November 28, 2004

We Have Met The Enemy...And He Is "L33T"

I don't think it's any surprise to anyone that I consider video games to be art. Admittedly, it's art created by several dozen people over a span of several months, but then again, so is modern cinema. So while you may not agree with the statement being made by video games and you may question their artistic value, the fact that they are an artistic statement should not be under debate. However, I have an honest belief that video games are going to be split into two seperate camps: the barely profitable games made for the hard core gamer, and the highly profitable cookie-cutter games made for Everyman...and we only have ourselves to blame.

Right now, most of the titles in this industry are supported by the hard core gaming crowd. These guys are the equivalent of the film snobs who endlessly debate Hitchcock's camera angles and have no end of fun deriding the latest Bruckheimer flick. The hard core gamer demands every feature ever seen in the genre, a difficulty level that even Job would look at and cough, and a game that requires a commitment on the level of military service.

On the flipside, we've got the Everyman gamer. These guys are the people who go watch Bruckheimer flicks on day one and enjoy it, and think that "Hitchcock" means that they need to adjust their underwear. They want a game that can be picked up in minutes, can be played in brief intervals, and can be beaten without mastering a 17-step combo with split second timing.

Thanks to "The Sims," the industry has attracted many more Everyman gamers, and has shown the industry the profit potential contained therein. Very few companies have been able to cross over to both classifications. Blizzard has always succeeded in this area, with "Diablo" and "Diablo II" their biggest hits along those lines so far. Sony's "Everquest," Blizzard's "World of Warcraft," Turbine's "Asheron's Call," etc., have brought out the hard core gamer and the Everyman in a common world: the hard core gamer power levels, the Everyman chats a lot and loves learning how to craft and entertain.

I browse a lot of message boards, and I attempt to be friendly whenever possible. However, the scene I see most often is that of an Everyman gamer who is looking at a more hard core game asking for help, and the hard core gaming community essentially shuts them out with cries of "n00b." That gamer, forever branded with a scarlet "N" on their chest, is left with a bad impression of not only the hard core gaming community, but with a bad impression of the game itself.

While there are many hard core gamers (myself included), we are allowing the more vocal of our members to loudly berate and shut out the very community that we are going to need in order to keep hard core gaming profitable. Already, PC game developers are abandoning the platform in droves and heading for consoles, where "patch" is a four-letter word and "learn in 5 minutes" is the mantra.

"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly first used that statement on an Earth Day poster in 1970, but it is true nearly everywhere. Like it or not, if we don't start keeping our less desirable members in check, they'll "l33t sp34k" our games into niches that they'll never escape from.

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