Competition or Entertainment?
It becomes apparent when reading the various musings of the gaming cognoscenti, that there are vastly differing views on most key areas of gaming. Take a subject such as “difficulty” which is currently a subject of debate over at Massively Overpowered. A quick perusal of the comments shows a broad range of views with many being at odds with each other. But if we step back from these individual differences of opinion, it becomes clear that the basis of all of these stems from a fundamental disagreement as to what actually constitutes a game and exactly what are its defining attributes. There are those who feel that competition is the foundation of gaming and that this can only be fully realised in a player versus player environment. Success is the measure of achievement and the basis of their personal gratification. However, others beg to differ and feel that collaborative play, social interaction and achieving personal goals are as equally important. I believe this divide clearly shows that the definition of gaming has evolved and may be its time we revised our preconceptions.
Many of the MMOS that are currently popular are broad churches offering a variety of activities to the player. Furthermore, emergent gameplay offers a wealth of other possibilities beyond traditional competition. Games can be team orientated undertakings or personal adventures based on exploring and interaction. Some games are more interactive novels or mediums to relay a wider concept or idea. All of which strays away from notions of a competition, fail states and league tables. A lot of what currently falls under the umbrella term of “gaming” is actually more of a broader leisure service. Now traditionalists may balk at this and argue about semantics, which is a fair point. However, much of the language we employ changes in meaning over time. Consider such words as “pimp”, “awesome” or “liberal” and their respective evolution. Hence gaming can no longer be rigidly defined in terms of player versus player competition, rules complexity and fail states to determine a winner.
I often find when reading various game commentary, an undercurrent of hostility towards broader gaming criteria such a social interaction and a casual mindset, from those who self-identify as core gamers. The winning and losing mindset usually goes hand-in-hand with other negative attitudes towards “fun” and any sort of less rigorous approach towards gaming. Although those that hold such opinions are entitled to do so, they are not the arbiters of gaming. No one group of gamers really gets to set the agenda. Ultimately, market forces determine what trends get followed and how games evolve to reach the biggest audience. Some may see this as catering to the lowest common denominator where others consider it a form of democratisation. Irrespective of your view, most forms of entertainment are subject to the process. So, it’s inevitable that gaming, especially MMOs have changed from their initial incarnation.
Although MMOs have become somewhat generic in recent years and admittedly lost some of their unique charm, it’s not as if competitive gamers are not being well served by other genres. MOBAs, co-op shooters and Battle Royale games have rapidly grown in popularity and certainly satisfy those with a player versus player itch. Therefore, I would argue that the expansion of gaming in the last two decades so that it has now become a more common place pastime, has not directly denied this old school group anything, although it may have well challenged their personal philosophy. And the foundation of that philosophy is a definition of gaming that is couched in a mindset born of the previous century. The factors that shaped gaming then are different to those that exist today. It’s time to update the definition and reconcile ourselves to the fact it will change again further in the future. Unfortunately, there will always be those that resist change and prefer to mythologise the past.