The Money Barrier

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Joystiq has been doing regular updates on a PBS program called Game/Show, and today touched on the most recent episode, where the definition of the word “gamer” was debated. The Joystiq writer’s thoughts on the meaning of gamer were interesting, but what caught my attention more was his take on inclusion within the gaming community. I’m not going to debate how welcoming gamers are when new people enter into the fold, but video games themselves remain more exclusive than people seem to realize. It’s the initial buy-in that remains the single, greatest obstacle for most folks, and makes the video game club tougher to get into than it should be.

People complain about video game prices now, but they’ve never been cheap. That’s not even taking into consideration the hundreds of dollars for a system and controllers. Growing up, I knew plenty of kids who’s families weren’t able to get a game system in the house because there were bills to pay. My family was by no means wealthy, but we were always lucky enough to be in a position to have systems and games. I’d feel guilty talking with friends who could only dream of owning even a Game Boy. It’s the same story today for many people everywhere.

Stores like GameStop (loathed though they might be) stepped up and became equalizers in the marketplace, allowing for poorer families and individuals to get in on the action with a tighter budget. Sadly, as digital sales become the standard and physical media slowly slips away, the viability of the secondhand market dwindles. Whereas for years now it’s been easy to slip into a GameStop and snag a game for a few bucks, when digital takes over, those players will be left out in the cold.

There’re a lot of folks here in the US alone who still don’t have easy access to the internet. The more technologically advanced our consoles become, the more the little guy is going to be left in the dust. That’s not to say that buying an XBox One should be the life goal of anyone, but where books and movies are very accessible, games continue to not be, and move further away year by year. The lack of diversity in this industry is created in no small part by the more limited demographics who form its customer base. There might be people of different genders and ethnicities playing, but money has drawn a big, fat line in the sand that’s not easy to step over.

There’s not an easy way of fixing this problem, either. Game consoles can’t stop evolving simply to placate consumers who aren’t able to keep up. This digital-only future that I alluded to is still only the future, after all, so it’s not like GameStop and stores like it will be shuttering anytime soon, either. Still, it’s a problem. Not enough people get to join in the fun with all of us who are lucky enough to play. There is some light at the end of the tunnel, though. The Android and iOS platforms have certainly expanded things with an abundance of cheap titles, letting more people experience games who never have. So who knows, maybe we’re headed for some kind of new form of console that exists at a lower price point with cheaper games than we’re used to. Until then, be grateful that you get to play video games, because there are a lot of folks who aren’t able to.

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