Practically everyone you know has by now played some form of video game, thanks to a combination of cheap handheld gaming devices, games on cellular phones, and the constantly expanding social networks that provide built-in gaming alongside the surfing for status updates and incriminating photographs. Very few of us, however, can genuinely consider ourselves among the ranks of the hardcore gamers, the so-called elite denizens of the gaming universe. Though there is some disagreement over what exactly constitutes a hardcore gamer, both the video game industry and the public have come to associate the term with someone who (a) eats, drinks and poops video games; and (b) has a tendency to be rather active, both vocally and otherwise, in the video gaming community as a whole. These are the guys (and girls) who have finished every level of Kill Everything in Sight, on Dear God in Heaven Save Me difficulty. These are the folks who have found every last secret item and dungeon, often by logging hundreds of hours that saner people would spend on less important things like eating and sleeping.
One wonders what makes a hardcore gamer, defines him or her as one of our virtual entertainment elite. Having known a few hardcore gamers in my lifetime, and being repeatedly humiliated by their superior skill, I suppose I can offer a few insights into this modern human archetype.
What drives a hardcore gamer to play so long, and with an intensity that would burn the thumbs off of lesser players? The speculation here is that, just as we all seek praise and achievement in our other endeavours, hardcore gamers get their fixes of admiration and reward from the games that they play, and the incredible skill that they bring to bear. Older titles used to do it with high scores and the bragging rights that followed, and today’s games have badges, virtual achievement goals and full CGI ending sequences for extra gratification.
But the rabbit hole runs deeper than that. For some hardcore gamers, this is really the only thing at which they excel, the only arena where they will receive renown and distinction instead of being branded as losers and anti-social nobodies by society at large. Professional athletes perhaps function in much the same way, except that it’s a lot cooler to be great at dunking at basketball than to wipe out three Zerg armies with one hand tied behind your back. Unless, of course, you just happen to be from South Korea, where professional gaming has achieved the level of a spectator sport. The point is, we all look for self-affirmation wherever we can find it, and if you just happen to be awesome at fragging enemy combatants, the path to hardcore gaming is a straightforward one.
To a hardcore gamer, video games are essential to life. Every free hour is spent parked in front of a television or computer screen, blasting enemy pixels and cursing at players across the country. This dedication isn’t just to one game, however, so Farmville addicts don’t count. Rather, it calls for a honed expertise in at least a particular genre, be it shooters, strategy games, RPGs or arcade action platformers. The hardcore gamer collects games the way a hunter collects kill trophies, and all of them will have built up quite a decent collection of titles. The zeal that a hardcore gamer demonstrates towards games is almost religious.
In the same way that a gourmet learns to distinguish between ordinary and truly fine cuisine, a hardcore gamer can easily figure out which games are worth his time, and anybody else’s, from the plethora of titles that are released every month. Because their video game palate is so refined, the hardcore gaming community tends to be very vocal about a game being fantastic or sucking eggs, which tends to have an impact on overall consumer perceptions. Hardcore gamers must be at least dimly aware that they have this kind of influence in spite of their minority status, at least with the big companies, who still churn out games with million-dollar production values every so often hoping to appeal to this section of the market.Athlete. Zealot. Gourmand. These are perhaps the best words we can use to describe these often-misunderstood mavericks of the electronic world, who continue to blaze trails in their never-ending quests for kill screens and achievement completion.
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