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Who is Gaming and Why We Do It 18.08.17

We are an assuming species. Our ability to draw images based on single words or, judge a book by its cover are well-known and in video games this propensity for judgement still exists. For many, the image of teenage boys and young men roasting n00bs on a brawny space shooter is an easy one to conjure up. However, all the lawn-mowing money and Christmas generosity of every ‘stereotypical’ gamer could not make up the $100 billion industry that gaming has become.

That may be because the average gamer isn’t a teen or even a young adult. Oft-quoted studies place the average at 31 worldwide with a more local UK study putting the mark at 28. Either way, the spending power has significantly risen for the average gamer.

Another change is in the gender balance of gaming. Some studies found that just over half of gamers were female, a fact that many find hard to believe; that is, until you remember that mobile gaming recently overtook its static counterpart as the prime gaming breadwinner just last year.

Mobile Wonder

Mobile gaming is attractive to the general public like no home console or portable could ever be - it’s always there. If you own and phone, and most people do, you can play games. Free-to-play games i.e. ad-supported or those with microtransactions require no risk, no effort and often, little previous video game experience to get going. While the simple yet taxing catapult sensation Angry Birds, human-nip puzzler Candy Crush Saga and bizarrely popular, nightmarish Flappy Bird might have been snubbed by the hardcore, each one made gamers of millions.

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More importantly, each iOS or android hit established a trusted market for mobile gaming which lead us to ‘serious’ enough titles for ‘real’ gamers, as they might call themselves. The industry giants have poured millions into the platforms, Bethesda gave us FallOut Shelter, Konami have a AAA mobile Pro Ev and Capcom, being Capcom, are bleeding their back catalogue dry.

Sea Change

It must also be noted that the gender balancing and aging of the average gamer is not just a mobile phenomenon. Video games and computers, in general, were marketed towards boys and men since, well, forever. The efforts of Sony in the mid-1990s to use less aggressive advertising that emphasised emotional experiences rather than teen bro-humour (“The more you play with it, the harder it gets”, por shame, Sega) helped gaming shed a lot of the immaturity and exclusivity that people associated with video games.

This Time, It’s Personal

The story of why and how a gamer finds themselves in Sheogorath, the Wasteland or Hyrule is something that fascinates me as someone who grew up with games. “Some people like music, some people are into movies, I am into games and have been all my life. My older brothers introduced me to the Commodore 64 before I can remember and by the time we got a Sega Mega Drive for Christmas, I was completely hooked,” says Andrea, 33, a chef living in Dublin.

Nowadays, the thumb-killing beat-em-ups of Streets of Rage and Golden Axe have been replaced with something a little more cerebral. “Survival games and action RPGs offer a unique, involved form of storytelling and discovery that I love. There is an element of escapism involved also and a kind of displacement of stress; playing games relaxes me in a strange way even if the games themselves are stressful” she adds, “there is also an almost addictive quality to any game that tests you in many areas all at once; surviving and crafting while crossing something off a quest list, it’s like an accomplishment.”

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Andrea lists examples like the FallOut series, The Long Dark, The Forest and Osiris: New Dawn (which is in open access right now), all of which involve either shaping a fantasy world or surviving as long as possible through hordes of nasties or unforgiving environments. “I don’t play online at all aside from co-op simply because the types of game I like are solitary experiences with a definite narrative with me at the centre. Multiplayer games will probably never interest because of that irreconcilable fact.”

Kevin, 63, is a kindly New Englander who once made me rage-quit an online game of strategy sim Civilization Revolution so he knows what he’s doing. “I can’t even remember when I first played Pong or a clone of it” he says. “There were loads of machines that could play just one game in black & white but Pong stuck with me.” A car accident shattered Kevin’s right leg when he was in his late-teens. “I broke my right leg in a few places and broke my hip. I was laid up for a while and I saw an ad for an Intellivision, like a better version of an Atari, $379. A lot of money back then and I still have it. And 78 games in a box, that shows you the impact it had on me.”

“Then I got an IBM PC Jr., which was a low-cost IBM PC. That’s where I played strategy games like King’s Quest and an economic management game I don’t remember the name of.”

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Kevin raised two kids, a boy and a girl in the great gaming tradition. “I played a lot of Nintendo with my two kids. My daughter loved a game called ‘Paperboy’, I didn’t think too highly of it, to be honest!” he chuckles. “But, as a parent, you have to do what you have to do.”

After a long working life in a wire mill and as a mailman, Kevin found himself with severe carpal tunnel syndrome and unable to work. “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t take drugs so even though I never made a lot of money, I have everything I want. I’m playing my games on a 50” TV, I have three Xboxes so my grandson and his friend can play when they are visiting. Video games are just a huge part of my life that I am happy to share with him.”

Despite losing the ability to grip the controller for lengthy periods, Kevin plays eight or ten hour sessions regularly. “I had to adapt my play-styles so I could play the kind games I like. For instance, I lay down a few mines so I can snipe windows in Call of Duty: Black Ops II, I can’t move as quickly because I have the controller lying in my lap.”

Alan, 43, is a tabloid bigwig whose heavy metal styling doesn’t particularly scream ‘office professional’. “I played a Commodore 64 at my cousin’s house and by the time he got an Amiga 500 in the mid-late 80s, I was sold on computer gaming. We had an Atari and that was fun, but in a simple way that didn’t impact me as much as the complex games with cutting-edge graphics you got on a computer.”

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Alan’s gaming life is all PC nowadays. “Since I got a Windows 95 PC a long time ago, I have been a full-time gamer. The very first game I played on that PC was Redneck Rampage,  a very primitive cross between Deliverance, Mars Attacks and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It introduced me to the Psychobilly madness of the Rev. Horton Heat, would you believe?”

When asked why he games, he answers immediately, as if waiting for me to ask. “For me, it’s all about the diversion, the entertainment. I read, I watch movies and TV but nothing can match a video game for immersion - I have sank a lifetime into The Elder Scroll’s V: Skyrim and spent hours shaving milliseconds off a track in Deadcore.”

“Nothing beats getting home after a hard day ‘mining puns’ for Rupert, firing up the PC and playing some Heroes & Generals (a squad-based WW2 shooter). I have been into H&G for a couple of years. I am not competitive at all, generally but put a mouse and keyboard in my hand and I am a man possessed - H&G is the perfect game in that respect.”

After speaking casually with three non-casuals, I realise that most people game for similar reasons. The overlap of motivations between the three and myself were obvious; the fantasy worlds that games like Elder Scrolls or The Witcher inhabit offer a sense of adventure that no other medium can replicate. Games like Rainbow Six: Siege address the want for camaraderie in the face of intense competition. Whatever the reason you're crushing candies or gathering souls; just remember, you aren't alone.