A recent Gamasutra feature by Brandon Sheffield speculated about the death of the hardcore gamer thusly: “Our games are too focused, too hardcore, and bear too much of the stereotype of “gamer.” What's the perception of this stereotypical gamer in the culture at large? “It’s common knowledge that game controllers are intimidating, that consoles have a certain stigma to them, and that most mass market consumers consider games to be either a waste of time, or actively detrimental.” Yikes. Sheffield thinks that the the growing popularity of casual MMOs will eventually help to put this outmoded stereotype to rest.
Gamers have a pretty bad reputation with the public at large, which they partially deserve, but I am convinced that the day will come when games will be regarded as one form of entertainment among others and not the exclusive province of the unwashed. One step in this direction is the recent increase of thoughtful writing about games in mainstream print media and mainstream cultural websites, and another is making games, as Nintendo is doing, that people outside of the core game demographic will find appealing and accessible. But these latter games can be hardcore games too. In this future, I think that the lure of hardcore games might begin to work on a larger segment of the public, because I've seen many of my non-gamer friends get sucked into some pretty hardcore games. A prime example is my girlfriend, who really got into Pokémon Diamond last summer.
I was really interested in how she got into Pokémon, because it's a sort of Trojan Horse game: once you strip off the layers of cuteness there is the ugly beating heart of a hardcore Japanese RPG with grinding, dungeons, and a complicated turn-based combat system. This is the kind of stuff she would never get involved with under other circumstances. In the past few years, as I've gotten more into gaming, my girlfriend's own gaming has mostly been limited to wiping the floor with me in Lumines Live. But last summer she bought a Nintendo DS and suffered a brief but severe case of Pokemania, so I decided to ask her what was fun about it.
Q: How exactly did Pokémon Diamond find its way into your DS?
A:: You had been bugging me to buy a DS for a while, finally promising that my buying myself a DS would count as a birthday gift to you. I'd been playing a fair amount of Pearl on your DS and you mentioned that if I got Diamond we could trade Pokemans. .
Q: So basically I got you to by a DS promising you Pokemans
A: And then I set about I raising my own fleet of fluffy, adorable, vicious assassins. I also liked that the Pokemen were totally subservient to my commands.
Q: What did you like about Pokémon Diamond?
A: The animals are both cute and useful. Also, I have some aggression issues
Q: How did you feel about it as a game?
A: I liked that it provided instant gratification. Just fighting your first couple of battles your Pokemen would level up quickly, but there were also long-term incentives. I got very greedy about my Pokémon levels. The more I built up my portfolio, the more I thirsted for greater power. I think anyone with a capitalist instinct could enjoy this game. It's the drive for accumulation.
Q: What finally killed your thirst to catch 'em all?
A: I walked away after a failed second attempt at victory road. I have a pretty hard and fast threshold beyond which I am no longer willing to sink further time and effort into doing well in a video game. It's not a particularly high threshold, which is why I don't get into many games. Pokémon was easy to pick up, and it tickled my lust for power. But my lust for power is much weaker in the video game universe than in real life. Watch your back, Kyrgyzstan.
Q: What was your favorite Pokemon?
A: My Infernape, Bouncer, was pretty reliable. And I had a Luxray named Trouncer. He was one of the few Pokemon who, in addition to being a good fighter, seemed like he could probably get some play from the other pokemans in his off-time.
Q: Aside from Pokémon what are your favorite games?
A: Mario Kart and Rock Band, and Lumines.
Q: In the future, do you think that games will be like comic books, where they will mostly appeal to a small group of readers or do you think games will be the sort of thing that everyone enjoys?
A: I think complex games with steep learning curves probably always be confined to a limited audience, unlike games like Mario Brothers. But I think game companies will increasingly focus on creating games that appeal to a broad audience, contributing to the destygmatization of video games in general. Unless peak oil forces us all to return to subsistence agriculture.
Q: Thank you for your time
A. C'est mon plaisir.