Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Overwhelmed By Choice

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 21, 2014

This weekend wiped me out, and kept me going almost constantly. I have a couple of unfinished larger posts, but I didn’t want to leave you empty-handed on a Monday. So here are a couple of things continuing to make me think:

“An Algorithm for Discovering Hidden Gems” by Lars Doucet talks about putting in place some kind of system that can measure the engagement level of a game while filtering out – at least to a degree – the popularity level and the likelihood of being “gamed.” I can’t say I’m totally on board here, but it’s worth thinking about these things. After hearing how most of the people voting for a particular movie for the Academy Awards this year hadn’t even seen the movie but thought it was “important” and thus worthy of their vote (and realizing that – before I cast the first stone – I must admit I’m not guiltless of this kind of behavior, either), it would be good to be able to measure games on an objective basis and simply see how much people enjoyed playing it – short or long, popular or not.

On what might first seem an unrelated note, I wanted to mention a post by Brad Torgersen, an award-winning speculative fiction author I met briefly over the weekend, entitled, “Whence Fandom?”  He notes how fractured fandom is now, as compared to the “old days.”

I find parallels with how video games are now. Honestly, you could probably point to most media now that the technological barriers to reproduction and distribution have crumbled. Back in the “old days” of gaming, there were a handful of points of convergence for video game fans – the small, nerdy “tribe” that we we were. It would differ by region;  a gamer from Tokyo might not have much in common with a gamer from San Diego. But with a (relatively) small number of platforms and the arcades, we had a relatively small pool to draw from. Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, Tetris, Wizardry, Zork, Civilization, King’s Quest, Asteroids, Breakout, Castlevania, Monkey Island, Atari’s Adventure, Mega Man, Metroid, Street Fighter, Double Dragon, Contra, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear, The Legend of Zelda, Wing Commander, Falcon, Ultima, Sonic… You wouldn’t have to list too many games before you’d find a nice subset of games two or more players would have in common. And then, boom, you have common interest, and perhaps more importantly, a common language.

The extremely wide variety of games today is something of a mixed bag. We aren’t completely lacking in what Torgersen refers to as cultural touchstones. If you’ve played Guitar Hero, The Elder Scrolls, Assassin’s Creed, Team Fortress, Minecraft, Angry Birds, Modern Warfare, or – hey, Civilization (still)! – in the last decade, you don’t have to go quite so far to find other gamers who have shared that experiences with you. But these are diluted, and maybe it’s just because I’ve become such an indie / retro game fan and have departed so much from “mainstream,” but it feels like the subsets of “games in common” has become smaller and harder to find. It’s not even about the plethora of games out there (which dwarfs their counterparts back in the 80s or early 90s), but more about the plethora of gamers of so many stripes and interests. I am reminded of this all the time when Robert Boyd of Zeboyd games and I say “Classic, old-school RPGs,” and we’re often talking about completely different games. They might have common ancestors, but we’re often talking about distant cousins of the genre.

I don’t think this is an unhealthy development: more games, more gamers, more interests, more diversity, and more styles and approaches all have far more upside than downside. But I would like to see ways of finding more points of commonality, if for no other reason than to make sure that all these little niches within the medium / hobby / industry are able to keep communicating and share. Otherwise, we’re either going to start spinning those wheels we keep reinventing, or take the safe and easy path-most-traveled following the big-budget behemoths. This is the reason I’d like to see us tackle the problem of discovering and “getting the word out” on those hidden gems. The gaming world has a lot to offer, if only we can find it.

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