We think there’s a video game out there for everyone, young or old, man or woman, and we want to help them find it. But we need your help.
Everyone has a favourite band. Everyone has a favourite movie. And everyone has a favourite video game. Problem is, most people just don’t know it yet.
Gaming used to be a niche pursuit, a hobby enjoyed by young men caught on the wild frontiers of modern society. As time has worn on, though, and the medium matured and expanded in popularity, that has begun to change.
The recent “mainstream” breakthroughs for the first two PlayStation consoles and then Nintendo’s DS and Wii have shown that rather than appealing to an established, core audience, there’s the real potential for everyone to enjoy video games.
But not everyone does.
Exploding Some Myths
“I think less people play games than listen to music and watch movies because playing games requires making an effort”, game designer and academic Frank Lantz tells Kotaku. “It’s an inherently more complicated and challenging form of entertainment.”
“Video games’ prevalence is going to be limited by the fact that they are newer, require a lot of specialized literacy, and are expensive.
“[But] I think the idea that there are tons of people who would be playing games if they were easier or had better stories is something of a myth. People who make games are pretty good at figuring out what kinds of games people want to play.
“I don’t think there’s some giant irrational blind spot preventing the game industry from capitalizing on a huge potential market.”
We agree. We think there’s a game out there for everyone, young and old, and we want to help them find it.
Some of you may game with your friends and family, and if you do, that’s awesome. But many don’t. Your husband or wife (or boyfriend or girlfriend) might be the most important person in your life, but if they’re not sharing one of your biggest passions in life – at least occasionally, even as an indulgence – then that’s a shame.
Same goes for your friends. Or your kids. Or your parents. If you could all play games together, or at least have it as ready a conversational topic as the latest movie or your favourite TV show, then we’d all die happy men.
Now, we’re not kidding ourselves. This won’t be an easy thing to do. There’s no silver bullet that can suddenly turn the world into a 7-billion strong friends list. There’s no single platform, or genre, or approach that will work for everyone.
So we’re going to be breaking things down. We’ve identified five main “classes” of non-gamer which we feel most people fall into. Some people you know may not fit the bill exactly, but hopefully they’ll be close enough for what we say to have some effect.
Oh, and for the record, we’re not discriminating against the “type” of game people are playing. If an old pal from junior college goes out and buys a copy of Assassin’s Creed II, then that’s great, but that’s not for everyone. If all your sister ends up playing is something on Facebook where she tends vegetables, then that’s cool. It’s still a game, and everyone has different tastes!
Most Likely To Be: Your current (or former) college roommate / That guy in the office who whenever you mention video games always has a story about how wasted he used to get playing GoldenEye / Old friends from high school
Who They Are: Of all the various classes of non-gamer, these guys are the easiest to get back into the fold, because they’ve been there already. They’ve played games before as a child and/or student, sometimes fanatically, but for whatever reason – moving away, kids, money, a new job – slowly lost touch with the medium. It’s time to bring them back.
What Not To Do: Whatever you do, don’t belittle their memories. If you think some washed-up series like Crash Bandicoot sucks, great, but to these people, games like that may have been the pinnacle of the medium. Remember: you’ve been keeping up to date with advances in the medium over the past 10-20 years, and they haven’t. You take those cherished memories away from them and you lose your link to getting them back in the game.
You’ll also look like an asshole.
How To Upgrade Them: The best place to start is with more recent, updated versions of the games they enjoyed in the good old days. If they loved Mario, show them New Super Mario Bros. Wii, then show them Super Mario Galaxy. If the series or game they enjoyed is dead, show them something similar. TimeSplitters fans should be shown Halo: Reach, for example.
Their Ideal Hardware: A PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. Unlike some of the other people on this list, they’ll be more comfortable purchasing expensive, dedicated gaming consoles. They’ll also be most likely to be drawn to the more “hardcore” games these platforms specialise in.
Most Likely To Be: Your boss / That uncle you really get along with but don’t see often enough / Your favourite teacher from high school
Who They Are: The accidental gamer is a fascinating character, as they already play games; they just don’t know it yet. They associate “video games” with fast cars, aliens and blood-soaked fists, not pinball, little mines or a deck of cards.
What Not To Do: Whatever you do, don’t rush them. Just because they play Windows Solitaire doesn’t mean they’re ready to come join in your after-work Starcraft II sessions.
How To Upgrade Them: These folks are like babies taking their first steps, so start small and start simple. Take what’s appealing about the Windows/Office games they play – like Minesweeper – and go from there. Try, say, Myst, which is slow, has puzzles and will run on the old PC they keep upstairs to write the emails on and surf the internets with.
