Why Video Games?
In my freshman year of college, I made the decision (more of a whim I’ve passionately clung to over the years) that I wanted to live out my passion in my career – I was going to do PR and marketing communications in the video game industry – well, really any kind of communication, I’m flexible. Many younger people in the industry have that moment when they fill with excitement and passion as they decide that, no matter what, they would find a way to pursue their passion. It’s a good, sometimes stressful in that good way that makes you have a mild identity crisis, moment. For anyone who lives, breathes, and is driven by video games, it just feels right.
However, as I am sure than anyone who works in or strives to become a part of the video game industry can attest to, we have all been asked at least once since making that decision, “but why video games?” It is a question that can fluster even the seasoned industry professionals. Not because we don’t know why, but because it is so hard to encapsulate the energy of the industry to someone outside. As someone who loves to talk, or as my friends describe it, ranting borderline filibustering, about video games, I still have trouble answering.
I have had an obsessive fascination with the video gaming industry for years on years. I first played Super Mario Brothers on an N64 in the hospital as a toddler and fell in love. Not specifically with Mario, but with beating my dad at Mario. So, as someone who has spent most of their lives loving video games, I do want any video game fanboy/girl would do – obsessively study and research. No…? Just me. Well, okay.
Unsurprisingly, not much has changed. This year, I am performing an independent study for my university in professional writing in the video gaming industry. For all my friends and professors who have seen my project on PlayStation I created for an advertising class, this was not a shocker. All I’ve ever wanted to study, create for, and work in is video games.
So, after reading textbook after textbook, I have stumbled upon a similar issue through my readings – no one can seem to explain what the purpose of these books are? Why are there so many books focusing specifically on video game marketing and PR, journalism,etc. Why do we need separate books? What makes this industry so different than another sector of entertainment? Yes, we gamers can say ‘Because, it’s so much better!!!’, but that isn’t a convincing argument when your extended family asks you about your career at Thanksgiving.
Through my years of interest in the industry, as well as my recent work on this study, I have interviewed professionals across different areas of the industry – from streaming services to console companies and everything in between. While they could tell you about the demographics about the gaming industry and its consumers, or the statistics about sales, no one you interview will spend any real time on that – nor should that be the focus of a conversation with a professional in the industry. To start, any of that information can be found online, and is a waste of precious time with a busy professional. However, the biggest, and most important reason, is that this information is not the kind of information that will really drive a career in the industry.
In one of my most recent interviews, there was a discussion that helped me to truly comprehend the entirety of what the industry accomplishes and how it interacts with the world. It’s intense, I know. I will exclude all the PR and communications related theme and knowledge I have acquired and focus mainly on the overall themes of the industry. (However, if you are interested, I will gladly put aside several hours or a few days to discuss this topic with you. But once you start, there is no going back – ask my friend(s)).
Every time I have asked professionals “what makes the gaming industry different?” it almost always revolves not around the industry itself, but the fans. The fans of the consoles, of the games, of the industry are so devoted and involved in a way other industries cannot come close to.
A video game, from its first announcement, can take five to ten years until it actually hits the shelves. While this would kill any drive in the movie or film industry, gaming fans cling steadfast and can keep their hope burning in a tsunami hitting an ice-age tundra. While it isn’t always the intent of production companies to hold out on their fans, sometimes production schedules get pushed back, and parts, or even whole sections of a game, need to be remade.
This is part of the reason why fans in the video game industry are some of the most well-informed and outspoken fans out there. Often, fans of one series or company do not solely play just those games – they have experience with a large variety of games and consoles, and have devoted what amounts to months or years in hours playing these games. Therefore, they know a good game from a bad one. While we fans are the industry’s biggest and fiercest supporters, we are also its most brutal critics.
What do all of these factors mean? Well, to put it simply, because we are so devoted, well-informed, and outspoken, we have earned the respect of the producers in the industry.. With so much experience playing games, sometimes more experience than these developers have in their careers, their opinion on a game isn’t to be taken lightly. These companies understand that fans can discern what will make a good game just as well, or even better, than they can.
So, why are video game fans this outspoken, informed, and devoted? This loyalty stems from the fact that video games are a more personal and immersive experience than any other form of entertainment. While movies and books are more of a passive experience, video games rely on the player to create the story. As one of my interviewees stated, “although millions of people play a game, not one person will have the same experience. Every person creates their own story through how they chose to play – you imprint a part of you on the game.”
A good example of this idea can be found in one of my new favorite games, where the love interest of the main character dies halfway through. I’ve read books and seen movies where a pivotal character dies, (I even read and saw Marley and Me) and I have never cried that hard over a character death. That is because, in video games, we are the character.
We see, feel, hear, and experience everything through the character. We empathize with this character in a way one only can after controlling and being this person for nearly a hundred hours. We’ve gone through battle after battle and felt their fear. Then, in that silence after a long and trying boss battle, I contemplatively listen to my heartbeat thundering in my ears and feel my flushed face wondering why my body thinks I personally was in a perilous fight against a horde of zombies. Why? Because it felt like we were (my irrational fear of zombies also may have something to do with it…). I felt their frustration with defeat upon every defeat. Maybe it was 10 times, maybe 50 times. The remote usually gets throw around 25ish. Moving closer to the TV like it will magically hone my focus and give me God-like hand-eye coordination occurs around 10 or so. Cursing starts halfway through the third try... This is why I don’t do co-op…
After a while, and the more and more you play and connect with the character, the more that line between us and them blurs. I can’t say I’m really invested in a game unless I start thinking for the main character – hearing of a calamity and worrying about the character’s friends, or seeing something and having it remind you of the protagonist’s lost love. Because in video games, everything, both mentally and physically, becomes very very real.
These production studios understand that. They’ve probably all played a game and felt that. So, when they are creating a game, they know it is not simply that – it’s an experience, a journey. That is why these companies respect their fans and take their feedback to help make the experience as good and real as it can be. They know that a good game is very real to us. One soundbite I found interesting in my recent interview was the idea that, when it comes to game production and marketing, “gamers don’t want to be talked to, they want to be conversed with. You cannot just tell a gamer what they want like you can in other forms of marketing, they tell you what they want.” Did anyone else get chills? Because, as someone who has spent years trying to understand and condense the idea of video game marketing, it suddenly all made sense. I know I’m probably way more excited about this than you, but I hope at least some of my excitement transfers. Or at least pretend in the comments.
So, to answer the big question of “why video games?” Personally, I cannot imagine an industry or career more fulfilling. A video game that makes an impact on a person becomes a part of them just as much as they become a part of it. These players and fans feel the game on a level that creates loyalty to the characters and the series, and this loyalty can carry them over years and years of waiting with nothing but excitement and love for a game.
And yes, there is criticism and hate in the industry, but a lot of it comes from devoted fans that are not willing to take less than the best experience to continue their journey with these characters. Some people have carried these journeys through their whole childhood or a good part of their life. As my interviewee stated, when you work in marketing or PR for a company or series you are passionate about “you go from a fanboy to an ambassador for the game, and you get to use that position to take the voice of the fans like you back to the developers to make the game our fans want.” Considering I will endlessly, and at times incessantly, advocate for a game or company I love happily, for free – I’m all in.
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