To me, the least enjoyable topic involving any piece of media is analyzing the medium’s distribution practices. I could not care less about the gaming industry. The topics that dominate most articles about gaming and the multitudes of discussion boards dedicated to simply video games are almost always never about the art itself and almost always about the industry. Console wars, audience demographics, sales are always used in giant arguments which serve nothing except grand masturbatory exercises emphasizing empty virtues such as “hardcore,” “casual,” or even the ever ubiquitous “non-gamer.” It leads to fervent discussions where illogical statements, unproven biases, and even outright childish hatred run rampant. More or less, serious discussions of games are destroyed as long as there is focus on the industry.
Many critics comment on the state of the industry, wishing to point which agent is responsible for the degradation of video games. throw out many suspects. It is the giant companies at fault, they say! The multi-million dollar companies play it safe by throwing out rehashes of the same game, with no thought to other than profit! Its the consumers, they say! Consumers wish to only have non-challenging games, because anything harder than a simple push button would turn off the game, leading to a demand for such dribble! It is Nintendo! Microsoft! Sony! It does not matter who is the witch in discussion circles, all that matters is that there IS a witch to burn!
The circle of show witch trials is exactly that: a show staged in order to create demand for a console, not the games. This is how the companies create interest, press, marketing, and advertising for free: Create discussion where consensus cannot be reached, perpetuate a never ending marketing machine that ensures only one of the console makers will be on the top of sales. The ceaseless bickering that goes on in game journalist articles, game journalist reviews, and the multitudes of discussion boards ultimately translate into nothing else except profits for a company.
However, there are some issues within the industry which will not go away at any time as long as consumers continue to accept these problems as the standards of video games in general:
1. The “Hardcore” and “Casual” divide is nonexistent.
This divide is an issue that only recently has risen after Nintendo’s Wii stormed the console market. The ethos of this debate is based in the belief that there is a gaming culture, and the companies are more or less selling out to create a larger market share and higher profits, creating games for the casual market and leaving behind the core gaming culture. Setting aside the concept of a gaming culture, these terms are as vapid and meaningless as the charges the come alongside these epithets. The dichotomy between these two labels can be applied to any game, any console, any company. Critics charge Nintendo and its console with pandering to the “casual” gamer, leaving nothing for the “hardcore” gamer. Critics charge Microsoft with simplifying PC gaming, marking it as the “casual” gamer’s PC, with computer gaming being the real “hardcore” system. Critics even deride the perceived lack of difficulty in recent games, arguing that this entire generation of video games is “casual,” with the previous generations being the “hardcore” generations.
I am lead to believe that the flexibility of such labels are inherently meaningless, and the charges themselves are nothing more than buzzwords made to mobilize zealots in order to sway people toward one system of the other. Thus, I can only accept that “hardcore” and “casual” are at their basis marketing words. When applied to a game, these insults allow anyone to deride any game, without giving real critical analysis to the game. If the divide between “hardcore” and “casual” cannot be defined and is used haphazardly, then at the base the divide this rift refers to must not exist. In order for discussion on the topic of games to move forward, this imaginary divide must be abolished. We cannot truly comment on the artistry of video games if we are consumed with divisive, destructive, and most despicable of all, completely vapid arguments of supremacy.
2. The Game Industry is inherently profit minded.
Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft are inherently based on profits. They follow marketing strategies and struggle to keep the the industry buzzed with short sighted discussions in order to make free advertising. The fact that all three companies during their E3 2009 conferences addressed issues such as “core gamers” and the “casual crowd” only serves to confirm this observation. Both Sony and Microsoft are multimedia giants. Sony has holdings in not only creation and distribution of films and music, they also have holdings in distribution and creation of games. Microsoft has a holding in the distribution and creation of PC games, and is now extending this hand over to the game console market, which was previously dominated by the game oriented Nintendo and Sega, with the X-Box 360 has become nothing more than a glorified money box with its pay to play internet and unprecedented allowance of corporate advertising. Even Nintendo is consumed with controlling the distribution and creation of games, and even more so with gaining a wider share of the audience. The whole strategy behind the Nintendo Wii was to gain a larger market audience that was seemingly cornered by Sony and Microsoft in the early 2000s. The industry is ruled not by gamers, but by a small few concerned with profit. In the industry, it is the console that must be sold, as games need no buzz to be bought.
3. As long as these are perceived as the standard of the video game industry, the video game medium will never evolve beyond trend buzzwords and shortsighted decisions.
The last major jump in the change of mechanics was the generation exchange between the 2D generation to the 3D generation of video games, the generation of the Nintendo 64 and the Playstation 1. This generation had a problem to assess: what new games can be created with the new technology bestowed onto them? How will video games change as a medium? While the bridge between 16 and 32 bit consoles only meant a better defined video game experience, this jump from 32 to 64 bits created new technology to explore. while PC developers had been struggling with this shift longer than any of the console companies had been, this was the first shift with the traditional gamepad used from the 3rd generation. By the end of the 5th generation, and with the shift into the next generation of greater defined presentation, the 3D game had already been explored to the brim in countless PC games ports to the consoles in order to bring a larger audience to already well held genres in PC. Game companies such as Nintendo set new bounds for 3D platforming, a genre which prior to had been a laughable foray into grand excessive graphics without well thoughtful mechanics.
This shift in innovation in the present has only happened on one console: The Nintendo Wii. While Microsoft and Sony try to emulate and artificially create PC-like machines, Nintendo created a console that sought to redefine how gamers controlled their games, not how games looked or sounded. However, the Wii is not being fully utilized as a innovative exploratory system unlike the PS1 and N64 were. As long as the industry institutionalizes its consumers with empty words that create false dichotomies, instead of creating content to be consumed, the industry will become a vapid institution, and the consumers will lose the most in the end, all to the fault of a few executive people who were simply maximizing profits.
In order to break free of this, we must reject the industry’s demand that this is the standard of our medium. We must reject the petty marketing strategies and award truly great experiences when it is due. We must remove ourselves from the destructive practices in what is a very nuanced creative medium, lest the medium dies in a flurry of noise and marketing.