A hot topic of the current generation of console gaming is the casual vs. hardcore debate. Inspired by the Wii's mainstream success, gamers have endlessly debated exactly where the line is drawn, and what defines each respectable side. Whether one sees the argument in terms of specific consoles, games, companies or lifestyle choices, it's more than likely that any person who considers themselves a gamer has spent some time dwelling on this quandary. Inevitably, the conclusion that gamers as a whole can never agree on a specific set of definitions will be discovered by some, others will still be standing with their fists clenched for years to come. How can I be sure? I've trudged through this variety of argument before.
In late high school, I was privy to many a complex diatribe attempting to define what made a person gothic. Was it the clothing? Lifestyle? Piercings? Hair? Residence in Gothiscandza? The arguments were both relentless and pointless. Years before, efforts were gravitated to pegging a narrow set of terms that painted Punk. And more recently, I've read threads and youtube posts aflame with users arrogantly determining what makes a band black metal. These debates have a few key elements in common. First, they are all based around esoteric terms, which unavoidably means there will never be a universal agreement. Second, they will not end; there will always be one more person in queue ready to ring that bell one more time. And last, they herald an era where creativity and integrity will be traded for mass-produced profitability. If a community identifies as hardcore gamers, metal, straight edge, or whatever, they can be farmed and marketed. It has already started in gaming, and it will continue because lifestyles are a hot commodity.
Consider the following quote:
"What happened to fantasy for me is what also happened to rock and roll. It found a common denominator for making maximum money. As a result, it lost its tensions, its anger, its edginess and turned into one big cup of cocoa
." ~Michael Moorcock
It has nothing to do with gaming, and was stated by someone who might not have a clue that video games are an exponentially growing empire. Yet his notion fits the current climate like a glove. So what is the common denominator? Some ideal candidates for instant vilification would be the endless stream of FPS games, HD graphics over gameplay, DLC, monthly fees, rushed sequels, me-too titles, or perhaps the bloated WWII-themed genre. The answer is all of the above, with more on the way. This is an age where any good idea is one worth repeating as long as it will move units. The sad fact is that opportunistic companies will realize that they can take any of the above, market them as "hardcore", and there will always be gamers thinking "Hey! That's for me!
One could argue that this has always been the case in gaming, but I'm hard pressed to think of another period where a successful title could spawn a venerable mini-empire in under four years the way Guitar Hero did - especially one that included expensive peripherals. I'm bereft of prior times where big budget titles had sequels within a year of one another, Mega Man notwithstanding. And we've certainly never seen such an influx of collector's edition bundles, to the point where it is commonplace for any big title to include a ludicrous package edition. Guess who those packages are geared towards?
But take care not to misconstrue my overtly cynical conjecture. The gaming industry is thriving. By having games like Uncharted 2, we're reaping the benefits of copious cash flowing through the industry. We're living in an age where articles exploring themes and emotions tied to games are both well-received and heavily read. Hell, Destructoid itself is teeming proof of a gaming community's strength. Be also wary; this is an industry after all. Activision doesn't care if we get a Casablanca caliber (I'm sick of Citizen Kane comparisons...also I have an alliteration obsession) title. EA couldn't care less if a game has a handful of provocative metaphors buried within. They care about money, and as more pours in, analysts are scanning carefully for trends. Anyone who remembers that following Twister's box office success, every network was scrambling to release natural disaster specials and movies. Or for something a little more recent, how many vampire-themed TV shows, books, and movies have you been seeing lately? Again, we're only at the threshold, and having one zombie game after another doesn't seem so bad. Check back after another saturated year: we'll see how a once-beloved microgenre has become a cash crop, and how many titles like Okami were buried.
Unfortunately, there aren't any countermeasures. This is simply the way any profitable industry functions. Someday soon, we'll receive the Nickleback or Dane Cook of games, and then we'll know the party is over. Sure, you're probably scoffing at my estimation, knowing that you're too smart to fall for all this hardcore content. You
probably are, most aren't. And those in the 'most' are growing as video games become more mainstream. It's the Catch 22 of every entertainment avenue. It starts with an original idea that finds an audience by chance. The idea runs on the initial momentum for a time. In order to stay fresh, new innovations need to be implemented. The creator wants to retain the original audience, but also wants to draw new members. Taking in feedback and analysis, a mediocre compromise is found in an attempt to satisfy the growing fanbase. Repeat the last sentence ad infitum until even the least discerning fans have had enough and find a new franchise to unintentionally desecrate. I'm not spelling the end of video games altogether, but like any other respectable entertainment medium, we're all going to have to start digging around a lot harder to find the true gems.
LOOK WHO CAME:
Dr Light ate your Magicite