Through my extracurricular activities at my college, I get to take in exactly how the 18-20 year old demographic takes in video games. Working at the college, myself and my boss, who is one year younger than I am, are often dumbfounded by how these students respond to video games.
Still going to school, many people tend to think I am 21-23 years old, but looking down the tunnel, this September I roll over to the 3-0. I’m not saying that is old by any means, but when I consider how different teens respond to video games than I do, it becomes mind boggling how being only 10 years apart could place so much difference between gaming attitudes.
My most recent endeavor was a partnership with the college’s student government, in which the gaming club hosted a “Gamers’ Week.” This gave me a full week to soak in the responses and attitudes of a number of 18-year-old gamers and led me to understand just how different this new generation of controller crowd is.
Please keep in mind none of this is meant to bash younger gamers or make me seem like a senile person telling these kids to get off my damn lawn, but, instead, it is an observation I have made between generations.
Old school may be cool, but this phrase never really tends to stream from my lips. However, this definitely does not stop this new generation of gamers from using the term liberally.
I do not consider myself old, but when I hear someone declare the SEGA Dreamcast as old school, I can feel my hip starting to give out a little and I get a sudden urge to pick up some Just For Men hair coloring. When you break out a system predating the Playstation 2 in front of this new generation, you are actually unveiling alien technology that the Internet occasionally talks about. Showing such a specimen a classic system is a risky proposition that yields almost always humorous responses. A SEGA Saturn becomes a mystery box that is often mislabeled as a Genesis, a Generation NEX is something only a time capsule could produce and a Panasonic 3D0 draws the most blank stares ever conceived by humankind.
Consider this 100-percent real scenario I experienced at Mad Gear Games’ sales booth at the 2010 Anime Expo in Rosemont, Illinois:
A boy, with a friend in tow, runs up to the booth, his eyes explode with delight and he picks up an Atari Lynx handheld.
“OH …. MY …. GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!1 DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS IS?!?!??! THIS IS A SEGA GAME GEAR!!!!!!!!!!!”
The shockwaves produced by my face palm disrupted electronic devices within a mile radius.
It’s not like I can hold someone not alive during the heydays of the classic systems or arcades accountable, though. I wouldn’t dare consider myself an expert in the pop culture of the ‘60s or ‘70s because, yeah, I didn’t take a single breath in those decades. My point is, though, I think the over usage of the phrase “old school” has become so diluted, it apparently can be used for items that aren’t even 10 years old. I still can’t figure out how this applies to the SEGA Dreamcast, but, given how far technology has advanced, I suppose something like the NES does seem like it comes from 50 years in the past.
I think the scope and accessibility of current games has spoiled this new generation as, from my experience, even though items such as Web sites, classic series reboots and the Virtual Console have trained current gamers to associate old school with cool, apparently, what old school really means is “this will be interesting for five minutes and then I‘ll want to play Halo.”
In most cases, if I wanted anything to be infinite growing up, I needed the assistance of a Game Genie. However, it appears current gamers are so used to concepts of infinity, being presented with situations of limited lives, time and interaction completely baffle and intimidate this crowd.
Grand Theft Auto has been a favorite series of many gamers, but if you had to start completely over every third time you died, do you think it would have made the same impact on gamers? Surely, that’s absurd as it could have used a battery backup in a cartridge in my days, but I don’t think anyone would put with that when most of the series’ idea of auto targeting is locking on to that prostitute walking by while an entire city’s police force is filling you with anything that can fired from a gun.
I found it to be quite interesting when, during the Gamers’ Week, I encountered gamers that didn’t understand what “1UP” meant. Playing Battle toads & Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team on the NES, when this phrase rose from a character, I actually overhead someone say, “Oh, I leveled up.” This took me quite a while to process, but this thought is what led me to add the concept of infinity to this list.
While the digital markets have been bringing back a few games with finite concepts, think about the games available today. If you die, you return to the last checkpoint with the only item lost being time. Most games feature unlimited ammo and the ones that don’t have so much ammo available, you might as well consider you have unlimited ammo. Even so, most game heroes are so powerful, if you do run out of ammo, you can just punch in the face of any enemy or mow them down with a chainsaw mounted on a gun. Many games today feature so much pointless space, it is there for the sole purpose of being there.
When you take these concepts away, it is similar to the boa constrictor tightening its grip with every breath taken by the gamer. That’s not to say today’s gamers are becoming weak. I tip my hat to the gamers that can tackle these first-person shooters on the hardest difficulties or go toe-to-toe with online opponents. Still, these situations occur within the framework of infinite concepts. In essence, the players have changed with the game.
First of all, yeah, there were some real gaming pricks around when I was growing up. For every arcade, there were certainly bullies that thought their crap didn’t stink. The big difference, though, was arcades are a public entity. Your performance was seen by everyone and you really couldn’t hide accomplishments or skill within the same arcade.
Today’s move to online gaming, though, has eliminated this public space. Even though we have gamer tags and handles, this really means nothing. If Fl4M1NG M4ST3R CH13F walked through the door, you wouldn’t know and you probably wouldn’t even care. The anonymity allotted by online services has allowed cockiness to run rampant. In arcades, players of Street Fighter II were a fist-length away if they started talking smack. On the Xbox, you don’t even know if that player is in the same country as you.
