Expert opinion: development of taste in gaming from an intergenerational view.

A few weeks ago I briefly corresponded with Peer Schneider, the General Manager of gaming news giant IGN who is perhaps best known as the foremost figure in the ‘Reaction Guys’ Internet meme.

Reaction guys 2

Peer is a regular contributor to IGN’s podcast ‘Nintendo Voice Chat’, on which he often references his experiences and views as a parent of several young gamers. The idea that we’ve reached a point where cross-generational examination of the medium can begin excites me, so I reached out to Peer to see if he’d answer a few questions. He was kind enough to oblige.

‘As an ardent gamer raising children who also play video games, do you feel your tastes have at all influenced theirs?’

Peer: ‘Parents hold a lot of power. There are limits, of course, but I’ve definitely seen how I can nudge them into certain directions that they wouldn’t have explored on their own. For example, I played Halo multiplayer with all three – and then got them to try Halo Wars, a genre that they probably wouldn’t have explored on their own. This started my then 9-year-old on a quest to discover other strategy and RTS games, including Civilization and StarCraft. The first games my daughter experienced were Mario and Zelda titles – which were at the time already diminishing in popularity with younger players as mobile gaming was emerging. But it’s that foundation that made her choose to spend her money on a Wii U and a Switch later on.

‘Have you actively encouraged them to develop their own tastes for games?’

P: ‘There are countless games that I couldn’t get into, that have consumed hundreds of hours of my kids’ attention. Minecraft is the obvious one, Terraria, Kerbel Space Program, Binding of Isaac, and many other Steam Early Access games are either too time-consuming for me, or don’t feel “baked” enough for me to take a dive. But I’ve encouraged them to explore games and genres that are popular with their friends – and they didn’t need much encouragement to get going. When deciding whether to invest in consoles, handhelds or a PC for my sons, I made the deliberate choice to nudge them into PC/Steam territory, a market that I don’t know as well. It’s given me more insight and exposed me to different games in the end.’

‘Have they developed their own divergent tastes in spite of your influence?’

P: ‘That, too. But I’m also a gate keeper. For example, I won’t let the boys play hard “M” shooters yet. Now, they definitely pursued some titles that are popular with their friends that are far out and away from what I’d recommend. Take the Cookie Clicker games. I think they’re the least creative titles on the market, yet kids love them. Their friends play them, so they play them, too.’

‘Have you ever prescribed to them certain games they ‘must play’?

P: ‘Ha, I’ve tried. For example, I absolutely love Ocarina of Time. But it took me a few attempts to get my kids to want to take a leap and stick with a story-driven adventure. They more naturally gravitate toward level-building and truly open world games. Now, with Breath of the Wild, they’re actually going back to the classic Zeldas. I didn’t have to push them, either.

‘Do you find they gravitate towards any particular genres? If so, do you feel these preferences correlate with other characteristics e.g. taste in music, fashion sense, general attitudes etc.?’

P: ‘Yes. And my three kids are all different. One is a builder, one is more of a speed runner/rogue-like fan, and one loves stories. We unify around shared experiences and multiplayer games. It’s tough to tell whether games correlated with their tastes in other media as they constantly discover new things, but my daughter’s interest in story-telling definitely transcends formats, while my sons don’t care why something is happening, only that they’re making it happen.’

‘Do you find their peers have a greater or lesser influence on what they play compared to you?’

P: ‘I get a bonus because I’m a specialist – and my kids know that. They know that I discover things early. But peers seem to have equal power.’

‘Do your children engage with more ‘traditional’ touch points within gaming media/culture (magazines, sites such as IGN, conventions etc.)? If so, do you find that media outlets such as IGN and Gamespot have a significant influence on their tastes and views regarding gaming? Who do you feel are the primary gatekeepers of gaming culture for younger gamers?’

P: ‘It seems that kids aren’t as forward-looking as older gamers – they engage with fandom on a different level. They don’t proactively research games as much and just jump in. While they’ll inevitably end up on IGN content since we also offer trailers and Let’s Plays, they don’t explicitly or always start their games media experience with our site. Timeliness and coverage of the industry just aren’t important – it’s more about personalities engaging with their favorite games; and like them, sticking with them longer. Thus, I think a lot of power to form younger players’ opinions or entertain them rests with individual YouTubers or peers on social platforms. We are able to insert ourselves at various points – e.g. with fun content on our Snapchat Discover edition – but it’s not a continuous engagement as we switch topics fast.’

‘Do you think your children have different criteria for what constitutes a ‘good game’ compared to what you judged games by when you were younger? Similarly, when both you and one of your children have played the same game, have you found there to be any major distinctions between how you experienced/enjoyed the game?

P: ‘Gamers are far from homogenous today – we count many different segments even among core gamers today, and their attitudes towards games differ. Generally, I think older gamers will be more impacted by technical shortcomings in games – bad frame rates, glitches, lacklustre presentation or voice acting – while kids are happy to overlook those factors or even find enjoyment in them. It may be that they’ll gain a more sophisticated eye over time, or it may be a new segment of players who have grown up with games on smaller screens and aren’t in relentless pursuit of higher fidelity. Likewise, younger gamers are often okay with content that’s derivative or repetitive. I tend to not want to play a game that completely rips off another; in part because I’ve already experienced that sort of gameplay, but also because I can’t separate my thoughts about the creators’ lack of creativity from the final product. My kids have no problems looking past that.’

‘The ways in which information about games is disseminated – along with discourse surrounding gaming in popular culture – have changed a great deal over the past few decades. What do you think are the key differences between how you engaged with gaming culture when you were young and how your children engage with it today? What are some of the similarities?’

P: ‘Remember, there was no internet when I was young. Thus, we often dreamed of sequels to games or new experiences and didn’t find out about them until they were right upon us – or when we saw them in an arcade or at a friend’s house. And while we enjoyed watching our friends play, it was never long before we demanded a go ourselves. Gaming culture is now mainstream. With movies based on games, character goods, and online play that connects millions, gaming is all around us and never sleeps. Gaming culture today includes spectating other players for extended times, and not always to observe skilled play. Games are now an entertainment platform that personalities can use as a springboard to create entertainment in its own right. Some things didn’t change: the art of ‘smack talking’ is alive (and well?) in YouTube comments and chat room interactions.’

As a brief concluding comment, what I found most interesting in Peer’s responses was the apparent reflexive relationship his views and tastes have with those of his children. I could not help but contrast this to, for instance, the very prescribed manner in which my early taste for music was nurtured. It leads me to wonder whether there is something inherent in the nature of gaming – playfulness, interactivity etc. – that makes it an easier medium than most for disparate generations to explore together. Then again, it could just be that Peer’s an open-minded, forward-thinking, definitely ‘cool’ dad.

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