Why We Can’t Explain Video Games To Non Gamers

A lot of us have, are, or want to work in gaming. Which is great, even if the industry is insanely confusing (enough for me to have ranted about it for quite some time). Gaming is a legitimate form of development and dare I say it, art. Also it really helps push technology, so I’m all for it.

Except as I expand my work in the geekosphere I encounter a lot of people who just don’t “get” gaming. Oh they’re as nerdy as the rest of us, as technical (if not moreso in some cases), but they don’t see why people would blow hours doing this and what they get of it. Wondering why some people don’t “get” gaming is something I’ve been thinking of.

I’ve been thinking about it because it affects how we develop, how we market, and how we communicate. If we are missing people that may enjoy our games, that is an issue. If value is not communicated, that is an issue. If sometimes we’re wasting time on a bad project we could avoid with the feedback of a “non-gamer” that is a big issue.

So why is it some people just don’t “get” games? After some analysis, I came to a few conclusions, some of which are surprising.  Well, to me.

Cultural Disconnect. For all the hype about casual gamers and new gamers, a good deal of gaming has its own culture, roots, and thus its own borders as well. To “get” gaming requires a sense of its history, and some people don’t have that as they were never exposed to it – and frankly may not have cared. How do I explain enjoying Roguelikes to someone who isn’t aware of their history and charm? How do I explain there are 70 year old gamers beyond hoping Grandma Hardcore doesn’t freak them out?

Time and Culture. It’s also hard to explain the value of games to people that don’t understand why they’re played; they’d rather do something else. Again, the culture of games is important here as gaming in many cases is more than just a casual thing, but part of a larger lifestyle and interests. This culture in turn has strong roots – people may not come from.

Artistic Misalignment. Some people may not like gaming, but may appreciate the elements of gaming. We lack the cultural tools and efforts to help people become aware of the artistry of gaming, or its importance – because we speak to gamers. Over a year after becoming addicted to Skyrim, and being unable to communicate it to a friend, it is only recently I realized that I could express it as being like a painting or a good piece of music – it is immersive due to loving detail. Wish I’d thought of that.

Elements But Not Wholes. Some people might get parts of games, such as a good graphic engine or a plot, but there’s not a game out there that brings elements together that they want to see. In short, some people haven’t “gotten” gaming as they haven’t found (or no one has created) something that appeals to them. There’s probably a lot of markets out there people haven’t looked into in gaming.

Technical Onslaught. The day you can point to a game’s massive player base or incredible graphics are over because we’re in an age of lifelike CGI and mass communications. Gaming’s “wow” factor on the technical side is gone. As we also have more, smaller games, reliant on concepts over the latest photorealistic rendering, that wow factor has passed. I think this makes it harder to impress the developments in games as, technically, they are less impressive by contrast.

Questionable elements. Let us be honest, there’s enough stereotypes and tropes about gaming, and at times enough truths, that it’s hard to communicate the value of games when there are some examples that make people question their value. I’m not talking sex and violence, but things like “yet another World War II shooter again” or media attention paid to, say, FPS games.

Lack of comparison. We don’t often have good metaphors to communicate interest and value of games; where as one may have this for other interests such as sports, running, cooking, etc. We often don’t think about it. It may be time for people (especially those who work in gaming) to ask about how we communicate about the interest.

Having analyzed this, I’m now understanding why some of my friends and family look at my “gaming interest” and go “huh?” It’s bloody hard to communicate, and it takes some thought to figure out how to explain it. We probably need to as gaming is more profitable, prominent – and wants to look at new markets.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at http://www.fantopro.com/, nerd and geek culture at http://www.nerdcaliber.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.