Too Much of a Good Thing?

Those of us reading this article are probably not unlike myself–a listener of gaming podcasts, subscriber of gaming feeds, avid player, article reader, video game junkie.  Maybe, unlike me, you have never stopped and thought how crazy our hobby is.  I’ve heard there is no one that hates their own hobby more than gamers, and I can’t disagree.  A quick look at the venom spewing on any gaming forums proves the point, coupled with the flock of paid gaming journalists that hold our precious few “dream jobs”, in which they only find new and interesting ways to slam the games we wait months to play.  No innovation?  FAIL!  New innovation that rubs us even slightly the wrong way?  FAIL!  At times, I can’t help but think there is just a bit too much—too many games coming out, too much gaming media, too many podcasts, forums and articles to keep up with, and too much of a backlog I’ll never get too, but paid good money to watch collect dust.

Gaming Dues

Sure, E3 just passed and we got a look at some great gaming gear and titles, but the first reason you are crazy to be a gamer is the cost.  I’ll agree, the new XBOX 360 is a fantastic deal at it’s price of $299, and includes a fair bit more, but what about those launch consoles?  Upwards of $600?  Then there are peripherals.  Console gamers love to slam PC gaming because of it’s cost for new tech, but these are the same people who dropped $600 for a launch PS3, own a 360 with a $200 new hard drive to hold all their ripped games, DLC and demos all while listening to crisp, clear audio of fourteen year olds cursing them out on a sweet pair of $199.99 Earforce or $129.99 Tritton gaming headsets(and hiding a small orchestra of plastic instruments behind their couch, complete with turntable, thank you DJ Hero).  Of course, PC gaming is no cheaper to keep up with–higher res monitors, new graphics cards and costly processors and motherboards that still never seem to give us the quality we want.  Now we can factor in the $130 Playstation Move and the Microsoft Kinect, when it’s price is officially announced.  Not to mention, crisp new HD TV’s, and—the wave of the future—new and more expensive 3D TVs.  Oh, and then there are the games.  Most good games have been bumped up to $59.99 at release, even on the PC, although even the “budget” ones go for $49.99.  I remember the Playstation Greatest Hits budget titles being $19.99 for PS2, but we’ve kissed that goodbye for a $29.99 price point for those and Platinum Hits titles.  First party Nintendo titles almost never see a price drop from their $40 and $50 entry point(I’m looking at you Mario Kart and Mario Galaxy!).  Even if you only buy two games in a month, you are shelling out $120 bucks if you buy them new, and let’s admit it, most of us buy more than that(sales and used games included).  PC players have the great Steam and Direct2Drive sales and console players have Gamefly and used game markets to save a few pennies, but the cost to stay up to date can be crippling.  Do you prefer portable gaming?  How many SKU’s of Nintendo’s popular DS console do we need?  The games can’t compare to their console counterparts, but their prices don’t reflect that.  If you like the PSP, you are now plunking your hard earned greens down for digital games that you can’t even trade in or loan out to a friend.  Also encroaching on the portable market, we now have the Apple App store for your Ipad, Itouch and Iphone.  How many of us are dropping .99¢ here and $1.99 there without thinking, only to see a $60 to $80 bill at the end of the month.  In addition, many of the higher tier Iphone/Itouch games don’t sell for that cheap, they can be anywhere from $2.99 to $9.99, each.  Now think about how many of us own multiple systems, and at least an Itouch, Ipad or Iphone (and we can’t forget the Blackberry or Android phone apps and games).  Let us, also, not forget the LIVE Marketplace and Playstation Network games!  So you may only want one game for your 360 this month, but 2 great PS3 titles are coming, and there’s 5 games for your Iphone you didn’t realize would grab your attention, and two more for your DS XL(your vision isn’t what it used to be, you need that big screen).  Then, just when you thought you could fit all that into your gaming budget, a Steam, Gamefly, Amazon, Sunday Ad or Trade-in Deal or Sale comes along and blows everything out of the water.  Let’s face it, gamers need some deep, deep pockets these days!

Gaming Media

Gaming media has seen some huge ups and downs in the last few years, thanks to the innovation of widespread internet connectivity.  Print media has taken a bit of a hit, with many print publications becoming extinct.  The few that survived seem to be a monopoly, falling under one of a few umbrellas.  No one would have ever thought that EGM and Computer Games/Games for Windows Magazine would have ever fallen, but they are sadly gone.  The hole left by many print publications has been filled by us, the average gamer who spends too much time in front of a screen.  Many independent sites and podcasts have sprouted up like weeds across the internet—some forming great communities to be a part of, and some fading away as real life constraints get in the way(the nerve!!!).  Then, there are the aforementioned professional sites.  Some are well balanced, many seem to drip with sarcasm and cynicism, offering in depth looks at a cool new game that will be brutally bashed by a reviewer when it debuts.  Whether professional or independent, it seems everyone plays the same games, talks about them in articles and podcasts, and they just as quickly are never heard from again when everyone moves on to the “next big thing”. Even in the wake of E3’s media blast, the blogs, podcasts and sites are still ablaze with exclusives and glimpses of what will be “big” next.  Our own, Eric Bouchard, was lucky enough to attend E3 this year and provide most of the coverage for our site, and I do not mean to downplay the experience that must be amazing in LA at the Convention Center.  Still, I can’t help but take a step back and look at gaming media every now and again, and wonder if they have taken things too far and need to lighten up a bit.  It seems to me that the gripes and game faults have become very petty, and the slightest misstep by a developer, publisher or game causes them to be devoured by the gaming media piranhas that demand perfection.

