Sasquatch Soapbox: Games and gamers — the line begins to blur

What is a game, and what is a gamer? In the wake of E3 coverage laced with "it's not for us," the rise of games on social media sites and iPhones, and Microsoft and Sony showcasing their motion-control interfaces more thoroughly, this question is coming up more often. An unscientific analysis of quote-unquote hardcore gamers would suggest they're focused more and more on what appears to be a shrinking market. Nintendo's press conference at E3 this year, in which it showed off new Zelda, Donkey Kong, and Kid Icarus titles, was held up as a breath of relief; the reaction within core gamers was along the lines of, "Finally, Nintendo is making games for us again!"

A truism about business that I've learned in graduate school is that expanding markets begin to fragment and form niches. The disenfranchisement that gamers feel and lack of games "for us" that hardcore gamers squawk about isn't because that market is getting smaller, but that the video games market, in general, is widening and getting larger. Once upon a time, AAA-level games were so few and similar that the hardcore audience could enjoy them all; now, though, incredibly good games of diverse genres are overwhelming people who are used to playing everything. Gamers want the market to grow and for video games to become more popular and widely accepted, but the reality is it's not happening by having "hardcore" games become more popular; gaming as a medium is becoming more popular, but it's not through having five Modern Warfare 2s instead of just one.

In reality, what we're seeing is the market and segmentation within video games begin to mature. Movie fans don't complain that every movie is exactly like a movie that was popular before, or that not every new film is a graphics-laden blockbuster. Films are made for and targeted toward kids, teenagers, housewives and intellectuals; games are beginning to be made and target to audiences that aren't just 13-year-old boys (or others who share the same tastes). Cable TV services offer hundreds of channels; this doesn't mean you're not a passionate TV fan if you don't watch all of them. The splintering doesn't mean that definitive, massively popular, medium-defining events can't happen, either; TV still has shows like "Lost" that attract huge numbers, and box offices still have films that cross over a wide swath of audiences.

I feel that if you are a person who is passionate about a game and spend time playing it, you're a gamer. Putting hours into a game and sharing the experience with friends is what this medium is all about. It doesn't matter whether that's in Modern Warfare, World of Warcraft, Madden, Words with Friends or Farmville. The genre and method by which you play games should be the catalyst for fun; just as entertainment comes in a variety of forms for TV and films, so it will in games.