Video Games Get Vertical

Video games now permeate society at all age levels and socioeconomic strata. The vast numbers of people playing games creates communities of gamers who live only in their particular gaming niche. Electronic gaming was always a tribal activity, but today’s gaming communities seem more narrowly focused than ever. Online FPS gamers and MOBA players rarely mix or read about the other’s activities. Strategy players live for one more turn, or a few more minutes, RPG aficionados obsess over their characters. Indie games and mobile games are off in their silos, with dedicated fans who never pick up a console controller. And it’s likely that the new generation of virtual reality gamers will become a community unto themselves.

SWTOR UI small

Can I possibly learn this UI in my lifetime?

Massively multiplayer online games are even worse. Many MMO players often only play their game of choice. The level of knowledge needed to do well in a modern MMO means time taken to learn other games is time taken away from the game of choice to get that one, best loot drop. The time needed to organize a clan, set up raids, or craft the perfect item means a player needs to devote immense amounts of time to get good at it.

Even the user interface demands substantial learning time. Plus, those UI customization options wire the player’s brain in a way that makes learning other user interfaces painful. And every MMO has a different idea on the perfect UI. Leaving the cozy, successful virtual community becomes difficult.

MOBAs, like League of Legends (aka LoL) and Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) generate massive amounts of money and dedicated players put in vast amounts of time to improve their game and move up the ladders. It’s a highly competitive environment, not well-suited to casual game players. The money thrown at MOBA tournaments is another factor, generating lots of press and buzz. Unlike physical sports, though, it’s hard to be a casual MOBA player. Unless you devote serious time and effort, you end up being frustrated and leave.

I suppose this was inevitable, as games become more immersive. When we find a world that appeals to us so much, the real world seems like shades of gray. When our friends join with us — or when we find new friends in the newly discovered virtual world — that simply reinforces our desire to go deeper into the rabbit hole.

Another aspect of the division of gaming into genre silos: our obsessions inevitably become business opportunities. Hardware companies ship game-enhanced editions of products, ranging from console bundles to specialized mice. We wear our obsessions as t-shirts, custom hoodies, and even cosplay.

Tom Clancy's The Division™2016-3-23-13-43-5

I’m enjoying The Division, but I’ll probably never master it.

The all-around gamer almost seems like a relic of bygone days. Even as I find myself playing Ubisoft’s The Division, I wander back to pick up a little XCOM2, then fire up a little Fallout 4. I look at the amazing settlements my friend Scott creates in Fallout 4, or some of the excellent XCOM2 mods online acquaintances create, and am amazed.

The closest I ever came to mastering a game was with the Mass Effect series. Even then, I rarely played above silver level in ME3 multiplayer, and never Platinum, and never collected even half the multiplayer achievements.

Wanting to play a lot of different games means I’ll never be the master of any. And I’m okay with that. But I wonder how many of us are left.

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