False Dichotomy

Building off a post by Mighty Ponygirl, what do you call someone who buys a video game console solely for one game, purchases few if any other games, and essentially does nothing with the console except play that game and its sequels?

If the one game they purchased the console for is Wii Sports, then they're a Casual Gamer, quite possibly one of the dreaded Alpha Moms, the idiot consumers with no taste who are ruining our beloved hobby and whom the industry is selling out to.

If the one game they purchased the console for is Halo (or Halo 2, or Halo 3, or Madden Insert-Year-Here), then that gamer is a Hard Core Gamer, the heart-and-sole of the industry, exactly the kind of consumer that all developers ought to care about exclusively.

In many ways, the XBox and the Wii aren't so different. The Wii's killer app is Wii Sports, the Xbox's is Halo. Third party developers for the Wii have built a cottage industry around trying to get non-traditional gamers who like Wii Sports to try other, similar products involving mini-games and motion controls. Third party developers for the XBox, and later the 360, have built an industry around trying to sell new First Person Shooters to Halo fans who've gotten bored with Halo.

Back in undergrad I had a grad student instructor for a class on the history of American constitutional law. I mentioned to him at one point that I enjoyed playing video games. He replied that he didn't really play video games, that he'd always thought they were a waste of time, but that over the weekend some friends of his had shown him Halo and he thought it was incredible. He still thought most games were pointless, but he loved Halo and would play it any time.

I think that by any fair assesment, Halo is a game with a lot of casual appeal, and it is primarily played by casual gamers (compare sales numbers for Halo 3 on its first day of sale to the sales for hardcore games like Bioshock through their entire sales lives). Yet this flies in the face of the conventional wisdom in most gaming media these days. Most media, in talking about Halo, treat it as the ultimate Hard Core game. Why is that? And why is the success of the Wii treated with sneers, while Halo's success is applauded?

I think there are a few explanations. First, I think members of the gaming media just like Halo and first-person shooters more than they like the sort of games the Wii has to offer. Since the gaming press is comprised of hard-core gamers, it follows that the games they like must be for the hard-core.

Second, I think there's an element of professional deformity. Members of the gaming press are accustomed to a fairly rigidly defined set of genres that all games either belong to our combine elements of. When new games don't fit those categories it throws everything off, and the inclination is to treat the games with suspicion and those who play them as outsiders. Halo is an FPS. It doesn't rock the boat, so it's safe to enjoy it and welcome its players into the fold.

Finally, I agree with Ponygirl that there's a strong element of sexism here. I am really, really sick of the term Alpha Mom being thrown around with a sneer to indicate "people who have no business playing video games." More women are playing games on the Wii so, whether consciously or subconsciously, the gaming media has decided that this means that Wii games aren't real video games.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Zach published on September 29, 2007 7:00 PM.

Petty Tyranny was the previous entry in this blog.

Rumor Mill: Microsoft Decides That, If It Really Loves Bungie, It Will Set It Free. If It Doesn't Return, It Never Belonged to Microsoft in the First Place is the next entry in this blog.

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