Thursday, March 17, 2005

Understanding Gamers: PC Gamers

There are essentially two kinds of gamers. There are those who play games once in a while perhaps as leisure or a break from their daily routine, and those that eat, breathe, and sleep with gaming. What I’m going to talk about is the latter. They’re the subculture in society that non-gamers don’t understand. This series of articles will try to explain gaming from a gamer’s perspective.

Before I start with PC games, I’d first like to point out two trends in the industry. One is the prominence of multiplayer games, or games that can be played over a network (whether that means your local computer café or online via the Internet). Let’s face it, PC games aren’t as anti-social as they used to be. You may be facing a computer screen but there’s probably someone on the other end. And of all the other gaming mediums, PC games are probably the most prevalent when it comes to using the Internet. Another trend is real-time playability. Most games now, whether they’re RPGs, strategy, or action/adventure are played in real-time. That means every second that passes in real life is also one second gone in gaming time. Take note of these two trends for they will play a significant role in the modern gamer’s psychology.

One thing about PC gamers is that they’re competitive. It’s not just me versus the computer anymore. Nowadays, it’s evolved to me versus everyone else. I have a living, breathing, thinking opponent on the other end. And both of us keeps score (whether that’s your current ranking in the community, the number of kills you’ve made, your winning streak, or simply your character level). Having said that, the focus of nearly every serious PC gamer is to win. And winners will try to gain every possible advantage as possible.

Perhaps the most important commodity in a gamer’s arsenal is speed. Since games are played in real time, reaction time becomes a crucial factor. Perhaps the biggest factor that can drastically change a person’s gaming speed is their equipment. Okay, if I have the latest video card, not only does it enable me to play the latest games, the graphics are also smoother. Having lots of memory can speed up games, and having a broadband connection is a necessity. I mean it’s one thing to lose a game due to negligence. It’s another to lose a game because your Internet connection was too slow, or your computer didn’t process your commands on time. That’s why most serious gamers shell out money to buy state-of-the-art technology (or at least make it their goal not only to buy the latest games but try to get the best equipment). It’s also why gamers would prefer to go into an Internet café with better equipment than a place with inferior equipment.

Since gamers are constantly looking for that extra edge, controls are another important factor. A gamer’s best friend is his keyboard and mouse. The former gives you access to hotkeys, or shortcut commands that enable the player to do something that would otherwise take several commands to perform. Normally, this wouldn’t be too much of a problem. I mean when using Microsoft Word, I can save my document by pressing Ctrl + S or Alt + F then press S. Ctrl + S saves me time but there’s nothing wrong with opting for the latter. In PC gaming, the lost time means everything. It could mean switching from your sniper rifle to your knife, or drinking that potion before your hit points hit zero. The mouse is just as important as the keyboard. While the keyboard gives you access to supplementary actions, the mouse is the most basic method of how your character navigates in the game. Without the mouse, you’re a sitting duck. A faulty mouse results in flawed movement. A gun shot to the head might miss and draw the attention of your opponent. Or it might mean heading straight into the jaws of danger when you were trying to flee from battle. Precision is key to winning a game and that’s how important a mouse is. A true gamer either owns an optical mouse, or spends lots of time cleaning his mouse ball (or uses a trackball). Some mice also have shortcuts built into them, such as the right mouse button, or the scroll button.

Of course you can have the best stuff that money can buy but in the end, it’ll come down to skill and knowledge. The former can be gained by experience and playing the game repetitively. Hey, parents also wanted their kids to study so that they can get high grades. The same goes for gamers. We play, play, and play some more in order to become good at what we do. We’re also racking up prestige along the way, whether it’s because we’re increasing our ranks or gaining levels. Of course sometimes, skill alone is not enough. You need knowledge to back it up. That’s why gamers often participate in message boards, mailing lists, and surf gaming-related websites. Tips, tactics, and strategies always helps the PC gamer, which is why we try to update ourselves on the latest news and patch releases. When you combine both factors, you end up with a pretty impressive player.

Not that the PC gamer is merely an aggressive, competitive person. PC gamers are social persons too. They fraternize within their gaming groups, and gaming rivals become good friends and vice versa. Some gamers group together, and can take the form of guilds, teams, or clans. Heck, gamers from a particular city or country can unite against a common foe (usually another city or country). Some of the most popular games even involve teamwork. I mean Counterstrike must be played in teams (you’re either the terrorist or the anti-terrorists), real-time strategy games can host as much as a dozen players at any one time (at the time of this writing), and RPGs encourage the building of parties. While gamers are competitive, they’re also cooperative. Along with bringing in sentient adversaries, multiplayer gaming also brings in intelligent allies.

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