Here are some words and phrases that were not spoken last night during Sony’s press conference, which may be still going on, announcing the PlayStation 4: Multimedia, Television Show, Movie, Win the Living Room, Entire Family, Trojan Horse and Three Screen Experience.
(Also, “And here it is:” and “The PlayStation4 will cost:”, but, you know, details!)
The most common noun, I’m sure, was “gamer”. This word was less spoken than incanted, chanted, repeated with such monastic frequency that it seemed to take on new, possibly mystical significance. The event took place in the Hammerstein Ballroom, but unless you gazed skyward to the lovely 20th century frieze, you would hardly have known.
Sony, which wrapped the room in reflective blue futuretape and mortared the audience at intervals with incandescent lasers, had constructed a temple to something much different from god or culture. Last night was the inaugural rite in the Church of the Gamer.
The Church of the Gamer is a revival religion, a long time coming, and it is for the true believers. We have been told for years now that the importance of the “Core” gamer, the 13-35 year old male who plays long and expensive games, is dwindling. To the scattered remnants of the Core, the Church of the Gamer has thrown open its doors. Here, there is no place for the last ten years of console dogma, largely a race to open gaming to a more diverse audience through television and cinema and gyroscopic wands. The new church has no such colonial aspirations. Instead, it means to consolidate power.
Each bull issued from the procession of pontiffs onstage last night was designed to curry favor with a specific sect of gamer, and I think the most useful way to understand the Church is to describe each one.
1. The impatient gamer.
Also known as “all console gamers”, this gamer does not understand why he or she has to sit for seconds or even minutes at a time as things download and other things whirr to life. The PlayStation 4 boots up instantly to the place in the game at which you shut it off. It will allow immediate access to downloadable games, streaming what you play as you download in the background. It charges its controllers even while resting. Instant Gratification is a tenet of the new faith. Gamers of the past will be seen as stoic, pained apes.
2. The “social” gamer.
These gamers skew young and are somewhat poorly understood. They play online games like League of Legends and like to share what they do as they do it. Remarkably, many of these gamers are content to sit and watch others of their kind play, from a distance. The controller on the PlayStation 4 includes a button dedicated to sharing (whether or not this will be an argument lodged by Kindergarten graduates prior to Christmastime purchases remains to be seen). Social gamers can share recorded video or live streaming video with their friends, who can watch it on any of the screens that they possess. And they will share these videos to the “first social network with meaning dedicated to games”. This is probably a good thing, because something tells me that Jimmy Social Gamer does not really want to broadcast his triumphs on the Fields of Justice to Cheerleader Jane over Facebook, unless times have changed much more than I think.
3. The “console wars” gamer.
This gamer reads a lot of websites about games and is aware of the significance of certain developers to certain hardware manufacturers. To this gamer, the fact that Sony has convinced Blizzard (the makers of World of Warcraft, who haven’t made a console game in decades) and Bungie (the makers of Halo, without which Xbox would be a memory) to come into their tent holds deep meaning. This gamer, who could also probably be called the “game politics gamer”, the “tea leaves gamer” and “get a life”, is constantly checking the wind for signs that one console maker has the upper hand. This gamer will be enticed into the Church of the Gamer because he or she perceives it to be an ascendant power.
4. The independent gamer.
Jonathan Blow is the creator of probably the most famous independent game ever made, Braid. Last night, amidst the studio heads with amphetamine eyes, Blow sauntered out onto the stage, condescending and ornery. It was surreal, like watching Godard address an audience of Hollywood executives and Aint It Cool readers. He announced that his new game, The Witness, will be available first, and for a time exclusively, on the new PlayStation. There is a growing class of gamers who worship people like Blow, and an even larger class who respect what he represents. These people, who will probably not attend weekly services at the Church of the Gamer, nonetheless might get baptized.
5. The “shootey-drivey-vroom-vroom-boom-boom” console gamer.
These gamers generally go wherever things explode most righteously and shine most blindingly, and have also not figured out yet that computers are always this place. These gamers were the ones erotically gasping in the audience last night at the phrases “supercharged PC architecture” and “8 gigabytes of RAM”. Most of the games displayed last night, from the new Killzone to Drive Club to Capcom’s Deep Down (these gamers could also be called the “two syllable gamers”), were designed to massage the limbic systems of these gamers. Loyal only to the console that explodes and shines best, this part of the Church coalition may be its most fragile, pending Microsoft’s new Xbox and the coming living room computers.
6. The fantasy gamer/gamer who is extremely into Japan.
I counted at least three games featuring dragons last night. These gamers are basically so far in the bag for the Church of the Gamer that no Japanese person appeared on stage until an hour and a half into the presentation, despite it being a worldwide announcement from Japan’s proudest company. If you want to know more about these gamers I guess you can email me. Just know that Microsoft doesn’t understand them and Nintendo isn’t Japanese enough for them.
The Church of the Gamer, like all religions, requires a degree of faith. As the clergy write the canon law, this faith will be tested by a series of questions, which are easy enough to predict: why does this system cost so much? Why is my internet not fast enough to stream these games? Why do I have to pay to use this gaming social network when the best social networks are all free? Why would I buy this mid-rate living room PC when I can buy a newer one, with access to more games, that is much more powerful and works just as well with my television? When is the cloud gaming I read about going to be fully functional? Who in the world owns a Vita?
But those are questions for the days ahead. Last night as I stumbled out onto 34th street, rubbing my eyes, I had the distinct feeling that I had just heard a very good sermon: rhetorically nimble, surprising, uplifting, short on specifics. It has been a long time since gamers had been the audience for one of those, directed as they’ve been at their less interested partners, kids and grandparents. Is there still enough belief in their blood for a great awakening?