On being a video game expert

In ye olden thymes, it was possible to be a video game expert. Now, it's not. I discuss whether or not I think that's a good thing

Video games are great1. If you're into them, video games are somewhere between a form of interactive storytelling that lets your imagination soar and tackles complex societal issues via a veneer of shooting space aliens in the face and a way to waste time until your pizza rolls are done. If you're not into video games, then they're a pointless waste of time and why are you reading this article?

But, assuming that you do dabble in video games, there's a good chance that you have self-selected into a group that also likes to take part in the hobby, too. You'll probably get into discussions about which platform is 'better'2, which video game is 'the best'3,4.

If you're on the periphery of the hobby, it can be daunting to know where to start if you're interested in picking it up for some reason. So, it makes sense to seek out the opinion of an expert and ask them some questions: Which platform should I get? What games should I get? What accessories should I get? And so on. The correct answer in all of those cases is a frustrating 'it depends'.

It depends because the expert needs to know about what you like in order to match you up with what games you might like. Do you like reading? You might like a visual novel. Do you like epic stories that span two hundred hours of exploration? You might like a JRPG. Do you just want to play a game where you run around shoot space aliens in the face? There's a billion of those.

And, at one time it was possible to know the ins and outs of every game available for a given platform5, partly from playing the games directly, and partly from poring over magazines and books where other people had played the games.6

But, post video game industry crash, the number of games released per annum has grown to a ridiculous number. The complexity and length of time it takes to master said games has also increased exponentially7. There are so many games coming out now for so many platforms that it's impossible to be an expert in all of them, even if you were somehow able to dedicate all of your waking hours to doing so. Over a current console's life, for example, there might be around a thousand games released for it. Even assuming that you were able to complete every game in average of ten hours (not including completing all of the ridiculous 'achievement' busywork), that's still ten thousand hours. If you played games on that console exclusively for eight hours a day, every day, it would take you 1,250 days to play all of them. This is for one console. Multiply that by all of that console's contemporaries, subtract games that were released on multiple platforms, and you very quickly have a problem if you want to still be an 'expert'.

This is, of course, silly. Few people would play every game for a specific console, much less every game for every console8. Even trying to keep up with all of the games being released for current platforms by following the industry advertisements-disguised-as-websites, it's still difficult to take it all in.

The good news is, though, that you don't have to. Video games are a mature medium. Kind of like books or music. You wouldn't expect that an 'expert' in music to have listened to every song ever recorded. You wouldn't expect them to have listened to every album ever sold on 78 RPM records, either. So it's silly to expect that a video game expert must know everything about every game ever created.

How do we even define 'expert' anyway? Is it a person that knows a lot about a thing? Is it a person that's done a thing a million times? If I play video games for 10,000 hours over the course of however many years it will take me to do that, does that make me an expert? What if I played one game for 9,999 hours and another game for 1 hour? What if I split those 10,000 hours evenly between ten games? A hundred? A thousand? What if I don't actually play games at all9, but I watch other people play them via gameplay videos on YouTube or wherever else?

My current definition of expert is something like the following:

"An expert is a person that knows a lot about a given subject, and is interested in learning more." --Me

'A lot' is purposefully vague, but its precise definition doesn't mean all that much anyway. If you're genuinely interested in a subject, you'll most likely want to learn all you can about it anyway, which leads you to eventually learning 'a lot' about it. And the good news is that the subject of 'video games' is so expansive now that you don't have to learn everything about everything. You can just concentrate on the things you want to.

Do you want to concentrate on text-based adventure games? Great! Do you want to concentrate on the entire catalog of games by David Crane? Go for it! Do you want to exist on the periphery of every major genre, sampling the greatest hits from them all? That works, too!

The point I'm trying to make is that 'video game experts' as they existed in the 1970's through the mid 1990's don't really exist any more because they can't10. Not that that's a bad thing! With the obscene amount of information available on the World Wide Web now, it's never been easier to jump in to the World of Video Games™ find a niche, and become an expert in it. In fact, some of the search tools we have are good enough now that you can convincingly pretend to be an expert via careful usage of search engines. And if you pretend you're an expert for long enough, you might eventually become an expert anyway.

And, if you're not currently an expert and want to become one? Go find some top-10 lists anywhere and start going through them until something looks interesting enough to dive deeper into11. Follow that rabbit-hole as long as you want, and you'll eventually figure out which sub-sub-sub-genre of video games you're interested in becoming an expert in.

But, what happens if you decide that you like games, play games, but don't want to become an expert at them? The good news is that that's also valid. In the same way that you can buy a CD now and again without having to get a PhD in Musical Studies, you can play one video game a year without having to learn about the entire back catalog of some defunct publisher. It's allowed and encouraged12.


  1. [citation needed]
  2. The correct answer is that your favorite platform is the best one
  3. The correct answer is that your favorite video game is the best one
  4. I've found that these discussions usually inversely correlate with age. i.e., the older you get, the less you care about which particular implementation of shooting space aliens in the face is the best implementation of shooting space aliens in the face
  5. And, for the really industrious, every platform
  6. Yes, books. Lots of paperbacks with reviews were things, and can still be found occasionally if you want to know what it was like to have to get reviews from a bookstore a year after a game was released instead of from some website the day before a game is released.
  7. Yes, there are games that can be completed in as little as a few minutes as well, but those are in the minority
  8. Which would also get stupidly expensive very quickly
  9. This could be for any number of reasons, including:
    • Games are too expensive to be able to buy all the ones that a person might like
    • Time is at a premium for any number of reasons, and finding the time to 'get good' is difficult
    • Someone might just simply lack the skill to progress in whatever game they're trying to play and just wants to see what's on the other side of whatever obstacle is impeding their progress
    • And so on
  10. Figuratively speaking, of course. Some of those people that were experts are still alive today, and they're still experts, of course, but, most likely, they're experts in games of the 70's, 80's, and/or 90's*
    • They're likely knowledgeable about today's games, too, but not always
  11. This is probably the only good use of 'Top X' lists, but that's a whole other article.
  12. Officially, by me, right now.

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