This video encapsulates so much of what us “gamers” are trying to fight against. For a report that is supposed to be showing us the flip-side of our perceptions of gaming she still manages to start the report with: “If your parents ever told you that computer games would rot your brains” and ending with: “A career goal that might make parents around the world cringe but one that, ironically, makes his fellow Koreans very proud”. Both indicative of the prejudism against this sort of past-time and telling people what they want to hear or what they think they already know – showing the “the news” should really be renamed to “the olds”.
Another example of the mire of misinformation that we are fighting against are articles such as the one that shows that “Science” proves that 7-10 year olds and college students don’t concentrate in class. Consider that no recitation of the original material is given for us to verify the validity and that the article manages to lever-in a mention of cancer in the same breath and what does “linked to” actually mean? How many times is the word “could” used in this…ooo look, a pretty flower. Wait, was I talking about? Ah yes, how gaming reduces concentration.
To further our goals in removing the stigma of gaming we are coming to the point where a distinction in gaming needs to be made. Would a football player say: “I play games” or “I’m a football player”? Would a Chess Grandmaster say “I’m a gamer” or “I’m a Chess player”? Yet it’s still not a good idea to admit you’re a gamer.
Gaming was originally used for entertaining competition. The Olympic Games, gladiatorial contests, football games, chess games, card games, etc. With a very few exceptions, these were all competitive in nature, either against opponents or against yourself. Even a lot of the first computer “games” were designed with competition in mind (tic-tac-toe and pong spring to mind). But since then, we were limited to having all interactions happening on a single screen and PC gamers were limited to a single controller (the keyboard). This led to home computer (I’m excluding arcades here) games predominantly being single player experiences. Until the internet arrived and competitive online gaming started to become major aspects of a lot more games. However, we haven’t revisited the term of computer “game” now that we have this split between single player and multiplayer. With the danger of sounding elitist towards my own style of gaming, here’s how I would distinguish them (n.b. most electronic media will fit into one or many of these categories):
- Interactive story (the likes of Fable, Mass Effect, Half-life, any other FPS single player):
The interactive stories are the next generation on from film. The story evolves around the player and more often than not is directed by the game designers. On-rails gameplay triggering story events and encounters with very little risk-factor. The risk-factor is important here as there is very little to lose by failing except a small amount of time to go back to the last save/check point. There is no real way to fail the game unless the player decides to stop playing. We are hearing a lot from game designers these days such as the creators of Mass Effect saying they wanted it to be as entertaining playing it as it would be for somebody who watches it being played.
- Computer puzzle (e.g. Portal, Braid, ‘Splosion Man, Apple Jack, Lemmings, any RTS single player)
The computer puzzle is the electronic version of any physical puzzle with all it’s aspects. The key being that the fun comes from finding the solutions to the given puzzles. But once the challenge of solving it is done with, there’s not much to be gained by doing it again as the solutions are already known. Of course people will in the same way that people will continously resolve the Rubiks cube despite knowing the solution. The computer equivalents are Portal, Braid, ‘Splosion Man, etc. You could argue that most single player experiences fall under this category as once the “trick” of beating the A.I. is found, the game is solved.
- Computer Toy (e.g. Mahjong, Solitaire, Spore, Sims, Lego games)
The computer toys are the ones where the game itself is to explore the mechanics given by the designer in exactly the same way as a real toy is used. The fun is twisting and pulling against the mechanics to see what the outcomes are. These mechanics could be as simple as playing with plasticine (Spore Creator) to a game like the Sims (doll playing and roleplay) which has a very large breadth of experience to play around with for the avatars. The Lego game franchises are in this catergory (as well as the puzzle category) as well due to their design philosophy of getting parents and children to play together (as in real-life games) where a lot of the interaction is not for the need to progress, but just to see what it does and how it works.
- Computer Games (e.g. Street Fighter and other fighting games, real-time strategies (RTS) and first-person-shooters (FPS) Multiplayer, Left 4 Dead, Magic the Gathering, Age of Booty)
The computer game would be the ones that test skill and have risk to one degree or another. These must be the equivalent of real-life games such as chess, football, bear wrestling. The test of skill could be mental in the case of devising strategies, multitasking, opponent mind-games, reading the field, decision making and team work. Or the skill could be physical in the case of dexterity, speed, accuracy, consistency and execution. There needs to be some risk in not doing these well (of course games would target 1 or all of these traits), which would result in losing. The type of loss is not so important as long as there is a tangible feeling of it. Without exception this category of computer media would be multiplayer by necessity as anything involving an A.I. becomes a matter of puzzle solving (at least until A.I. unpredictability and creativity can match that of humans).
The multiplayer doesn’t necessarily have to be in versus-type games as cooperative multiplayer can hold many of these aspects of a true “game”. Friendly competition with your team mates while also cooperating to achieve the same goals with the skill of reacting to your own teams strengths and weaknesses give the aspect of the true “game” in computer games.
- MMORPG (e.g. Eve Online, World of Warcraft, etc).
MMORPGs are a special breed as they are essentially sand-boxes cynically designed solely to draw you in through your biological addiction to get at your wallet. Putting my own personal bias to one side for a moment, these games get their own category as the interactions inside the massively multiplayer world are so varied as to almost be impossible to categorise without just saying they fit into all of the above electronic media categories; If you are a PvPer (Player vs Player) then you are likely playing it as a “true” game, whereas somebody who enjoys levelling up is playing it as an electronic toy. A quester is interested in the interactive story telling…I could go on and on and on and on and on and on (which is exactly what the companies such as Blizzard and CCP want us to do!)
It is our responsibility as gamers to not bow-down to the social stigma attached to our hobby (or livelihood if you are lucky enough to be a progamer).