Fuck Hardcore gamers.
This is the line I used to begin a thread in the pub last week. I actually think that it must have set a record for shortest time to deletion. I got banned for a day over this post, and rightfully so. But I did mean every word. I've had some time to mull over my post and revise it considerably. Not only have I made the message less personal and more anonymous. I've come to realize that the situation isn't quite as pessimistic as I believed at the time of writing. None of this, however, changes the fact that the direction, and public perception, of gaming culture is driven by the so-called “hardcore elite” crowd.
We all know the gamer stereotype. Pale. Fat. Unemployed. Supremely unfamiliar with either the touch of a woman or the scent of soap... Spending all day, everyday camped in front of an overpriced electronic toy, or PC game, that's designed specifically to amuse preteen and teenage boys. The reason this image infuriates us as gamers is because it doesn't even describe most of us, let alone all of us. Unfortunately, it does describe a small, vocal and very visible number of us.
So how small of a minority are the hardcore gamers? To begin with, you have to track the number of gamers that there are. In the United States, it's estimated that about 65% of all households own a console or a PC that they use for gaming. According to an NPD survey, only about 65% of those gamers play games online. That translates to about 120,900,000 people. Of that number, 50,778,000 are women. Even more shocking, 85,800,000 online players predominately play puzzle, card and arcade games (think Pac Man). 48,750,000 online gamers only play “family-oriented games and only about 79,950,000 consider themselves avid PC gamers. There's some overlap in those numbers, but consider that there are probably only about five million people playing MMORPGs and another couple million playing Halo or Counter-Strike in the U.S., then throw in the fact that almost half of all gamers in the United States are offline, playing Madden or Guitar Hero, and you begin to understand just how small the “hardcore” gamer population really is.
What's really sick is that the hard core are actually proud of this minority status. Hardcore gamers seem to be under the delusion that being able to get 2000 lines in Tetris, 50 to 1 kill ratios in Counter-Strike, Tier 100 epic gear in World of Everclone, etc., somehow entitles them to a MENSA club membership. That somehow the interactivity of video gaming makes it a more intelligent medium than Books, movies and music which all have THOUSANDS of years of refinement and actual artistic depth. Yep, the hardcore play games and that makes them smarter than all the Literary English and Fine Arts Ph.Ds on earth. As fuckin' if. Just because you set up velvet ropes around yourself doesn't mean that you're special. Unfortunately, those velvet ropes attract the kind of shallow, status seeking fucknuts that ruin everybody else's fun.
The arrogance factor of the “hardcore” actually has two parts. The first being with games themselves. To a greater or lesser extent, we all play games to feel a sense of accomplishment. This has been true for centuries. It's the whole reason why sports are such a huge part of high school. Games give us a sense that we're competent and allow us to demonstrate that competence to others. Games also give us a very clear and concise way to compare ourselves to others. Most of the hardcore will go on for hours about how stupid it is for some “dumb jock” to use basketball as a measure of self worth and then turn around and brag about their stats and achievements in whatever game they happen to be obsessing over this week. And maybe this offers a key as to why there's so much hate directed at specific games. If you aren't playing the same game I am, I can't determine how you measure up to me! This is why those “dumb jocks” were so condescending to anyone that wasn't on the football team. If you didn't play football, you didn't rank. Not surprisingly, the chess club did the same shit.
The second element of hardcore arrogance is what I like to call nerd angst. It goes kinda like this: In order to cope with social rejection in the face of extreme social anxiety, the nerd constructs a delusion that everyone else is just jealous of his/her intellectual gifts and obvious superiority. To this end, they seek out other nerds and do things that are deemed “smart,” usually involving massive amounts of basic arithmetic, reading or both. Secure within this small support group, they and their new friends gleefully spiral downward in a cycle of ever expanding alienating behavior in the face of social alienation. Tragically, most never grow out of this. The worst case scenarios end up as the snarky, hateful forum warriors and asshat chat spammers that define the public opinion of gaming culture.
And that's a bad thing because not only have the hardcore taken something that many people enjoy and turned it into a colossal pissing contest, but they also push potential gamers away from the hobby. This is compounded by the fact that the demands of the hardcore have fueled trends that have lead to massively inbred game design and further distanced this hobby, not only from the mainstream, but from what made gaming fun in the first place.
You do remember fun right? It's that sensation that made you want to continue playing a game even when it was impossible or unending. It was what separated playing games from working on an assembly line. It's the reason that normal people play games. But not hardcore gamers.
As an example, let's look at the length of games. Hardcore gamers demand games that go on for AT LEAST 60 hours. Of course, even if the game does have over 80 hours of content, the hardcore “elite” still bitch that the game was too short because they burned through it in less than two weeks.
Fun Fact: Most people Don't even watch 60 hours of a single TV series. Most TV shows are broken up into manageable chunks of 30 minutes to an hour. Hell, one season of a prime time drama may only go on for about 10 to 15 episodes which translates to about seven and a half hours max. Aside from The Simpsons, name one TV series that went over five seasons. In short, the hardcore are demanding that everyone spends more time, in one week or two weeks no less, on one game than they do on a single TV show over the course of said show's entire running length. And if someone is unwilling to commit that kind of time, then hardcore gamers label those people as retards with ADHD. And since Hardcore gamers are the most vocal, developers cave to their demands and make monstrously long games that they know the majority of gamers won't bother to complete. It doesn't end there, and a quick glance at the schizophrenic demands of the hardcore will give you some truly fascinating insight into why core gaming is in such a sorry state.
Anything about a game that's too different the hardcore labels as "lame, gimmicky, bullshit." Any attempt to make a game more accessible to people not already entrenched in any given genre they rag on the game for being "dumbed down." Any attempt to streamline an interface or control scheme for smoother play gets accused of "lacking depth." Any game that hits all the conventions of a genre is poo pooed as a "clone." it really doesn't matter what a game does because the hardcore will fabricate some asinine reason why this or that game isn't filling the undefinable void in their life. I wonder if they've ever considered that problem might not be with the game?
I can only think of one other entertainment medium that produces contend based on the demands of a vocal minority: comic books. Despite the best efforts of people like Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore and Art Spiegelman, comic books still occupy a slimy, superhero fanboy ghetto. If the medium had spent time aiming for a more mainstream audience and developing the medium as an art, rather than catering to a few loudmouth man-children for the better part of fifty years, you'd probably be able to buy quality comic books in regular bookstores. As it is, you have to don a trench coat and hat, turn your collar up and hope that no one recognizes you in front of the rather ratty looking shop the specializes in comic books. If the gaming industry continues to follow the demands of hardcore gamers, this same situation could happen to us.
But there is good news. There's been a recent explosion in casual games. What's more, Wii Sports actually moved more consoles than Halo 3 or Metal Gear solid 4. We're also seeing a lot more artistic games such as Everyday Shooter and fl0w. The industry is finally figuring out that there is more money to be made by catering to the general public than a handful of socially awkward, arrogant, misogynistic, shut ins with borderline asperger syndrome. And it's about damn time!