Video games are often designed with demographics in mind, because companies see that as the best way to make money. You research the market, analyze some trends or whatever, and suddenly come to the conclusion that most gamers want multiplayer in their games. You can try to make games centered around that multiplayer experience then, and hey, others in the market may join you if it proves true that the big money is in multiplayer gaming. But, as you count your money, you probably wouldn’t ever come to the conclusion that you were serving all gamers with your games. You probably wouldn’t think “true gamer are the ones who like multiplayer games,” because then you’d be falling prey to logical fallacy because, in truth, there is no unified vision of what a gamer is or should be. All a gamer is is someone who enjoys games. Enforcing rules, arbitrarily, about what constitutes a gamer would be gatekeeping, and one has to wonder if we sometimes have a problem with gatekeeping in our community.
On the whole, I’d have to say games have become more inclusive. A large part of this is due to accessibility, by which I mean a person’s ability to attain and play through video games. Mobile gaming has certainly been useful, because now a lot of people have access to small gaming-capable computers that have basically been deemed vital devices that functioning adults must have in order to properly live their busy lives. It’s nice that Nintendo has put offerings on these things. It’s great that the mobile market can help a phenomenon like Fortnite take off. It’s delightful that I can play Final Fantasy in a waiting room at the doctors. It’s rad as heck that people can play Pokemon GO while they are running around a park. These are all gamers to me, because they play games.
I think the urge to gatekeep comes from this fear that the hobby is somehow being taken over. I was a nerd growing up and, yes, I grouped people as “cool kids” and “other,” which I think was probably a mistake. I was bitter and took solace in this hobby. When I hit my senior year though, I realized that games bring people together in unexpected ways. We had something called a “senior room,” and we put a TV in it, an Xbox, a second Xbox, a second tv, a couple copies of Halo, and before long, started having LAN parties multiple times a day. Xbox Live wasn’t quite popular or common in our parts yet, but this was when I saw the “cool kids” take video games seriously. They could even be competitive and would accuse one another of “screen cheating,” which is what old people used to call it when you’d look at someone else’s screen in a shooter.
The gaming community, at large, has seen this happen as consoles became more popular and online play became the standard. I think it’s largely been embraced too, and now wearing a dorky shirt outside can lead to conversation with strangers that I wouldn’t have expected to talk to that day. I have a tattoo of Link from The Legend of Zelda on my forearm that also serves as an easy way for people to start a conversation. It’s lovely. I don’t, however, call them a fake gamer if they think it’s Luigi or call the character Zelda though, because I don’t think it’s their responsibility to know everything there is to know about a hobby. It often turns out that there are nerdy things they like that I don’t know everything about. Sharing this knowledge is nice. We should try to avoid alienating others, rather than keeping them at a distance.
Developers must see it happening, too, because a lot of their games feature modes that are easier for newcomers to understand. It’s impressive when these new styles of play manage to make the game more fun, too. A hardcore gamer might complain about the dumbing down of fighting games, but autochains and simple inputs have allowed a larger group of players to access the parts of the game that really matter. The true gameplay in a fighting game, after all, lies in reading and countering your opponents playstyle, right? Not complicated button presses. We’ve seen the fighting game genre, in fact, explode as of late. Within that community, we can see a wide array of people. This is true of streamers as well who have found a lot of fans, even as they sort through toxicity.
There are setbacks or times when things look grim, I think. Lately, people have been discussing whether or not people who need easy modes in games or cheat to beat games are deserving of insults. There’s a common “git gud” mentality that seems to overpower a “have fun” mentality. I can’t say I get it, exactly. Parts of the community like to not just police what games are played, but how they are played. I’m not saying a developer has to acquiesce and give gamers an “easy mode” to difficult games. but well, if a gamer finds an easy way through, then that’s their business and I hope they enjoyed the many facets that make a game fun beyond just its difficulty.
I don’t think the community is a vile or toxic thing. I think it’s got loud, quick-to-act, portions of it that are prone to emotional outbursts when they fear the status quo is being threatened. But change is good and I hope more gamers, with more tastes, come into the fold so that the industry will continue to grow in novel ways. And I hope we can all be kind about it.