Their Ideal Hardware: Nothing! It’s crappy old work or home PCs that got them this far, so leave them there. It’s safest. That way they can get cheap, old PC games that are right up their alley, and you won’t frighten them with the prospect of having to buy dedicated hardware just for games.
Most Likely To Be: Your girlfriend / Your boyfriend / Your cousin who comes to stay sometimes / That person from work you talk to, but aren’t really friends with
Who They Are: Somehow, perhaps through a freakish run of bad luck, they’ve never played video games. They’re not anti-gamers by any means, they just…never played them. Their family never had a console, their PC was for schoolwork, their friends didn’t really play games either.
What Not To Do Don’t play the “expert”. At least, not to their face. If you didn’t read novels, and some guy got all bossy telling you what to and what not to read, you’d think they were a douche and disregard them. Same goes for these people. They know nothing of the established genres of gaming, or the best games, worst games, best systems, etc. So don’t just take your time, take it gently.
How To Upgrade Them: If they’ve never played games before, the “rules” of gaming will be foreign to them. They also probably won’t care about stuff like graphics or surround sound. The best place to start, then, would be a music game like Rock Band or Guitar Hero. Everyone knows how a guitar works (at least in principle), and there are social benefits to these kind of games as well.
Ideal Hardware: A PlayStation 2. They likely won’t see the need to spend big bucks on a more contemporary machine, so if we’re recommending a series like Guitar Hero (or for the ladies, SingStar), then the PS2 is the easiest (and cheapest) way to get them in on the ground floor.
Most Likely To Be: Your grandparents / Someone else’s grandparents / That nice old widow who lives down the street
Who They Are: The Wii has made inroads, but it was just an opening salvo. For every senior who made the papers in 2007 playing Wii Bowling, there are 100 who didn’t, and who still spend their time reading books or knitting. With all that spare time on their hands, they could be playing video games instead!
What Not To Do: Remember, these are people from another era. Before Space Marines, before Indiana Jones. So it might be best to avoid anything that’s only of cultural importance or appeal to somebody under the age of 40-50.
How To Upgrade Them: There’s a reason Nintendo has been so successful appealing to older gamers. While the type of games have been important, their “sterile” presentation has also been a big factor. Linked to the point above, someone aged 70 or over won’t find a quiet, sparse game cheap, they’ll find it safe and approachable. So stick to games like that.
Ideal Hardware: You may think it’s the Wii, but it’s actually the DS. The stylus is a more natural method of interaction than a controller, and games like Brain Training will be of both personal and practical use.
Most likely to be: Your mum / Your partner / The guy at the airport who goes through your carry-on luggage / Your football coach
Who They Are: These guys are the final bosses in your quest to get people gaming. They’re the toughest nuts to crack because they’ve built up a lifetime’s worth of not just indifference towards the medium, but a bonafide anti-gaming sentiment. The particular reasons may differ – some will abhor games based on the violence or content of a handful of titles, others resent the supposed health risks or anti-social tendencies of video gaming – but the end result is the same: these people would rather eat glass than play video games.
What makes them so tough is that while popular evangelists for video gaming are few and far between, there are more than enough anti-gamers with a very big soap box. Some notable examples include film critic Roger Ebert, the German government and conservative pundit Bill O Reilly.
What Not To Do: Don’t show them any games that will trigger any of those sentiments. So time-consuming MMOs are out. So too is anything with violence, or drugs. You’re trying to win these people over and show them not all games are the same, not reinforce their narrow stereotypes.
How To Upgrade Them: Challenge their preconceptions. Show them that writing off games as being violent/stupid/a waste of time is like writing off the entire medium of film because you don’t like Transformers. If your mother thinks games are bad for you, show her that EA Sports Active is both a game and an exercise tool. If your boss thinks games are bad for your brain, show him that many genres make puzzle-solving and communication a necessity to progress.
Ideal Hardware: Whether they’re anti-violence or anti-sitting on your butt, we’d say an Xbox 360 packing Kinect might be the best way to chip away a the defences of a staunch anti-gamer. Most games released thus far are kid-friendly, simple to pick up, are lacking in objectionable content and, thanks to the lack of buttons or controllers, almost instantly accessible.
Now, we’re not saying these steps are a guarantee of success. Nothing is perfect! You could try your hardest, show someone the most suitable game for them on the planet, and they may still balk at you. These tips come straight from our heart, but we’re men, not Gods.
What we hope this guide can achieve, though, is to bring the people closest to you in life a little closer. If it enhances your relationship with your immediate family or partner, well, that’s awesome. But even if the most you get out an approach like this is you and your boss having a little something to talk about over the office coffee machine, well, something has been gained from it all.
Oh, and if any of you have any success stories with anything written above, let us know!