5 Reasons for The Widening Gamer Divide

Senior Contributor
01.17.12 5 Comments
Kotaku Core was widely mocked when it was first announced, and to a point, there’s a good reason for that. A game site losing its way so badly that it has to announce a stripped down filter of just gaming news is kind of ridiculous.

However, this tends to ignore the fact that Kotaku has been trying, and trying mightily, to change the tenor and behavior of gamer culture. Whether they’re addressing homophobia or male privilege in gaming and the constant whining about it, or calling out the industry for its behind the scenes garbage, they’ve been handing in some of the more thoughtful and intelligent coverage on the games industry out there.

And the fact that they’re going to continue doing that while also offering a chance to avoid it entirely illustrates possibly one of the biggest problems in gaming: there’s a huge divide between gamers. And it’s getting bigger all the time. But why?

#5) Gaming fits into a much wider age range now

If you had told Nintendo, back in 1985, that the grade school children playing with the toys they put out in the ’80s were creating customers that would be buying consoles well into their thirties and forties, they’d have laughed at you.

Nonetheless, it’s true. Just looking at myself, I’ve been gaming for twenty-two years. I’ve got a gaming PC and a PS3 sitting in my living room. I buy games on a regular basis. And I’m not alone.

How does this create a divide? When you’ve got a family or at least a stable relationship, a day job, and an education, what you want out of gaming gets a lot more complex. This is why indie games like “Limbo” are starting to become more common; gamers grew up, got jobs, and became dissatisfied with the direction gaming was heading towards, so they started making their own.

Which brings us to…

#4) Unfortunately, teenagers and college-aged kids have the most money, so they have unusual heft.

This is a general problem in entertainment: ever wonder why Hollywood releases are 90% fart comedies and dumb action movies? Teenagers have the most disposable income, and that’s what they want to see.

The same is true in video games. This doesn’t mean every AAA title is steeped in idiocy, but it does mean that titles are going to aim towards cheap thrills and boobies. I admit I find it genuinely annoying that Catwoman has the front of her suit unzipped in “Batman: Arkham Asylum”. But then again, I’ve actually seen a breast in real life.

#3) Gaming is more accessible now than it has ever been, and the trend is that this will keep going

Which sounds insane until you look at the economics.

In 1985, a Nintendo cost $150. Run that through the inflation numbers, and it cost…$300. Even Nintendo’s most recent system cost $250 at launch and has gotten much, much cheaper. Games have, shockingly, gotten way cheaper: a cartridge would run you $40 in 1985 dollars: $80 today.

Similarly, used consoles and games are widely accessible now; a gamer who isn’t particularly picky can get a functioning, current generation console for about a hundred bucks if he knows where to shop. If you want a retro console, Urban Outfitters sells one that plays Nintendo, Genesis and SNES games for about seventy bucks.

This is a pretty sharp contrast to gaming even back in the mid-90s. We are talking, very much, about a pursuit limited to the upper middle class and kids who were willing to mow a lot of lawns. Game consoles being utterly ubiquitous in living rooms across the country is a very new phenomenon.

More than that, with the rise of the Internet, gaming has been able to form subcultures and safe spaces, and this reflects larger cultural shifts as well. When I was a kid, “Gay Gamer” would have died on the newsstands, because there were no gaming websites and gays were supposed to stay within the city limits of San Francisco. Now it’s a thriving site. In 2011, you can safely rely on 90% of the population having access to and probably owning a computer, whether it’s a home desktop or a smartphone, a tablet or, well, a game console.

As a result, it’s become easier for a wider community to pick up gaming, where before it was largely entitled kids in suburbs. So the result is that core of entitled suburban kids is starting to rub up against a wider community of people they largely rely on their parents to deal with…and it’s not going well. But that’s not entirely their fault.

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