Video Games: Confessions of a Filthy Casual

Boy, we sure have talked a lot recently about transgender representation, hu? Let’s have a pallet cleanser and dive into something completely different. In fact, this post will have nothing to do with LGBT at all! Aren’t you amazed?!

As a child of the late 80’s and early 90’s, I’m in that demographic that got to grow up as video games did. I remember playing SNES at a friend’s house and then finally getting my own console when the Nintendo 64 came out. As I grew up, so did games themselves. They got bigger and more complex with lifelike graphics and storytelling capabilities that I personally think are unmatched by any other entertainment medium. I often think what it would be like to go back in time, grab 12-year-old me, bring her back to the present, and let her play with my Play Station 4. She would go insane!

In addition to getting bigger and better, games have also developed a culture unto themselves. “Gamer” is a self-designated social identifier now. Just like with movies, music, books, etc, games have spawned their own sprawling zeitgeist. Geek culture especially has changed dramatically with games. What were once quarter-munching time killers at the mall for the kids to play with while mom shopped are now immersive experiences with the power to influence the very world we live in.

Unfortunately, not all of that influence is positive. If you want to see some of the very worst humanity has to offer in terms of the treatment of women, minorities, or LGBT people (looks like I managed to tie it in after all) then look no further than the gaming scene. Some of the most horrific and vile things ever said about these demographics have been spewed into headsets during an online match of Call of Duty. Gaming can be extremely divisive,  with its members often broken up into nonsensical sects-often against their will.

Surprisingly, I’m not here to focus on the treatment of women or LGBT in gaming. That post practically writes itself. No, I’m here to talk about another subset of gamers that are often the target of scorn and mockery. And it’s another group I happen to be a part of: casual gamers.

Now, when I say I myself am a casual gamer, the statement comes with a big caveat. I don’t personally identify as a casual player, but these labels are all widely up to personal interpretation as it is. The reason I get labeled a “casual” is that I don’t like to play games that are particularly challenging. I like my easy modes. I like my skip-able levels that are too hard. For these reasons, a lot of people consider me to be “not a real gamer”. Well, I’m here to make the case for myself and other casuals like me.

Easy modes get a lot of flack in the gaming world. Recently, Star Fox: Zero drew a lot of criticism for making an invincible mode where your ship can’t blow up no matter how much you’re hit. The request by many to have an easy mode added to the famously difficult Dark Souls series has been heavily criticized by so-called “hard-core” fans. These people claim that the challenge is the point of it all. If you play a game you can’t lose, what sense of accomplishment can you get from the experience? Why don’t you just read a book or watch a movie if that’s all you want? Games are about the challenge, about working hard to overcome the obstacle, and easy modes take that away from the experience.

Let me explain why I think that’s bullshit.

First, there’s the obvious answer: these are only options. You can still make your game as difficult as you want it. The fact that an easy mode is in the game doesn’t mean you have to use it. Your experience can be as hard as you want (phrasing). The fact that other players are interacting with the game they paid for (that’s an important point for later) in a different way shouldn’t matter to you whatsoever. It’s baffling to me that such a point even needs explaining, but then again we now live in a world where Donald Trump could be president so it shouldn’t be that surprising.

More to the point though, I play games for a different reason than the self-proclaimed “hard-core” players. I set almost every game I play on baby’s first video game. I like almost as little challenge as possible. Why you may ask? Well, because my real life is challenging enough. I work long hours in a high stress environment. Between that I work hard to produce content for this show and for the readers of my fantasy books. These are all big challenges I face every single day. Gaming to me isn’t about further challenging myself. Quite the opposite in fact. When I play video games, I’m looking to feel as powerful and capable as possible with little to no effort. I long to feel like a bad ass without even trying. I often wonder how fulfilling someone’s life can be if they’re looking to find this much of a sense of accomplishment out of something that is supposed to be for entertainment purposes, but that’s none of my business.

Playing a game doesn’t have to be just about feeling accomplished. I like having a story I can interact with, a world I can explore. Games offer a level of immersion that just simply isn’t matched by anything else. My favorite games are RPG’s, and many of them have evolved into such sprawling epics that no two players ever have the same experience. Getting to make those choices and see what unfolds is reason enough to play a video game. Even the parts that are supposed to offer the all important challenge aren’t done just for the sake of accomplishment. When my mage throws a fireball at the goblin and I win the fight, it’s more the experience of taking part in the action than how difficult it was. Not saying that’s how it should be, but that’s how it is for me and many other players.

There’s another reason I’m all for easy modes, one that’s more from an economic standpoint than anything else. Simply put, I want everything I paid for. Let me explain. One of my favorite games I’ve ever played was Bioshock: Infinite. The story, the characters, the art, and the imaginative world all came together for one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had. However, I’ve still never beaten the game. I’m on the last level and I’ve tried at least 30 times to pass it to no avail, even on the easiest game setting. I’m frustrated because I want to see the ending. I want to experience it.

Now, you may say that I’ve not earned the ending until I properly beat the game. You may say that it should be my reward for finally accomplishing the final fight. Well, I hate to play foil to your seemingly noble stance, but I see it from a different angle. I’ve already earned the right to the ending, and I earned it the very second I bought the game. I paid for Bioshock. That money bought me all the content held within. I should not be denied access to something I paid for. It’s like if your Blue Ray movie paused every now and then to make you solve a puzzle and you didn’t get to keep watching till you did. Gaming can absolutely be about the challenge, the thrill of overcoming the obstacle, but if you find yourself completely incapable of doing so, you should be able to clear the barrier between you and the rest of the content. It doesn’t matter if I’m not good enough. I bought it, I get to see it. My skill level is irrelevant.

The point is that video games offer such a different way of experiencing entertainment from anything else. With games, we’re each able to take the same thing and enjoy it in our own way. With that said, the way someone else is enjoying something you like should in no way color your experience. You do you and let them do them.

I realize this was a pretty random post from what you’re used to seeing from me, but with this shitty election going on and all the hard-hitting stuff I’ve been covering, it’s nice to just talk about something trivial for a while.



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