Posted by Dom
Video games have been dominating the press recently – a fact reflected in the content on our site recently, such as the supposed link between games and damaging health problems and how the soon to be launched Nintendo Wii (of which more later) is the latest in a long line of bizarrely named products from the retail world. In a typically British fashion, however, much of the national media’s coverage seems to be somewhat on the negative side, and I reckon it’s time to redress the balance before it all gets out of hand.
Even in my own little MSN homepage team, as someone who knows his Wii from his Xbox 360, can find his way around a joypad and appreciates the hours, days and weeks of enjoyment a decent game can provide (compared to the watch-for-90-minutes-and-then-forget-about-it culture that dominates so many of the movies released these days, for example), I’m named and shamed as the ‘games geek’ the ‘gamesmaster’ or similar not-so-chucklesome nicknames. The underlying tone of these insults is that a gamer is some sort of social reject, single (relationship status always seems to be a big thing when gamers are attacked, for some reason – you’d think that people would have grown out of the single=sad mindset years ago) and, as the Cambridge Dictionary Online describes a geek, ‘a person… who is boring and not fashionable’.
It was probably this negative, stereotypical and frankly wrong image of games that was one of the major challenges for Nintendo as it pondered how best to take on the domination of Sony and Microsoft in the console world. Few people would have predicted the direction it would take, however – eschewing the graphically rich, stunningly powerful setups of the PS3 and XBox 360, and going down a road that aims to introduce gaming to absolutely everybody – even, heaven forbid, girls (adverts for the new Wii have been cropping up in some distinctly non-gaming magazines, such as women’s title Prima), parents and grandparents. To achieve its aims, Nintendo concentrated on what dedicated gamers have known for years, but which seems to have forgotten by many software developers over the last few years – the fact that games are meant to be FUN and ENJOYABLE and open to everyone.
So the massively successful successor to the Gameboy, the Nintendo DS, introduced a stylus for people to use whilst playing their games, and the new Wii, which hits the UK shops this Friday, has a revolutionary new controller shaped like a TV remote, which can be manipulated in a seemingly endless list of ways to allow you to fully interact with the game in front of you. The new Wii Sports game, for instance, which comes packaged with the console, allows you to wield your remote as a tennis racket, baseball bat or golf club – a ‘pick up and play’ ethic which simultaneously manages to be incredibly easy to use yet satisfyingly hard to master. And that’s not even mentioning the additional free ‘nunchuk’ controller, which gives you even more ways to play games.
Whether the Wii stands or falls, however, isn’t necessarily the issue. Combined with the huge library of powerful and impressive games that the xBox 360 is building up, and the as-yet unseen in the UK raw power of the PS3, there’s never been a better time to be a gamer. Sure, prices are high (the PS3 is set to market in the UK next March at a wallet-busting £425) and there’s the usual amount of tat out there, but the quality and innovation that goes into industry titles such as Animal Crossing, Gears of War, Pro Evolution 6, The Legend of Zelda or Brain Training is absolutely stunning.
And yet the mainstream press and media concentrates on patronising and misunderstanding general reviews (as seen in the hilarious recent attempt by Newsnight to analyse the new waves of games), how they’re apparently bad for your health (sure, if you play a game for 23 hours non-stop and don’t eat, drink or move. Nevertheless, a session on Wii Sports is pretty much akin to a vigorous workout down the local gym), and why they’re corrupting our minds (a recent debate spawned by Rockstar Game’s release of the game ‘Bully’, which various ‘experts’ wrongly condemned as a title that was glorifying bullying, before they’d actually played the final version and understood the truth). You can bet after this Friday’s launch of the Wii, the press will be full of stories about disappointed punters, crushes in game shops, and angry retailers – rather than any positive side of the coin as gaming is introduced to thousands of new converts.
So basically, it’s time to give gamers a break. The term ‘geek’ is meaningless, born out of people’s misunderstanding of the whole world of video games, and out of long-held fears that they’re dark, seedy products which keep people locked inside all day long. The truth of the matter is that the best games these days are positive, life-affirming and even healthy products – and that maybe the real ‘sad’ people are those who don’t see for themselves what an exciting, enjoyable and interesting time it is to be a gamer.
Where do you stand on the gamers=geeks debate? Let us know your opinions.