In Pursuit Of The Truth About Gamers
Over the last few years, I’ve been in pursuit of the answer to the complicated question of: what defines a gamer? To answer this question, I have been writing a research thesis, although specifically focused on gaming in a subcultural sense, owing to my academic background in studies revolving around culture, subculture and consumerism. This is what many Humanities (or Liberal Arts, if you’re American) students do in the latter years of academia, particularly when it comes down to the postgraduate grind. To say that this has been a grind is no mere understatement of how much of a conundrum this very topic has been. There have been a couple of articles on this very site, mine included, that have attempted to conceptualise hardcore, casual gamers and actually define what a gamer is. The problem herein lies with the lack of coherence within the cultural paradigm of gaming, and the inter-subjectivity of gamers themselves. In more layman terms, gamers can be a picky bunch and coming to some actual conclusive criteria that discern what constitutes being a gamer, is a most tremendous task.
After conducting research over a two year period, I was privy to a handful of gamers, some who labelled themselves as hardcore, those who identified with a term they called “midcore” and others who identified with gaming on a casual basis, otherwise known as casual gamers. Three words were continually presented throughout the participants responses, “passion, dedication and commitment”. One could argue that dedication and commitment are the same thing. But they are interrelated processes, whereby passion is the express product of gaming. Gamers play games because they’re passionate about the medium. Of course, they are passionate in different ways. Some gamers are passionate about games for competitive reasons and seek enjoyment from that, others play games for pure entertainment and escapism. This is a shared reality for many gamers.
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Commitment was very much essential to understanding gamers, and when conducting research I came to an understanding that the most passionate and dedicated gamers allow videogames to saturate their entire lives, where free time in a busy schedule, due to social commitments, was opened up for playing games. The life-defining quality of games differed from research participant to research participant; but there, however, remained a commonality that games represented an object of central importance to the common gamer. When a gamer actively labelled him or herself as a “gamer” it was evident that gaming was important to them, that it was more than some fleeting trend or hobby. To the most passionate and dedicated of gamers, games formed part of their own identity construction.
Following an examination of gaming culture at the level of the gamer, I ventured into new territory and asked independent game developers and gaming media what they felt about the industry and their relations to gamers. A strong number of independent developers revealed that they themselves were gamers and that the gaming community is constantly involved in a conversation with videogame developers, studios and publishers. Although some AAA publishers and studios may be less interested in the concerns of the gaming public, there have been major cases such as with Valve and Bioware where gamer input has proved to be of the utmost importance in maintaining a good relationship with the gaming public. Independent developers are normally grass-roots affairs and generally rely on the gaming public to support their projects, and so a continual conversation between such developers and gamers is overall beneficial to both parties in producing a polished finished product that sells well. The gaming media interviewed expressed an importance in the role of gamers in the industry, most notably in the print media where good relations and subcultural support from the larger gaming community was needed to keep such publications afloat. Online media such as websites were a different beast altogether and proved to have their own well sustained communities that formed out of commonality and support among a community of like-minded gamers.
Furthermore, the realisation I came to in the final analysis was that gamers define the games industry to a great degree. They are seen as a valuable source of information by the marketing teams of AAA studios, as a feedback mechanism of quality control in indie development, and as a community of support and financial stability for much of the games media. However, the industry influences the gaming public as well. This is by no means one-way, but is dialectical. Yet the underlying idea that I learnt through this process is that gamers no matter how negative or positive their actions, particularly in the online realm, are a product of a passion and dedication to gaming. Gamers can be dedicated to the most negative extreme; or to a more positive outlook where discussion and varied opinion are not considered a fallacy. Yet, in most recent years, the one outweighs the other which is sad to witness.