The new Summer anime Gamers! surprised me with the direction the ending took. The show starts off like a normal romantic comedy: normal guy Keita Amano suddenly gets approached by the most popular girl at school, Karen Tendou. Turns out she’s a gamer, and she invites Keita to join her Game Club, full of highly competitive gaming misfits. It’s the perfect setup for a high school rom-com life… except Keita refuses to join the club.
Why would he give up the chance to make some gaming friends and even a romance with a beautiful gamer girl? Because the atmosphere and purpose of the Game Club is focused on the competitive side of gaming, while Keita wants to just play video games to have fun. He does not want to join video game competitions and would rather “see some nice scenery” than try to play a first-person shooter game properly. He found out at some point that playing games competitively just was not fun for him, and so while he appreciates Karen’s invite, he decides he would rather just keep playing games his way.
This moment reflects one of the greatest divides in the world of gaming: those who play for fun and those who play competitively. On the one hand, you have people who simply want to play for a good time, either to relax, enjoy a good story or a visually appealing presentation, or to have some laughs with friends. They do not care about optimal strategies, high scores, or winning against other people, as long as they are having fun. On the other hand, others play in search of serious achievements, either individually through high scores or speedruns, or in direct competition against other players where winning means making the opponents losers. They research strategies, debate the metagame online, and spend lots of time practicing and honing their skills.
Both of these are perfectly valid ways to play video games. Some people will overall stick with either playing games for the experience, or for playing for achievements or competitions. Others may choose one game or one genre of games to devote themselves to competitively, while playing other games more casually. Loosely, we can call these two types of players “casual” and “competitive” gamers, though I personally find the names not very accurate (many “casual” gamers devote a lot of time to their games in order to perfect their game experience, while some gamers who focus on achievements in single player games are not as interested in competing against others with those results). Game developers are becoming more aware that these two types of players exist, especially the competitive players, so they increase their support for the competitive scene by hosting tournaments or including specialized competitive modes in their game, while still making sure their game can be enjoyed by less competitive people.
All of this would make for a nice, peaceful gaming environment… if the casual and competitive gamers never had to meet.
The problem, of course, is that families, school clubs, and especially the Internet will put these casual and competitive players in the same place, where they are free to say the way they play games should be the way everyone plays games. Especially nasty competitive players will regularly mock others for playing sub-optimally, get angry when a game offers an “easy” mode, force others to play on “balanced” settings, and will offer no condolence to a frustrated player other than to “gitgud”. However, the casual players are not entirely innocent, either; particularly bad apples there know just enough about the competitive scene to cry foul the moment someone’s cursor hovers over a high-tier character, or someone starts performing high-level techs. Things only get worse with games where players work as a team, as now even more reasonably-minded competitive players can easily get angry when a player trying to have fun with fancy but sub-optimal tactics (or jumping around to look at the scenery) actively cuts into their chances of winning. On the flip side, some casual players decide that their definition of “fun” is deliberately trolling the competitive community and screwing their team over or engaging in other immature activities.
While I do believe both sides have more reasonable people than immature ones, the immature people are also usually the loudest, and leave the strongest impression on people. As such, many people either retreat into communities only composed of others who play the game the same way they do, or try to avoid gaming communities altogether, perhaps even abandoning a game they otherwise like because they feel the community is too toxic. It is not hard to understand why Keita would get turned off from competitive play, and also why he would refuse to join a club that seemed to only be there to train competitive gamers. Even given how nice the other members are overall, for Keita, it would be much easier to avoid a competitive gaming club entirely.
It might be easier, but is that really the best for him? Are we really better off completely separating casual players?
Personally, I would love to see Keita find his way back to the Game Club, and give the club a chance to have a casual gamer amidst its competitors. Both he and the other gamers have a lot they could learn from each other. For the more competitive members, and for Karen, who seems to look down a bit on the mobile game that Keita likes to play, it would be a good opportunity to expand their view on gaming and the different way people can enjoy games. At the same time, even as a casual gamer, Keita does not need to completely reject competitive gaming. I personally would consider myself a “casual” gamer (again, I can take my games seriously, but it’s more about the experience of gaming for me, not about trying to win tournaments or achieving high scores), but I know I have learned a lot looking into the various competitive scenes for games I play. Learning higher-level techniques and strategies to improve my skills have made it easier to pursue my own personal goals in a game, as well as given me some new ways to appreciate those games.
And that’s just what casual and competitive gamers can learn from each other about their games. Going further, casual and competitive gamers can learn a lot about each other as people when they play together. Although a given person may be considered a “casual” gamer, they may still have a passion for games that matches that of competitive gamers. Many “casual” gamers play games as a form of self-expression; they play with characters and playstyles that reflect various parts of themselves, or to otherwise tell a “story” through their gameplay. Others may devote themselves to particular characters they feel attached to, or play multiplayer games as a way of socializing. As for competitive gamers, they also span a wide range of personalities, playstyles, and motivations for competing. Anyone can learn a lot from how competitive gamers play, from how they train their skills, how they work with teammates, how they approach newer players trying to learn the game, and how they handle both victory and defeat. (Granted, sometimes what we learn is how not to behave in similar situations.)
Christians have an even more important opportunity here, as our involvement in gaming communities can be a place for our ministry. Those who play for the experience can talk about how the stories and characters that interest us, or the motivations and playstyles we adopt, reflect our beliefs. Meanwhile, Christians who participate in the competitive gaming scene have much of my respect as they witness to Christ even as they strive to achieve victory and defeat anyone they can; how they approach their witness is something I admittedly know little about and would love to learn. For both casual and competitive Christian gamers, talking and playing with people who play for different reasons gives us a great opportunity to show grace in an environment where oftentimes very little grace exists.
At this point, I should add that while interacting with different types of gamers is potentially a very good thing, by no means should anyone feel like they should stay with a community that is truly toxic. If you ever feel like being part of a certain gaming community is making you a worse person, or making you enjoy the game less, there is no shame in walking away. Especially on the Internet, with no face-to-face contact between players, getting involved with a toxic community will only do more harm than good.
If we do have the opportunity to associate with gamers of a different nature than us in a healthy environment, though, we should take advantage of that opportunity, even if it is a bit scary or uncomfortable. Being able to interact with and resolve conflicts with people who are different from us is important, and video games can provide a place to do that and have some fun, too. That is why, as Gamers! continues on past its first episode, I hope the show continues to explore the conflict between casual and competitive gamers, and how they can overcome that conflict and learn from each other. Casual and competitive gamers may have a long history of butting heads with each other, but as long as things do not get too toxic, that will ultimately be better than leaving Keita and Karen stuck in their own gaming worlds.
Of course, I would like to hear from others on this subject! Do you consider yourself a casual or a competitive gamer? What experiences have you had with gamers of the other type? What do you think casual and competitive gamers can learn from each other, if anything?
Gamers! is streaming on Crunchyroll.