I don’t consider myself a gamer. Then again, I suppose I don’t “game” so much as I… play videogames, sometimes.
If my distance sounds disingenuous… well, sometimes it is, a little. There is, however, a difference between having something in your life and building your life around that thing. Videogames fascinate me, and I spend a good deal of time thinking about them on an abstract level. I’ve thought enough about them to make some money based on those thoughts. Sometimes I play them, a little, when I’ve nothing better to do. I don’t feel it’s got much, if anything, to do with my personal identity, though. It’s just something that’s there, in my life.
And I think that’s an important distinction. Most videogames currently cater to “gamers” — a label that suggests that they use videogames to give themselves identity on some level. And, well, that just explains everything, doesn’t it. Aversion to change, in particular.
A person doesn’t need to have that ego attachment to enjoy a videogame any more than I need to tattoo Trent Reznor’s name on my thigh to enjoy Nine Inch Nails. Or even to analyze his music on a deeper level, sometimes. Likewise, I don’t need to spend my life in the cinema to enjoy Orson Welles and appreciate the significance of his work.
That is, to an extent, what Nintendo’s going after now: trying to make videogames accessible to people who don’t necessarily want to base their lives around them — which, at present, videogames really aren’t much. The “casual game” sector, and the success of cell phone games, proves that there’s some headway to be made here. I think that whole subsection of the industry is a little misdirected (and frankly a little patronizing), though.
I’m reminded of a recent post by Matt McIrvin about the Wikipedia science community, in particular advanced physics — about how the people editing don’t know how to write at all and keep skewing articles toward the most inclusive, precise, elaborate definitions possible. McIrvin keeps trying to smooth out the language, to make more accessible analogies, and to winnow out the superfluous material so as to make the pages readable and the information comprehensible to someone with, at best, only a slight existing understanding of the material. And even then he often gets complaints from casual readers that the articles are impenetrable.
Addressing this doesn’t necessarily mean dumbing down the material; it just means stepping back and detaching yourself from it enough to understand the context and what’s actually useful. There is a place for insider science writing, and that’s in academic science journals. There is a place for “gamer games”, and the Wii completely supports them. Just as important, though, is making the information available on a certain practical level to anyone who might express an interest.
How often have you handed a controller to, say, a parent who expressed some interest in what you were doing, only for him to hand it back in frustration when he couldn’t make sense of what he was doing; couldn’t coordinate his hands, was overwhelmed with all of the buttons and their seemingly random effects? I recall my mother once being curious about my NeoGeo Pocket Color; I handed it to her with Sonic Pocket Adventure, and even after explanation she couldn’t figure out how to make Sonic both run and jump at the same time.
The interest is there; anyone can be interested in anything. The problem is addressing that interest and drawing it into full-fledged involvement, for the time spent with a videogame — rather than simply assuming an existing level of exposure and a certain set of preconceptions.
Though I have that exposure, I don’t really feel I go into videogames from the perspective of someone looking for a videogame to play; I’m looking for something on a more human level, to maybe contribute something to my life for the time I spend playing. That might be an abstract intellectual observation, as in the game systems of a Treasure game, or it might be emotionally-based, as in Silent Hill. I don’t play videogames simply because they’re videogames, though. I don’t at all care about videogames for their own sake; I’m only interested in what they can do for me. I mostly stick around because I see the potential bubbling away, for them to tell me something really interesting that I didn’t know before.
I think that’s pretty close to the definition of a non-gamer. And I think it’s pretty close to the stance of your housemom or random schmoe. Which is why I think, should videogames come closer to achieving that goal, they will find a much wider audience than they currently do.