Certain genres bring this out more than others and with this generation, the first-person shooter tends to bring out the worst in gamers. From 2004-2006, I ran my share of Halo 2 tournaments and I can recite the first thing out of any person’s mouth when they arrive at the tournament – “I’ve never lost at Halo. Ever.” At first, I thought I had assembled the elite hard corps of Halo players, but it only took a few minutes to realize these comments should have made my BS meter explode.
Now that I think about it, working at a bar for a summer, whenever two people would size up for a fight, they would mention “I went to state in wrestling.” I think these bluffs are the modern day fight or flight response, similar to an intimidating roar. If everyone went to state in wrestling, that wouldn’t be much of an accomplishment, would it?
With this generation, any loss is also attributed to something other than the player’s skill. I quickly learned to force players to bring their own controllers, but, even then, you’re never safe from the dreaded five-headed beast known as LAG! Regardless, even after licking the wounds of defeat, you could still hear these players bragging on and on about never losing a match in Halo. Talk about retconning!
With the shift in gaming toward an online format, it’s becoming harder to find those humble gamers or even ones full of themselves, but backs it up with gameplay over profanity through a headset.
Gravitation to the Familiar
I’m not sure about other people my age, but, growing up, I wanted to play every single game I could possibly get my hands on. I would hit up multiple rental stores in town, I would trade games with friends and every Christmas meant gathering with friends to see what games we got for Christmas and playing as many as we could. No game was too weird and no genre was too bold.
Today, though, it just seems players want to stick with the same handful of games. Pulling up gaming profiles, I see measly Gamerscores of a couple of thousand. It’s no easy feat pulling in all 1,000 achievements in the Call of Duty games, but there is a reason I am quickly approaching the “amazing” amount of 100,000 achievement points (I realize there are scores five times this, but nearly everyone who sees my score seems to piss themselves).
I actually brought this concept up on J2Games with a piece I wrote following the inaugural year of a convention I co-founded, Glass City Convention. Instead of trying to experience new games, everyone instead gravitated toward everything they could just play in their own living rooms. In fact, during Gamers’ Week, to prove this point, we fired up Punch-Out!! on two televisions – one using the NES cart, the other on the Wii’s Virtual Console. As expected, everyone gravitated toward the Virtual Console version.
This surely proves the old adage of “people are scared of change.” I suppose this is true for anything as time flows by, but when gaming is supposed to be fun, what do you have to lose? If I were too stubborn to play anything prior to my birth, I would have never been able to enjoy a number of VCS and arcade titles.
I can easily remember the Internet finally making its way into my home. When the old IBM Goldstar couldn’t cut it anymore (what ever happened to Commander Keen?) in 1997, my family invested in a Gateway PC that globalized my information with a piping hot 56K modem. Yeah, it surely beat the baud modems of the Commadore and such, but today, a 56K modem is the tortoise to the Internet’s hare.
To be honest, the Internet didn’t interest me at first. It wasn’t until 1999 and 2000 when I started heavily collecting for my NES that I realized how awesome the Internet could be. It was an entire library of information at my fingertips as I scooped up any information I could find on NES carts and the current Dreamcast games.
Moving forward to a time where every three year old has his or her own cell phone and every family has 47 different ways to access the Internet, cyberspace is a completely different beast. With Web 2.0, every user is now used to being the center of attention and the Internet has been developed to make it revolve around the individual user. With celebrities and companies now using Facebook and Twitter among the “common folk,” this new generation feels like they are part of the “in crowd,” but it seems this has also made the so-called Generation Me so easy to mold.
Working for a game store for a number of years, you wouldn’t even believe some of the garbage I’ve heard from customers repeating something they have seen online. With the rise of communities online, these communities develop what marketers call “opinion leaders” and members of the community will believe anything these people say. Twitter is ripe with jokesters spreading false information, looking for their newest rib. Bloggers have become a dime a dozen, blurring the lines between what is professional and commonplace. It really is an entirely different world.
However, this world has shaped a generation of gamers that don’t want pay for video games because of emulators and simple freeware. It has shaped a generation of gamers that think a 7 out of 10 review score means a game is horrible. This generation of gamers has developed into more of an activist group with the Generation Me aspect leading to delusions of entitlement, expecting the industry to unfold the way they want it to. When I go to a gaming site, I just can’t believe some of the comments I see, but, because of the anonymity and individual-centric nature of the Internet, this is how communication has evolved.
Because the Internet has become so engrained in our culture, it has obviously worked its way into gaming and the industry has adjusted to accommodate for this. In most instances, though, it is extremely obvious whether or not the person behind the keyboard is in the 15-20 age range or the 40-50 age range. It is just how culture has evolved and for a person growing up in a world where the Internet has always been kicking and the individual is king or queen, it is expected of this generation. Gaming is still around and is doing quite well, so it looks like this difference hasn’t spelt doom for the industry quite yet.