All right, all right. I admit it. For all my highbrow discussion on overlooked games like Michel Ancel’s Beyond Good & Evil or Goichi Suda’s Contact, and for all my attempts at getting my friends, gamers and normals alike, to play Zak & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure (by explaining that it’s indicative of the human condition– we all want things)– I am a conformist. The music I listen to largely depends on what my friends listen to; same thing with the clothes I wear, and, unfortunately, video games are no exception. By and large I only play games that are popular or the games that Metacritic tells me to buy. The only reason I even managed to pick up Zak & Wiki is because Nintendo Power made it seem incredibly interesting. (Actually, come to think of it, same with Beyond Good & Evil and Contact. I’m a slave to the media.)
So it’s unfortunate that, as a self-professed “hardcore” gamer, I’m so easily manipulated by familiar characters– whether it’s familiar characters in familiar environments (hello Mario) or familiar characters in brand-new environments (hello Samus). Sometimes I’ll take a chance, but those times are few and far between, as Kyle Hyde of Hotel Dusk: Room 215 can attest to. So when the powers that be at Nintendojo decided we’d have an Art Style week, I honestly had no idea what to do with myself. As my fellow staff members suddenly erupted in joy, instantly coming up with various story ideas, I realized that maybe I was missing something here, especially considering that I didn’t even know what Art Style was. (From Noah’s description of them, I gathered it was “games for hipsters”, which I imagine is not necessarily the general consensus.) This frightened the inner “hardcore” gamer in me, throwing me in a seizure of wondering whether I was really so “hardcore” at all.
But what terrified me the most was the fact that I had no real desire to find out what exactly Art Style was. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a case of instantly dismissing Art Style just because it wasn’t titled Mario Style or Zelda Style– the name of the series, I will confess, actually intrigued my inner hipster art student, and definitely made me wonder if it had anything to do with whether Roger Ebert was a big meanie. No, for some other reason, Art Style– not even the idea of Art Style– failed to intrigue me. Not even Robert Thompson’s excited attempts at telling me that Light Trax was just like racing in Tron helped– and usually, any reference of Tron is enough for me to take a game out for a spin. This had to be something different. I whipped out my detective hat.
Was it the price point? No– they only ever maxed out at 600 Nintendo Points for the Wii games, and that was pretty much just an hour’s wages for presumably much more than an hour’s fun. The seemingly simplicity of the graphics? No– games like Contact and Mother 3 certainly have their share of quirky graphical minimalism, and I do dearly enjoy those games. What about their “elegant design, polished graphics, and pick-up-and-play controls”? Ah, I smirked, rubbing my detective brow. There’s the rub.
Nintendo’s been doing a pretty good job this generation. It’s managed to accomplish what game companies have failed to do since the beginning, what with so-called “casual” gamers– as well the “normals” of society, i.e. non-gamers– flocking to Nintendo’s Wii in massive numbers, making games like Wii Play among the best-selling games, ever. (Wii Play itself holds the crown for the best-selling console game of all time at 27.38 million units sold– clearly not a number to sneeze at.) Sure, 1UP.com gave Wii Play a C+, IGN threw a 5.5 out of 10 at it, and Metacritic aggregates the scores at a stunning 58%, but if you think about it, the only people who care about scores are gamers anyway– who, nevertheless, would go for Wii Play if they saw it anyway, just because they needed a new controller. The so-called “hardcore” have been naysaying this kind of scheme for years now, since the unveiling of the Wii– casuals, they grumble, can gtfo nao kthx. bak 2 mai impresivelee obscure vidgamez.
I’d like to turn your attention to The Escapist now, which ran an article last week titled “Curing the Noobonic Plague”, wherein Bryan Lufkin, in a quest to discover just what it was that made gamers (read: me) just so ticked off against casuals and their games about Just Dancing, notes the research of Jamie Madigan, who writes The Psychology of Video Games:
Madigan believes that the experimental group in Aronson and Mills’ study is similar to “old school gamers who had to endure years of what used to be a much less socially acceptable or expensive hobby. They may overvalue their history and knowledge of gaming trivia while resenting new entrants to the scene who didn’t have to go through what they did to get it.”
Jamie Madigan says that “this is just human nature to seek out an ‘us versus them’ outlook, and that it’s not good enough that our group be good. The other group has to be inferior.”
If you haven’t noticed by now, I spend a lot of time on the Internet, especially on other video game-related blogs, such as Joystiq or Tiny Cartridge. And in so doing, I’ve been exposed to the “us versus them” mentality, certainly– so much that I’ve definitely made my share of ugly, rather prejudiced comments against “casuals” and “normals”. In fact, much like any sort of prejudice, it took real, human contact with my non-gamer friends– friends that I would in the gaming context describe as “casual” or “normal”– to really throw that kind of mindset away. I played games with my friends that I would normally pretend not to even see at the local Target– games that I’d be embarrassed to be seen with if my gamer friends ever saw me with them. (High School Musical 3: Senior Year: Dance!, anyone?) And– obviously, I mean, this article would really have no point if it were any other way– I had fun.
I think what being on the In– no, scratch that. I think what being a pretentious hardcore gamer has done to me, and possibly done to all of us who tend to yell at the casuals for “ruining our games”, is completely change our perceptive of why we played video games to begin with. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t start playing video games because I thought they’d make me better than other people– correct me if I’m wrong, but mainstream media still seems to think it makes us worse than other people– and I certainly didn’t do it because I thought being able to manipulate twenty buttons at once was a good thing to do in my spare time. I started playing video games simply because I thought they were fun.
Looking back, I definitely played a whole lot of shovelware– as much shovelware as any “casual” plays now– and hell, I entertained myself to the nth degree doing it. This is a tired topic by now, but as “hardcore” as we are, we need to remind ourselves repeatedly– especially in Nintendo’s modern gaming world– of a time when we weren’t so “hardcore”. When “elegant graphics” and “pick-up-and-play controls” was something we enjoyed, rather than condemned as being “too casual”. When even calling ourselves “gamers” was a foreign word. When did our hobby get so gosh-darned serious, anyhow?
I may be an outsider to Nintendo’s Art Style series, but I certainly appreciate what they’re trying to do with it. For all the common complaints of Nintendo’s supposed pandering to the “casuals”, as opposed to the “hardcores” that built Mario’s castle, I honestly think Nintendo’s trying to whip up a good deal here. Here’s a bunch of games that, whether they’re based on flipped-out puzzle games or crazy Tron-like lightcycle racing, have just the right touch to appeal to both sides of Nintendo’s gaming spectrum. Nintendo’s trying to do us a favor– throwing the two sides on the couch and letting them play a game that could be intimidating for both parties, but nevertheless still a bunch of fun. At least until it gets crazy intense, at which case you need to start suppressing your murderous urges. (And hide the heavy objects, if you’re a “casual”– the “hardcore” get rather violent when they lose.)
So maybe I need to pick up Light Trax, or Rotohex, or any of the other twelve Art Style games Nintendo and skip ltd. have created over the past couple years. I suppose since I’ve now written this article, it would be hypocritical of me not to. After all, I’m just some guy who really likes to plays video games– and with what Nintendo’s doing here, not delving into Art Style would just be doing all of us “gamers” a disservice. Maybe this is the real conformity: not playing games that the big people like, but games that everyone likes.