I’ve become decreasingly interested in what gaming’s blockbuster releases have to offer with each passing year. You can’t play everything and when the aggregate of major titles amount to a homogeneous swath of brown space marine gladiator zombie hunts it’s hard to care. My friend gave me a brief tour of Dead Space this evening. It’s very scary! He was stuck behind an impenetrable window incapable of helping as a crewman screamed for help behind as he was methodically killed, his head exploded like a Jackson Pollack against the glass. The attention to detail extends to the menus, a holographic representation that your avatar reacts to. Without this type of direct exposure I may have never looked twice at this game. Even the local word-of-mouth hadn’t swayed me. So please indulge me in my Scott McCloud fantasies as I wonder aloud about the language used to describe video games.
When the paleolithic gaming press (journalisticas vidyagame) first roamed the Earth, they fashioned their wares from the only tools available to them, the language that the console manufacturers were using to distinguish themselves. In the 1970’s a tasteful wood grain deco may have been all they needed, but as the cold war between Nintendo and… everyone that was not Nintendo got more competitive, the advertising became more hyperbolic, the capabilities of the various systems took center stage and game reviews became framed in those same terms, broken down into rigid categories. Graphics, sound, gameplay, “fun”. It’s a little better today, at least in some corners of the internet, but the metric of how people judge games continues to be narrowly defined. It’s just that the terms have changed.
I’m talking about the mythical twin quasars of gaming: the hardcore and casual, language generally used by the former to describe the latter. If you are reading this you are most likely in the hardcore camp as currently appeased by the technologically superior Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Casual is used by Nintendo to describe their software designed to attract a broader audience, but has been appropriated by the hardcore to derisively refer to the slack jawed soccer moms playing Bookworm and Zuma. If you can’t tell, I’m not fond of this terminology. Aside from being thinly veiled elitism, the terms are not useful in critical terms because they don’t describe the games but the ill-defined groups that play them.
It’s something I’ve thought a lot about as the American Presidential election builds to a head. Who is Joe Six-pack supposed to represent? What makes a hockey mom different any other parent? Cable news has been back-flowed with this type rhetoric for months, middle class struggles distilled to their most base characteristics. As an American I somehow manage to hold on to some shreds of hope. As a gamer, I am disenfranchised. The divides in philosophy towards game design are almost tangible; I want to believe there’s more nuance to it than Harry Halo and Peggy Pop Cap.