Commentary

Games For Non-Gamers

In the early days of video gaming, "Nintendo" was for young boys. If you were over 18 or a girl and you played "Nintendo," something was amiss. As young gamers grew up, console gaming did, too, and now no one bats an eye when a 30-year-old investment banker spends his time at home on his 360.

These days, the game space often gets divvied up not by age and gender, but into casual and hardcore--with casual gamers playing downloadable or Web-based games and the hardcore set playing console games and more hardware-intensive PC games.

This division is further pigeonholed by demographics--casual gamers are assumed to be older and more heavily female, like my mother and her "Bookworm" habit, while hard-core gamers are younger and male, like my "World of Warcraft" guild, which consists largely of professional 20-something men who want to spend all their free time slaying dragons. Because of this split, marketing in console gaming is largely perceived as the way to reach "the coveted 18-34 male demographic"--a phrase every hopeful marketing pundit is required to write at least once in his career.

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Likewise, game developers target their games towards this demographic, designing titles that will appeal to the gamers who have been buying their products for the last 20 years--games like the "Grand Theft Auto" series, "Halo 2" and "World of Warcraft." Though those games have made huge splashes among hard-core gamers, violent crime, alien invasions and dragon-slaying do not hold mass appeal for the demo whose gaming experience begins and ends with "Bejeweled."

But developers are starting to play away from their usual audiences. Some of the most recently acclaimed hit titles haven't involved automatic weapons. Konami's "Guitar Hero"--a philosophical successor to "Dance Dance Revolution," another game that boasted demographic-spanning appeal--cast players in the role of a lead guitarist and included a special guitar-controller. "Hero" was critically acclaimed and very popular. Sony Computer Entertainment's "Buzz!", a quiz game that included sports, general and music editions, followed "Guitar Hero"'s model of including a specialized controller, making the learning curve for the game much gentler.

Since we gamers first got our "Nintendo"s under the Christmas tree in 1986, gaming has grown up a lot. But it's also growing out. Console gaming is growing into a mass medium, and with developers looking to create games for non-gamers, video gaming is looking to take its place with TV and the Web as a full-fledged mass medium.

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