Talk to almost anyone you meet and they will probably admit to playing a game at some point in their life. Interestingly enough, many would never consider themselves gamers. Some would even scoff at the idea.
For the purposes of this article, let’s consider our definition of gamer as someone who spends a majority of their free time playing games, regardless of what format, board, video or whatever, said game is in. Being considered a gamer also requires active participation, so watching and betting on sports is not a part of the definition. Although, someone who is participating in games of chance like cards and casino gambling may fall into this category as well.
The world stepped into modern gaming as far back as 1947 with the first video game, Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device. It wasn’t until Pong was released in 1972, and later the home version in 1975, that playing a video game began to work its way into everyday life. Because of the high cost of entry, the first to play Pong on their home tv were fairly well off and gaming took some time before making its way to the masses.
Subsequent systems were released including the Atari 2600 and eventually the Nintendo Entertainment System. With the NES, gaming was brought to the masses and with the newer technologies, more expansive experiences were created. With battery backed memory like that of the original Legend of Zelda, games could be played over extended periods of time and instead of being a quick and casual experience as Pong had made, the players who dedicated themselves to finding everything hidden in a game and speed running through it were transformed into what many would now consider a gamer.
Games soon found themselves working their way into other facets of life once multimedia technology began converging. Simple games like Solitaire and Minesweeper became standard additions to PC releases and found their way into the regular daily habits of computer users. Eventually, mobile phones began including simple games such as Snake which provided very brief but addictive bursts of gaming for life’s short, boring moments such as waiting in line at the bank or sitting on the bus on the way to work. Many of the mobile games of today, and certainly the most successful of them, follow this same format.
The casual game is one defined by ease of accessibility without much commitment being demanded of the player. Great examples are titles like Angry Birds, Bejeweled Blitz or Draw Something. A player can turn on the application or game and have an experience where they are in and out in as short as thirty seconds if they so desire. But the secret to the most successful of these is that though extended periods of time aren’t required to enjoy the experience, people will find themselves sucked in to continue playing. A player can never lose at Bejeweled Blitz but they can aspire to break their own high score record or topple their friends’. Draw Something isn’t a competitive game with no true score system but still, many people playing it find themselves with upwards of twenty or more games at a time as they try to unlock extra colors by completing more difficult phrases. And though players may have to try a level multiple times in Angry Birds to complete it, it isn’t like the days of Super Mario Bros. where a player loses three lives in level 8-2 and is forced to start over at the beginning again.
So where does the transition occur between the casual player to becoming a gamer? Many “gamer purists” would argue that the choice in games. While they are spending hours in Madden, Warcraft or Call of Duty, they look down upon other titles because they aren’t high enough budget or have fancy enough graphics. It’s times like this where the hardcore video game player forgets they aren’t the first generation of gamers. Games like Axis & Allies or Dungeons & Dragons were the home to many gamers before technology became what it is today. Certainly no video game gamer is going to deny that the men (and occasional women) who sunk weekends at a time into these were not gamers themselves.
The gamer is defined by the level of investment they put into gaming as a whole. Many would agree that Angry Birds lacks the depth and complexity of a title like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, one of the games that helps define the “true gamer”. But if someone plays Angry Birds, Angry Birds Seasons, Angry Birds Rio and Angry Birds Space until they have three starred every level (a task on some levels that may take over a hundred or more attempts as stated by our own Wally ), how is that commitment any different from playing through multiplayer for hours on end until reaching the Prestige levels of Call of Duty mutliplayer?
Instead of reducing the number of gamers out there, this actually helps make gaming a more socially acceptable practice. Gamers don’t need to be defined by the stereotype of a guy sitting alone in his parents’ basement as the world passes him by. Sure, there will be some “quirky” individuals who take their love of gaming to the extreme, but large events such as E3, PAX, Comic-Con and even smaller scale occurrences like the midnight launch of Madden or Call of Duty have shown us that becoming a gamer is on the verge of becoming mainstream. And that’s where the problem lies for the “L337” community of allow others into their own special club. After years of being the target for harassment, they Final Fantasy fan doesn’t want to share his gamer title with someone who used to bully him because that individual now can three star every Angry Birds level on his iPhone.
What these gamers need to remember is that commercial success is what helps the gaming community as a whole evolve. More gamers mean more sales which leads to extra money for development which, in theory, leads to better looking, better playing and more enjoyable games. There seems to be a fear that these “casuals” will overtake the gaming market though this has proven to be further from the truth as the most recent Call of Duty sold over a billion dollars in sales in record setting time. Sadly, the most hardcore opponents of casual gaming are also the ones who go to pirate sites and torrents instead of purchasing games themselves, making them a bigger enemy because they are investing no money into the games they enjoy as opposed to the casuals who are at least spending money on the titles of their choice.
The next time you see someone pull out a quick round of Family Feud on their iPhone or talk about the new game they downloaded on their iPad, don’t be so quick to judge just because they aren’t tackling the latest FPS from Infinity Ward, RPG from Bioware or MMO from Blizzard. Always remember that you started somewhere too and it most likely wasn’t picking up Halo at three years old. You grew up with the casual games like Solitaire, messing around on Microsoft Paint on the PC or even loving games that many would consider lame by your current standards like DDR. Gaming isn’t for everyone and the ones who get introduced to it through the casual titles will one day see the light and be kicking your butt over XBox Live soon enough… but still feel free to call them a “n00b” when they take you out with the grenade launcher.