world where they might have been completely ignored before. People love to dump on companies like Microsoft for putting their big foot into the market, but services like Xbox Live Arcade have not only allowed new and fantastic downloadable games and services to be available, but have also allowed classic games to again see the light of day. These are games that would never have been re-released in a solely brick and mortar world.
This is not a cry for the mainstream demographic to be put up against the wall, nor it is a cry for the angry geeks out there to put a sock in it. Truthfully, I'd like to see the tension heighten, the tempers flare, and the controversies continue. The attention they all bring will only expand this wonderful, ever changing industr and the end result will hopefully be a steady and continued flow of fantastic games that can never again be threatened by oversaturation or a market bust.
Keep hatin', haters. Keep ripping each other a new one in forums, comment boxes, and YouTube channels everywhere. Just don't forget to keep playing games while you're at it, and don't forget to have your Gamer Grub, Mountain Dew, and Fata1ity tees ready for the VGA's!
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Haters: Keep Hatin'