In the years following Nintendo’s release of its incredibly popular Wii, a common cry from self-professed “hardcore gamers” was that the console’s casual audience was “ruining gaming.” Lines were drawn between these two camps, with hardcore gamers claiming to play “real” games on “real” consoles like the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.
“Game developers are abandoning us!” they said, seeing a glut of Wii minigame collections hit the market. They probably imagined a dark future, one in which games like God of War or StarCraft had no presence in the marketplace — a future in which a new, growing population of people who knew nothing about gaming outside of Peggle and FarmVille had changed the entire industry overnight. The casuals would court all the major publishers, who would gleefully welcome and cater to an audience that could be easily exploited. The hardcores would then receive the mere scraps — whatever games those companies could be bothered to shove out to a no longer relevant audience. The hardcore gamer would represent a small part of it while the casuals reigned supreme.
You can’t argue that we, the gaming community, can raise a stink when we want to.
Of course, it all sounds laughable now. “Casual” phone and tablet games remain huge markets for publishers, but big-budget titles aimed at the traditional gamer demographic haven’t gone anywhere. Games like BioShock Infinite and The Last of Us could be cited as proof that triple-A games are actually more interesting and exciting now than ever before. The rise of the indie game as a legitimate and celebrated form serves to give most gamers an even greater variety to choose from. Casual players did not “ruin gaming” — so we can stop the needless tribalism now, right?
Apparently not. New battle lines have been drawn, and some of us have once again pitted ourselves against an “other” to distinguish ourselves as somehow more authentic or genuine players. The new enemy: “bro” gamers. A term for those people formerly referred to as “jocks” or “frat-boys,” the “bro” or “dudebro” gamer is obsessed with first-person shooters like Call of Duty and sports titles, and that’s about it. They pay little to no mind to indie games or anything that doesn’t contain guns or balls. They’re not up on the ins and outs of the game industry or the business machinations of the major publishers. They don’t have favorite developers and make most of their buying decisions through TV ads.
And they’re ruining gaming, according to some.
Like the casuals, dudebros are taking over as the main market for publishers. Games will be made to suit them, not core players. And like with the casuals, the games-enthusiast crowd is scared. You can see the fear in the outcry over BioShock Infinite’s box art and Ken Levine’s justifications for it. You can see the fear manifested in the console wars, with Microsoft’s TV, sports, and Call of Duty-heavy Xbox One console derisively criticized as “pandering to the dudebros.”
Of course, this fear is just as silly as the one we faced just a few years earlier. So why are we indulging in such exclusionary attitudes yet again?
Games will continue to be produced for a variety of audiences, and pretty much everyone will be able to find one to love. Sure, the landscape of the medium will change, but that change has always been and will always be occurring – it’s not necessarily good or bad. Most people, I think, know this somewhere in the back of their mind. We know gaming will continue on. So what do we have to gain by drawing lines in the sand and putting people into different categories of “gamers”?
Part of it is the sense of community that people who love games form with each other. We are social creatures — we want people to understand and share in our love of a medium to which we have devoted large amounts of time. Because gaming held a negative social stigma for so many years (and still does to an extent), the bond between veteran players is perhaps a little stronger than bonds formed through other interests. We feel like we’ve been through something together, and that makes us feel special. Unfortunately, that fierce sense of community also makes us worry that someone won’t understand why games are unique or treat it with the respect it deserves.
Those fears don’t excuse the exclusionary attitude of many gamers, however. Dismissive attitudes toward casual or dudebro gamers (and the use of those terms alone) needlessly pits people against each other and casts a bad light on the core gamers who most want to be understood.
We do this to ourselves even though we can do better. It’s absolutely clear that we can do better. The tragic passing of Giant Bomb co-founder and games media icon Ryan Davis brought forth a tremendous outpouring of goodwill toward his family and friends. It was heartwarming to see and a great example of how the community can take care of one of its own. We’re sometimes unparalleled in our generosity and warmth; it’s a shame that some people are not deemed to be a part of this awesome group.
Plus, the whole effort to keep people out is futile. It’s like a single person trying to control who gets to go in the tree house when the tree house is the size of an entire continent. Gaming is no longer the domain of a small, dedicated group of people. It’s much larger, more diverse, and has so many entry points that pretty much anyone can get in. And that’s not something to fear or resist — it’s something to celebrate.