Sunday, March 20, 2011

FEATURE - Damnit, I'm an elitist gamer.

It was a dude in my office, who got me thinking of this. He's got an absolutely awesome name, but for the sake of anonymity, let's call him Mîkhā'ēl.

I know gaming is a multi-billion dollar business and we have this perception that we're part of an absolutely massive culture - but truth be told, we're part of The Gamer Community - and The Gamer Community are not the people who bought untold millions of copies of Black Ops. There's a huge divide between us and popular culture. We are the vocal minority, and there's not really enough of us to make a compelling vote with our wallets - which is why the development of Mirror's Edge 2 remains in doubt, while Just Dance 2 continues to enjoy strong sales.

We - you and I - are informed. We read the previews and watch the trailers, and we both know that Treyarch isn't an architectural term.

The masses - the people who bought Angry Birds ten million times - have no idea what a Treyarch is. And they love their games. All of them.

* * *

A few folks in my office are aware of my pastime - they know how much I know about games, and they'll come to me for advice on potential purchases for themselves or family members. They know I'll be able to tell them more than they probably want to know about the game they saw in the shop and were curious about.

Mîkhā'ēl loves his games - and he doesn't play many of them. One or two a year. Last September, he came to me and proudly announced that Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions was an absolute blast.

I couldn't help it. I raised an eyebrow and said, "seriously?"

Shattered Dimensions isn't known to be a bad game. Like, say, The Saboteur or Enslaved, it seemed like a perfectly enjoyable title that would resonate with folks who allowed themselves to become invested in it - but still - hardly a game to be proud of. It's not a Red Dead Redemption or Bayonetta or BioShock.

I couldn't help it. He could sense my disapproval. I didn't mean to disapprove - and I asked him about it, and listened while he told me everything I already knew about the game from previews and reviews. Mîkhā'ēl legitimately loved this medium-good game.

* * *

Last week, he came into an office where I was working alone and told me he had been playing an awesome game lately. "Have you heard of... Rogue... Rogue..."

"Rogue Squadron?" I asked.

"I think so, yeah."

"The Star Wars space fighter game for the N64?"

"No, it's like a third-person shooter, and it's got Mickey Rourke-"

"Rogue Warrior."


"Yeah, it's supposed to suck."

Again. I didn't mean to - it was just my kneejerk reaction - emphasis on jerk. He told me a bit about it - not as much, this time - and reminded me that he wasn't a connoisseur, and "how many games have you played? Like, hundreds, right?"

I thought about for a half a - "yes."

We compared it to wine tasting. After you've sampled a few hundred bottles of wine, you probably begin to taste the stuff differently than others - able to discern notes and echoes the casual drinker cannot observe.

He asked me what games I would recommend, and, embarrassed, I limply rattled off three or four titles, with Uncharted 2 at the head of the pack. Stock answers. The answers that instantly come to the tip of any dedicated gamer's tongue.

That was when I realized I'm a bit of a subconscious gamer elitist - and I don't like it

If you don't like Okami, you suck!

It's pounded into us, as gamers. It's part of the culture. My video game system is better than your video game system because this video game is better than that video game. It's a constant dialogue - a constant undercurrent to forum discussions, flaring to the forefront in comment sections on major gaming sites. My Game Is Better Than Your Game - our eternal companion.

Or perhaps that's got nothing to do with it. Perhaps it is just that I've played several hundred video games, and I can taste which disc is too acidic, which one was aged in cherry wood, and which had its grapes picked just after the first frost of the year.

Chances are, so can you, dear reader.

And what's wrong with that? It's great to be passionate about something. I know a girl who loves to knit, a gigantic yeti of a man who is an encyclopedia of comic book lore, and one of my managers is learning the ancient art of falconry. It's important, even vital to pour our love into areas of our choosing - to take childlike glee in something - anything. To become so invested, to become an aficionado of that which gives us joy is not a waste.

Find something - something you love - and devour it until nothing is left but to crack the bones and suck the marrow.

I find nothing evil in that. So what's the problem?

First off, I don't like that my unconscious, instantaneous reaction to the objects of Mîkhā'ēl's affection is negative. Telling someone - even though body language - that something they love isn't worthy of their pride is tantamount to telling someone that the sky they can clearly see isn't blue. Worse, it's a condemnation of their joy - which is a downright hateful thing to do.

Second, it bothers me than I am unable to enjoy games on the same carefree level as him.

I can't help it. I'm constantly weighing and measuring the graphics, the voice work, the game's design, its mechanics - and whether or not it manages to do anything different from the last ten games I played in its genre.

If anyone is truly a victim of the virtual trough we gorge at - of our insatiable appetite for gaming - it is us. McDonald's is no longer the treat it was, when we were six. We can't abide mass-produced sustenance of questionable origin - we demand artistry. We want something prepared by a celebrity chef, worthy of our infinitely refined palettes.

We are Anton Ego. We don't like food, we love it.

If we don't love it, we don't swallow.

Makes me wonder how many delicious meals I've missed out on, after turning up my nose. The simple pleasures I have ignored because I deemed them too simple, or worse - there may be countless good games I cannot truly thrill to, because I have thrilled too much already.

I shall endeavor to be more open-minded, I think - and at the very least, I'll be more supportive of whichever title Mîkhā'ēl brings to my attention next.


  1. A very well written piece, Great job. Interesting to the very end and very true.
    Fantastic piece that every casual and non gamer should read.

  2. The danger with looking at any medium with a critical and educated eye is that it becomes very, very difficult to stop. Years of experience with hundreds of games cannot simply be turned off, even when you desperately want to enjoy a brain dead evening of ultra-violence and foul language.

    There is a trick that I have found, being something of an addict who plays just about anything: change what you are looking for. Almost every game has a single moment that manages to shine in spite of the awfulness that surrounds it; you just have to find it.

    Case in point: I actually played Darkest of Days from beginning to end. It was awful, BUT, there was a very compelling section that puts you in a concentration camp. For five minutes it was a different game, a damn fine level, and then things started happening and it was terrible again. Was playing through it worth that five minutes? Probably not, but those five minutes are what I remember about it: not level after level of bland shooting in washed out environments, but a tiny section that belonged in a game of much higher quality.

    Someone worked really hard on that before getting fired because the game didn't make any money, at least one person saw it.

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  4. This post resonates with me. I'll do the same thing as you do, unconsciously disparage what I see as inferior games that people are playing. I always feel bad when I do, but it's pretty much a reflex at this point.

    If you can work on turning off the reflex you'll wind up being a lot happier. Not only will you not feel like a dick for telling someone that, say, Homefront kinda sucks, but maybe you'll be able to let down your critical gaze for an hour or so and enjoy something you wouldn't have otherwise.

    You're right though, it's great to be passionate about something. Some people have sports or cars (or sports cars) but we have games. And I'll admit it's kinda nice to be known as the authority on something.

  5. Agreed. I love being a resource for other people, when it comes to gaming.

  6. I find myself in this position very often. Word gets around that I'm the go to guy for gaming at school. People usually ask me for game recommendations or approvals but if it isn't a must-play, grade-A title then all I usually have to say for a game is "I've read that it isn't very good."

  7. "but if isn't a must play" should read "but if it isn't a must play for me"

    No game sells zero copies. Someone plays (and enjoys) everything.

  8. When I use the term "must-play" I meant on the scale of popular consensus. Not just for me. Sorry, I should have clarified.