The Stigma

So we have mortgaged our houses to pay for our gaming habits and we subscribe to a multitude of print, online and podcasting cynics.  As if that weren’t bad enough, we also have this inescapable stigma surrounding video games.  Society paints us as either overweight, grossly unhygenic 40 year olds that rarely leave behind their WoW accounts and LARPing to crawl from the dungeon in Mom’s basement to see the light of day.  Or the neanderthal, knuckle-dragging , beer-swilling jocks that only play Madden, and shooters in the offseason, and don’t have an intelligent thought to contribute to society.  Regardless of the specifics, we are always looked upon as less mature because of our choice to participate in a “childish” hobby.  In addition to the childish perception, we are frequently thought of as socially inept, spending all of our time online and not with human contact.  Those of us that call ourselves Christians, and are active in our churches seem to get some extra looks down the nose from our peers.  Even if we feel the stigma is not an accurate label, there is a portion of it that we take on as a health risk.  The stigma that gamers are usually sleep deprived and could have better diets is not one that we can dispute-especially as I sit here writing this article at 4am slurping the last of my Wendy’s soda that accompanied my fast food meal.  Am I the only one that thinks a late night gaming session is not complete without a sugar-packed beverage and salty snack within arms reach?  I certainly doubt it, and we are lucky if it is limited to that and doesn’t include a Hot Pocket or microwave pizza/mozzarella stick/burrito for a twist.  If I am then I am hard-pressed to explain the Mountain Dew, Taco Bell, Burger King and Monster video game endorsements!  I guess it’s the bitterness of this stigma coupled with our lack of sleep and poor diet that, then, makes us turn on each other.  We even label each other–either we are ‘lite or noobs.  Heaven forbid you are using the noob tube, spawn camping or focusing too heavily on unlocking perks, you will be black-balled from the servers!   Play with a stranger in a 2V2 Starcraft game, and you will know if you aren’t on top of your game.  I won’t even touch the inaccessibility in the MMO space.  We kick each other out of games online and then gripe about being labeled by society.  Just look at the barrier for entry in many multiplayer communities, Counter-Strike, Starcraft and even Modern Warfare.  We deal with a stigma from our peers and non-gaming friends and relatives, and then throw them at each other within gaming communities.  Am I the only one that thinks this is a little silly?

For The Love Of The Game

By now you must think I have come to a point where I hate gaming and will announce that I am leaving the site disgusted.  This couldn’t be further from the truth, I just think there is a balance to be found.  Many times, I find myself on overload by the nit-picking or just sheer impossibility and cost of keeping up with new releases and technology, new podcast episodes, previews, reviews and articles.  All too often we get caught up in these communities, trying to stay up to date, and we forget that we play games because we enjoy it.  Especially those of us that are involved in independent podcasting and websites—we put stress on ourselves to have new games and content to cover for our readers and listeners, and somewhere along the way we lose the fun.  However, that is a strain I felt way before I chose to get involved here at EDG, it’s a natural stress we place on ourselves when we are listening to podcasts and reading the latest blogs and magazine–we feel as if we are always missing out on something.  I don’t know about you, but I remember belonging to the demographic of gamers that buys games for it’s snappy boxart off a Wal-Mart shelf, not because Justin McElroy and Brian Crecente went ga-ga over it.  We seem to forget that the core gamers only make up a small percentage of gamers, and that the vast majority of the ones that drive the NPD numbers where Barbie Horse Adventures and Mario Kart are king, have proabably never read a review in their lives and may not know how to find them.  Call me crazy, but it seems to me that all we are doing is making our hobby more inaccessible by making the barrier for entry greater for other potential gamers.  I would think we could attempt to appeal to them a little more with innovative ways, one of which not being immature, motion-controlled games.  By nature, I am a person that does not try to get all the newest games, nothing pleases me more than picking up a $10 budget game that I enjoy thoroughly.  I recently got my hands on the Game Of The Year Deluxe Edition of Oblivion, including all the paid DLC for a mere $8.50, and Dead Space for $9.99.  I don’t care that those are old games, and the communities are not talking about them, they are a win in my book.  There are new releases that I will flag as “Day One Confirmed”, but I am not above biding my time for a fourth and fifth price drop or a Game Of The Year Bundle, before I make my purchase.  I am not writing this article to bash gaming or gaming media, what I am saying is that we need to keep it at arms length, and balance our own gaming with what we enjoy—-lest we forget that enjoyment is what brought us here in the first place.

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