As a video game retail employee, I meet all kinds of gamers who play games for a myriad of different reasons. When a customer asks for my opinion on what games to buy, I usually start off by explaining the core elements of what makes the product a game, i.e. how it plays, what genre it fits into and what kind of person might enjoy it. One of my biggest problems, however, is when a customer asks for my opinion on a game I’m very passionate about; I start gushing about the game’s cultural implications, how the game changed gaming for the better and how the game stands as a critique of modern day social problems. Most of my customers stare blankly back at me and roll their eyes, because it’s obvious that I like the particular game way more than they think they will. “Is it an action game?” they often ask. “Well, it sort of is, but that’s not what makes it great. The philosophical implications of survival in a post-apocalyptic future is what really makes the Last of Us amazing. The storytelling and atmosphere drive the game forward, not the fact that it is a third person survival shooter,” I respond.
It is in these moments that I realize just how different gamers can be. Just like any other entertainment medium, there are those that are only in it for the momentary distraction of a summer popcorn flick or a vapid romance novel, while there are others who devote themselves to a game and dig way too deep into the author’s thoughts. This is where gaming shines above literature and film, however, as user interaction allows gamers of all types to enjoy games for all different reasons. A teenage couple might not want to see Citizen Kane for a romantic date, but a Call of Duty enthusiast may still enjoy Bioshock Infinite for its most baseline qualities without ever having to think about the game’s story. Alternatively, someone who looks too far into games might be able to pick apart a seemingly simple game like God of War and find a silver lining beneath all of the mindless violence and exposed harpy breasts. Being able to create one’s own story to a certain extent allows gaming to rise above non-interactive entertainment in terms of inclusivity.
A game is quite literally what you make of it, which makes objective criticism almost meaningless. There are plenty of gamers who want a game to be fun, plain and simple, and base their purchase decisions solely on video game reviews and hearsay. While this is perfectly fine for the consumer, it is important for the development of the gaming medium for gamers to explore titles that interest them, regardless of what critics say. Some art games aren’t fun and some action first-person shooters are mindless to the point of being detrimental to the image of gaming as an art form, but for a game to fail in all regards to be entertaining to any type of person is very rare.
The problem herein is that a large portion of whether or not a game is enjoyable is up to the consumer; plenty of games get brushed under the rug as being bad by gamers who don’t know what they wanted in the first place. It is often the case that a gamer need only evaluate why they enjoy games to find that their favorite games are already within their possession. Triple-A game developers, especially those that develop exclusively for consoles, thrive on the idea that gamers should abandon their favorite games every couple of months to buy into the hype of the new. Video game journalists and retail outlets shepherd gamers who don’t know what they want out of a game from new title to new title, leaving everyone involved unsatisfied. Game developers cringe as their audiences slowly dwindle after a month of strong praise, while fans of the game get upset at the empty servers and unreasonably long matchmaking queues.
Instead of zerg-rushing every newly released title, people should be more critical of games before buying them. No, the new MMORPG on the market is not going to kill World of Warcraft and, no, you probably won’t like the newest multiplayer first person shooter as much as you liked Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. I’m not suggesting that new games are bad, but rather that a majority of gamers don’t know why they enjoy games and have subsequently warped the gaming industry to meet their needs. Instead of trying out new ideas and exploring new intellectual properties, triple-A gaming is almost exclusively focused on pumping out lack luster titles to cash in on gamers’ indecisiveness. Continued support for great games is often stopped abruptly after release because it is more financially viable to release a new title two years later than to continually update and explore an already established title.
Gamers, get your shit together. I’m tired of hearing people complain about how bad gaming is, while at the same time purchasing every half-baked, under developed, seasonal cash-grab that some triple-A developer produces. It is our duty to support good games and good game developers, regardless of why their games are enjoyable, so as to ensure that gaming continues to be a beautiful and engaging art form. If you like buying a $60 expansion pack every year under the guise of a new title, that’s fine, but don’t then go bashing it after a month once you’ve completed the multiplayer experience grind and all the singleplayer missions. If we don’t nip this kind of behavior in the bud, gamers will continue to be seen as a bunch of whiny children who need someone else to tell them what they like.