It’s high time I discussed the phenomenon that is sweeping the video game realm. I’ve avoided it so far – mostly because I want to pretend like it’s not there – but I can’t help but see it creeping into my daily life. What started out as mere curiosity has become a huge part of my gaming life, and I can’t imagine it subsiding anytime soon. My will may be strong, but as more people are embracing this paradigm shift I find it hard to avoid. The phenomenon I’m referring to is “Pop-Gaming”.
At first glance, you might decide to bash the Pop-Gaming market, and complain about how Farmville has given many people a false idea of gaming; or how Prince of Persia should have never been a movie. A closer look will reveal that this is what we’ve been demanding all along, but we never expected it to come to this.
As many people spent the 90s sitting at home, playing hardcore games alone in their basements, they experienced the judging glares and condescending comments of pretentious detractors. These gamers quickly began to demand respect and understanding of their hobby while politicians accused their beloved Mortal Kombat, and other “violent” video games as the core reason for high school shootings and the like. As time has progressed, people have slowly dropped the misconceptions and are taking an interest in our hobby. What started out as a misunderstanding and a “waste of time”, has shifted to curiosity and respect for this thing we call video gaming.
When I think about this shift, thoughts drift into visions of game-related novels, movie adaptations, Farmville junkies, and masochistic little birds with a hankering for pork. These images are enough to make a JRPG fan go nuts and begin slandering these wannabes. My initial reaction was very similar, but as I see these mediums begin to permeate the world outside of hot, sweaty dungeon-crawling warlords, I started to realize that hardcore gamers have very little reason to complain.
Take World of Warcraft, it contains what appears to be a niche market; but how niche can 12 million players be? You may have started out on the ground floor of this MMO movement, but you’ve opened the gates and happily welcomed your friends. You showed them around, got them a glass of wine, and displayed grade A hospitality; but by the time you turned around, the entire room was filled with people. Now you are upset all because you forgot to close the door.
There has been a large movement into the realm of MMOs recently. Leaders of free-to-play games such as Nexon, have paved the road and found ways to convince normal people to pour hundreds of hours and dollars into an endless grind. That market is getting bigger, and as more companies jump on board we will see more people losing their time to the micro-transaction model.
How about first person shooters? How many of you spent countless hours in front of a computer screen with Unreal Tournament, fragging your friends and scoffing at those who just couldn’t understand why you thought that could be fun. Now the tables have turned. You complain because some of the same people who laughed at you then, have all but sold their soul to Call of Duty. It’s a fight that you’ve fought for so many years, but you never thought it would come to this.
We were the ones who wrote blog and forum posts demanding respect from unreasonable parents and conservative politicians, who said that shooting and fighting games were the leading cause of juvenile violence. We fought, and continue to fight, in fear of losing our precious games, and the battle is slowly being won. We proudly wore our Legend of Zelda t-shirts and honorably display our allegiance to the Horde and the Alliance. The floodgates have burst open and we now stare in disbelief at the wave of support we’ve ushered in.
Every movie, book, cellphone or Facebook game that comes out is not bad, but I can understand the frustration when you watch your favorite genres or series get watered down with under-par content. What was once a labor of love has slowly been loosed from the grip of the video game forefathers, altered, and injected into the mainstream of America. Now corporations have seen ways to make additional profit off of our favorite games and have all but forced us to support them.
We can’t blame anyone but ourselves. No matter how much we think that motion controls are ruining the core experience, or cell phones and Facebook have inaccurately inducted business men and stay-at-home moms into the gamer category, we supported the development of our current predicament. If you feel like the issue has gotten out of hand, but you aren’t quite sure what to do about it, then I have one thing to say…VOTE.
“How,” you might ask. With your money. You may be able to get your comrades to support your antics by posting on forums about how much pop-gaming should die, but you aren’t going to affect the decision makers unless you refuse to buy their product. If Angry Birds is ruining your gaming feng shui, then don’t “accidentally” download it and get caught up in the addicting gameplay. If you have to choose between Prince of Persia and Bride’s Maids, then go with the latter…though, at that point, you may have a completely different problem on your hands.
You could, of course, choose to support this change. It’s not all bad. In fact, I find the new shift to be quite the stimulator for the industry. As revenue continues to pour in from the pop-gaming market, we will see funds shift to develop higher powered consoles that can hit the market at more affordable prices. Expect to see the Wii U announced with a fairly low price point, due to the astronomical financial success of the Wii. There’s a lot of good that social, mobile and motion-control gaming can do to support hardcore gamers. Plus, Angry Birds is just plain fun.
At the least, don’t forget the role you’ve played in making pop-gaming a reality; even you have made some bad judgment calls. So, dismount your self-constructed throne of conceit, uncover your hidden stash of Resident Evil and Mortal Kombat films, and face the facts…you’re a Pop-Gamer.