Monday, February 20, 2012

Getting into Gaming: A Newb’s Perspective

If you would have asked me what Dragon Age, World of Warcraft, Borderlands or even Call of Duty was four years ago, I would have given you a confused look. I’ve gone from a vague familiarity with Mario and Sonic to playing games during the majority of my free time. This is how I got there.

With movies like “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” and “Gamer,” it’s clear that video games are becoming more and more accepted as a part of everyday media culture. Even TV shows like NCIS and Law and Order base weekly stories around gaming whether it’s from a behavioral or technical perspective. You probably know someone who works for a videogame company or writes about gaming for business or pleasure. And with systems like the Wii and Kinect, games are the new family-fun activity.

There are, of course, the lifelong gamers who can kick your ass at any game and own every console and every collection of games, but there’s a whole era of new, casual gamers emerging, as well. These are the people who have heard of Halo, Call of Duty, and World of Warcraft, and throw their hands up in indifference. I only played World of Warcraft for about a year or so before I started to give tower-defense games and others like Team Fortress a try. I was willing to try because I had someone to play them with and, clearly, because Pixeljunk: Monsters is just too cute to pass up.

What is it that gets people who never showed any interest in gaming to all of a sudden decide to give one a try? The most obvious answer is being social at a party and taking part in a game of Halo, Wii Sports, Mario Kart, Street Fighter, Rock Band or similar titles. Even the social aspect of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft can be what initially sparks an interest in dipping a toe into the videogame pool. I think a big misconception that non-gamers have had and still have today is that gamers play alone in their bedrooms, shutting out the entire world. This is by no means the standard or norm and shouldn’t be the stereotype of video games or gamers.

The recent craze of motion-control gaming with products like Kinect, Move, and of course, the Wii, seem like the next big thing, but only because the technology is progressing. I have no desire to play golf as a cartoon character in my living room or attempt to workout in front of my TV. I can’t speak for everyone, but it all seems a little cheesy. Those systems remind me of toys at Christmas; the “innovative gameplay” gets hyped and you’re excited to open your present, but by December 31st you’re already back to motion-less controllers or no games at all.

I have touched on this in other articles, but I believe that customization, whether it be for the character in the game or even for the console itself, can really help to draw in non-gamers, especially women. If I were gifted an Xbox, two controllers and a game at Christmas having never played any video games in the past, I would rather they be hot pink, bejeweled or something other than the plain white or black. I want a game like Borderlands or Dragon Age: Origins, where I can play as a chick and customize colors and hairstyles.

Since I know that I don’t have the amazing, bad-ass, headshot skills of a pro-gamer, it’s intimidating to try a new game, fearing I will make a fool of myself or quit out of frustration. World of Warcraft was my first game, and it drew me in with its gradual learning curve and its welcoming RPG schematic. Granted, I might not catch on as fast as the token “gamer,” and I might take longer to level up, but I didn’t have to know a combination of buttons, platform like a pro, or know how to shoot a sniper rifle right off the bat. Similarly, tower-defense games helped me ease into strategy play. I could focus on what I knew — building a giant cannon defense grid — and watch the other, more experienced player put a slow tower here and a laser tower there due to the positioning of the track and direction the enemy was moving.

These types of games may not be for everyone, but I found them to be extremely helpful for me — someone who didn’t know how to turn on an Xbox or use the PC mouse for anything other than surfing the web. Casual gamers today are a new breed. We enjoy games when they cater to us, when they actively bridge the intimidation, skill, or financial gap that has separated gaming from wider acceptance for so long. The newb, it seems, is the future of gaming.

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