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Edge Magazine #169 December 2006

And the winner is...

Edge #169, December 2006

While George W Bush would like us to believe that there are two types of people in the world - good people (go to church, vote Republican, don't question anything they're told), and evil people (tan skin, beady eyes, smell of garlic, never seen a Ronald Reagan movie) - I suspect the reality is slightly more complex. Not that America has ever let the complexities of reality get in the way of a good war, but that's neither here not there.

Gamers are also often labelled in a simplistic and stupid way by being dumped into one of two categories: hardcore, or casual. I don't really know what either means. 'Hardcore' suggests someone who plays obscure Japanese platform games every day, wears Ken Kutaragi slippers and has a vintage PC Engine under his bed.

A casual gamer is... what? Someone who likes Tetris, and perhaps accidentally bought an N-Gage? Someone who plays games once every three days? Someone who is a big fan of Buzz - The Big Quiz?

It's a ludicrous over-simplification of the truth, and my skin bristles whenever I see either term used. I mean, what about the rest of us, who are neither casual nor hardcore? I'd like to think I'm somewhere in between, and that my gaming habits, such as they are, transcend witless labels. Yes, I'm passionate about the games I like, but there's far too much going on in life to be playing them all the bloody time. I mean, you don't get fans of other entertainment media being labelled 'hardcore' or 'casual'.

"What do you like doing in your spare time?"

"Well, if I'm honest I'm a bit of a hardcore poetry fan. Look - I've got Ted Hughes tattoos."

I've always felt that it's the inbetweener breed of gamer which Nintendo has always targeted. The people who really like games, but have a life beyond them. Normal people, who just happen to play games. Occasionally.

Ironically, Nintendo has struggled to get its message across to its intended audience. The Game Boy managed to become a market-leading brand by virtue of having the handheld market to itself for many years, but for the last decade-and-a-half Nintendo's consoles have played second fiddle to the aggressively-marketed likes of the Mega Drive and PlayStation. It has always seemed one step removed from the zeitgeist.

And yet it was always that hardcore minority, raised on the purity of Nintendo's philosophy, which claimed Nintendo as its own. Frankly, anyone who thinks Mario Sunshine isn't a game for children is deluded, but that didn't seem to matter to the zealots (another horrible term).

Nintendo couldn't catch a break. Most people seemed to want the best graphics, the best sound and the sexiest logo, and - for the last couple of generations - Nintendo failed to deliver. It ploughed a lonelier furrow, nourishing the gameplay, and a quality over quantity ethic, at the expense of a larger share of the market. It has waited for the bandwagon to roll back into town. And it looks like that day may be here.

My nephew is 22, and also sort of occupies that no-man's land between being a casual gamer and a hardcore gamer. He plays games regularly - FIFA, Burnout and Halo - but you won't find him eulogising about Kingdom Hearts.

The other day he said something to me that I found significant: "I don't care whether the graphics aren't as good as the PS3. The games look wicked."

Assuming he was referring to the modern, youthful interpretation of wicked - rather than the more traditional definition ('wilfully or knowingly causing pain or distress to others') - this, to me, signifies a cultural shift. He, as a populist, Nintendo-shunning, mainstream console buyer, wants a Nintendo Wii.

Could it be that Nintendo has finally won? Could the years of gameplay over graphics have at last paid off? I bloody hope so. It's as if people have suddenly realised that if all you're going to use technology for is to make the games look prettier, then what's the point?

It gets to the core of how fundamentally Sony has misjudged the current state of the market. Aside from the ludicrousness of its prohibitive, elitist price-point, the ballsed-up release date, the sheer pointlessness of its HD-DVD drive (you can forget HD-DVD, or Blu-ray - both will go the way of Betamax), and the desperate 'we can do good gameplay stuff too' vibe given off by the last-minute motion-sensitive controller, Sony has simply misread what people now want from games.

The market has shifted in the last couple of years, and the grand irony is that Sony has helped it shift. When you look at the success of SingStar, and the innovation of the EyeToy, it comes as a surprise that Sony isn't making more of the new styles of gaming offered by the PS3 (especially surprising when its plans for the SingStar brand appear to be genuinely brilliant). Instead, it has focused on a sort of vague and lacklustre 'the same sort of games, but with better graphics, and a controller that's a bit like the Wii controller, only less good' message.

Frankly, the PS3 is screwed, and Nintendo is set to be crowned king. You just wait and see.

Mr Biffo co-founded Digitiser, Channel 4's Teletext-based videogames section, and now writes mainly for television

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