Games For All… But Not All For You.

There’s a lot of noise in recent years about who is a “real” gamer. I’m used to this kind of rhetoric – as a trans person and a kinkster, I’ve spotted truescum in many communities. Gatekeep-ey fuckers that think there way is the best or only way to be or do a thing. Ultimately though, it’s all bullshit and the vast, silent majority just get on being how they chose to be and doing things their own way, without hurting anyone.

What can be harmful is when someone with a budding interest in gaming is beaten down and chased away by capital “G” Gamers. It doesn’t stop there though. There are people who love games and have played for years who walk away from what could be a fascinating community of vastly different people, united by their love of gaming because they didn’t meet some arbitrary standards.

I’ve been playing video games since I was about 8 years old, when (thanks to a few well-off uncles and a very generous granny) I saved up enough to get a Commodore 64 home computer.

If you’re under 35, the chances are that you’ve never experienced the glory that is the C64’s SID sound chip and the stunning tunes that musicians like Martin Galway, Rob Hubbard, Ben Daglish, et al managed to get out of it. You may not have tried the wonderful Dizzy games, the quirky Jet Set Willy, possibly the most strained and horrifying port of Street Fighter 2 to ever be shat out onto any system, the frustration of puzzling through Split Personalities, or whatever the fuck was going on with the odd little gnome that hosted in Trivial Pursuit.

I’ve heard tell of the Spectrum vs Commodore vs Amstrad rivalry which was apparently a thing back in the 80s, but I never personally encountered it. With the few people I talked to at school, it was very much “hey, you have a different system to me, you want to come try out my games and mebby I could come try yours some time”? That’s it. No hate. No rage. No arguing that someone wasn’t a real Gamer because they hadn’t broken at least two joysticks playing Daley Thompson’s Decathlon, or World Games. No one called “scrub” or “filthy casual” because they preferred Toobin’, to Ghosts ‘n Goblins. It was just “hey, different games, cool”, or “I’m not a fan of Maniac Mansion, but Mayhem in Monsterland rocks”.

A lot of games back in the 80s were nails hard. this was mostly due to the fact developers were locked in the mindset of arcade games which relied on people pumping tons of change into machines. As such ramping up the challenge to ridiculous levels made good, financial sense. The harder the game, the more money you can squeeze out of players (watch this space for news of Electronic ActiSoftWorks selling extra lives as microtransactions).

However, when arcade games were ported to home consoles, it often wasn’t as easy as pressing to add extra credits. Most games gave you a set number and basically told you to “git gud, scrub”. While this could lead to hours of honing your skills until you found those credits to be enough, a lot of games just went unfinished. And to be honest, that was probably for the best. A lot of end credits screens were little more than a freeze-frame with some text saying “well done”, or just looping back to the first level again (or even worse, they just made the game so difficult that it was impossible to reach the final level and therefore they never bothered coding it).

Gameplay design wasn’t always kind either. Even games I adored, like Treasure Island Dizzy, very often resorted to “you took a wrong step, in a way you couldn’t possibly have predicted, start again”. While this method of gentle progress, through exploration, trial and error (after error after error after error) was fun at first, the combination of a music track that loops every minute and a half and the idea that one misstep 40 minutes in could put you all the way back to the beginning, is horrendously frustrating (3 decades later and I can still hum that music pretty accurately). Then more frustration would arise at the last minute, when that guy was all “hey, I need 30 coins” and you realise that basically you should have been clicking on every rock, wooden railing, hut window, and plant in the hope of finding a hidden coin (what do you mean “bitter”, I’m not bitter. You’re bitter!) and the less said about that coin hidden at the bottom of an invisible maze that you get to by jumping through a box (or was that Fantasy World Dizzy… anyway, fuck that whole bit).

I am, and have always been, bad at video games. Of the many budget games I picked up from my local corner shop for a couple of quid each, as a child, I’m not sure I finished any of them (I don’t count Trivial Pursuit). That’s never stopped me though, and never made me love gaming any less.

