Friday, October 28, 2011

The Gaming Digital Divide Narrows

Over the last 10 years or so, I have believed that the digital divide between people who play interactive games and those who don't was an ever-widening, insurmountable gap.  Where at one time games (yes, even video games) were a plaything of the masses, things took a sickening turn for the worse.

Simple arcade style game, designed by their very nature to be easy to pick up and play (yet maddeningly difficult to master) gave way to deeper, more complex experiences.  Put the blame wherever you want: home computers, increased visual and aural fidelity, the game designer geek ghetto.  The end result was that in order to satiate the small but dedicated group of game fanatics, designer had to create more elaborate challenges and experiences.  Unless you kept up with how to address these challenges, you were quickly left out in the cold.

It's no surprise then to see children and young people who have an abundance of free time and a willingness to sit down and master these things remain an important demographic.  Any adult picking up an Xbox360 controller would likely not understand how to play anything beyond the most simple of game.
I mean, just look at this thing!
But there is hope and it comes from a variety of likely and unlikely places.   Smart phones have given masses of non-game players a piece of easy-to-use hardware that is perfect for playing games.   Interestingly, Apple for the longest time actively discouraged games on their platforms (look at the robust Mac gaming library for proof).  If anything the hunger for games on the iPhone is an indication that "normal" people really do want to play video games, and the inherent simplicity mandated by the platform gives people an easy way in.

Facebook is another place where lapsed players and first timers can get their game on.  There's a lot to be said about the current crappiness of the Facebook gaming scene which appears more interested in draining wallets using psychological trickery rather than providing an engaging experience.  There is hope.  It appears that the "ville" games are trending down, shedding their users, and are ripe for reinvention.

Even Microsoft (with a grudging nod to Nintendo Wii) has entered the fray with Kinect.  No experience necessary, just stand in front of your TV and perform the moves naturally... well mostly naturally.

So where does that leave the hardcore gamer dude and dudette.  No worries. Deep, challenging experiences are still available, though perhaps not quite as plentiful as before.  But think of it this way.  Someone playing an iPhone game or a Facebook game is really just another game player.  We all don't need to be FPS experts, just like not everyone who watches TV needs to watch Boardwalk Empire (although they should!)  Games have diversified and reclaimed an audience I though we had lost forever.  And the game industry is all the better for it.

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