Header image by Joel Robinson
In ordinary conversations, people sometimes say that video gaming as a medium should be treated as a missionary faith—we should “get more people into gaming.” This is a common sentiment across hobbies. Aside from video games, I also spend a lot of time talking about Magic: The Gathering, literature, and philosophy. In each of these hobbies, the urge to recruit is there. Why should gamers want more gamers?
First, I will deal with the proposed benefit that more gamers create more demand, thus increasing the amount of games on offer. One counterpoint is: gaming is already mainstream. According to the ESA, almost half of Americans play video games. Gaming is not a burgeoning hobby or a hobby on its deathbed desperate for more life in the form of players and money. There’s already plenty of money, people, and content to go around. Also, how many more people have truly never been exposed to gaming and will, upon getting a taste of it, start regularly playing games? I am doubtful that games have that much more room to grow, seeing as how awareness is already so high. Most people know roughly what gaming is about, and if they’re interested they will play games. More than recruitment, an aging populace dying off and new children being born will be the biggest boon to growth. So, I don’t think games have that much room to grow via recruitment, and I don’t think they need growth.
Second, I’ll deal with the proposed benefit that more gamers will create a larger variety of games on offer. More players overall will not increase variety, but will just increase the demand for lowest-common-denominator schlock. After all, lowest-common denominator schlock is popular because it appeals to the lowest-common denominator. If you bring in people without discrimination, then you will mostly be bringing in the lowest-common denominator, so schlock will continue to reign.
It may be true, though, that targeted recruitment of untapped demographics may increase variety in games. However, this variety will be superficial. Games may be thematically or aesthetically more various, but core gameplay won’t be radically changed by bringing in new demographics because those new demographics don’t have the knowledge required to demand gameplay innovation. Casual players can’t know what a meaningfully innovative game would look like. Their idea of variety is different stories, characters, settings, and themes. If you bring in more a ton of Native American mothers, you may get more games that feature mothers and Native Americans. However, that is not a significant or particularly desirable change if you care about games beyond the surface level. Meaningful gameplay innovation is driven by the demand of core gamers and the creativity of designers.
Finally, I’ll deal with the claim that increasing the appeal of gaming will breathe new life into dying gaming niches. On this point, I’d like to draw an analogy with the hobby of reading literature. It’s often opined by avid readers that “Twilight may be light fluff at best, but at least it gets the kids reading, right?” The problem with this claim is that there is no reason to believe people who start reading with Twilight ever go on to read books like Moby Dick. Similarly, “getting people into gaming” doesn’t mean bringing people into your niche of gaming, which is where you want them. You may get someone to enjoy Pokémon GO, but there’s no reason to believe they will necessarily or even probably move on to competitive Street Fighter, even if they now enjoy gaming as a hobby. In a hobby as large as games, there is no reason to believe that someone who enjoys one side of the spectrum will enjoy your end of it.
Acting as a marketer for the medium is pointless.