When I first got a Sega Mega Drive (Genesis), I tried and tried for yeeeeearrrrrrs to get through the original Sonic The Hedgehog. It wasn’t until about a decade later I even managed to get past the Labyrinth Zone, without doing the level select cheat. That didn’t stop me playing Sonic 2, 3, & Knuckles, and 3D Blast (incidentally, I’ve still only ever finished 1 and 3). A lack of skill has never stopped me wanting to enjoy the experience and I don’t believe I’m alone in that camp.

Anyone who’s watched my Twitch streams (most Tuesdays and Thursdays, come say hi (plug plug plug)) knows that while I can get through a point and click with a little nudging, I’m very bad at anything that involves faster action. The truth is, I just struggle with a lot of fine motor control, and in the moment decision making. This basically means that I die… a lot. Like, a lot a lot. And while I do get frustrated, it’s never stopped me gaming on the whole. I have got better, but I never got gud.

Back in the 16-bit era, you’d often find that easy modes, were just a taste of the real game. A bite sized sample, that teased you then told you to get lost. You’d get maybe 4 levels in, only to have it greet you with a message like “game over, now play the real thing”. That’s it, no more game for you, and if you don’t get better at playing, you’ll never see the True Ending(tm). The alternative was perhaps an ending which didn’t include the whole epilogue. Sadly, this was before YouTube gaming was a big thing and those of us not deemed worthy of the full story could just look up a video online.

In recent years, more developers have started putting in a more fair difficulty selections, where difficulty is what you’re actually changing. It’s been nice to be told by friends that I don’t have to just play normal mode and give up half way through, I can play on easy and still experience everything. Every carefully animated enemy, each exciting level, every enticing world, every moment of the epilogue (which could hook me into a sequel).

From older gamers, I’ve heard a lot of talk about how games these days are too easy, that there’s no challenge, that younger gamers are coddled with their saves and checkpoints, and regenerating health, and difficulty settings, and meh-mehneh-menehmeh *devolves into childish whining sounds*. To these people I say, “Hush! If you like old games so much, play them, or, I dunno, I Wanna Be The Guy.” They still make games for people who want a hardcore challenge, Soulsborne games are a thing, but not everything has to be for you personally, and that’s ok.

From younger gamers, there’s a lot of talk about what games actually count as games. It’s too casual, it’s not a Real Game(TM). You’re not Real Gamers (please just imagine it in a really whiney voice).

Friends, when you’ve delivered papers, trapped enemies in bubbles you then pop, connected pipes before they leak everywhere, mowed lawns, jumped between travellators while beating people up, used warming Ready Brek to survive the cold of space, guided suicidally dozy rodents around Egyptian ruins, chowed down on every pill in sight, and been grilled by a weird little gnome about general knowledge, you get to realise that a game can be an awful lot of different things. Many fit into specific genres, some create new ones. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, if it’s called a game and people enjoy it, let them get on with that. It does you no harm.

No one has a right to say that Pat, who plays Black Ops 4 for over 100 hours a week is more of a gamer than Sam, who just *really* likes Animal Crossing and Tetris. Just as no one who’s played their Spectrum every day since the 80s is more of a gamer than someone who’s first system was a PS4. Sure, maybe you’ve played more games or for longer, or more difficult games, or more obscure games, but ultimately our hobby is about playing (together or alone) and enjoying an experience.

The angry tribalism of Gamers (capital “G”), has led to some truly horrific actions. Can we not just each enjoy what we enjoy, without bullying people who don’t do things quite the same way we do? There have been so many games made at this point that no one could play through them all in a lifetime. So many art styles, gameplay styles, so many ways of playing and experiencing and exploring, and so many yet to be explored. By making gaming more inclusive and welcoming, we can see amazing growth and innovation as new people come to the hobby. Games should be as diverse as those who play them. Not everything has to be for you, and that’s absolutely fine.

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