What is a Zen Gamer?
Updated: Aug 21, 2021
What is a zen gamer?
Ah, The Zen gamer relaxed, exploring, laid back, ignoring whatever the game finds important to find importance in whatever he or she wants in the game.
"Doing his own thing, playing the game with no care for most of the tracking systems within it.. You may have thought I was going to say the representation of "who gives a shit"
But that is one of the biggest misconceptions about Zen gameers. They do give a shit, and many times, because of the lack of context in coverage of titles, they have to follow things with even more scrutiny.
What the hell is a Zen gamer
Zen gaming is a little different, hinging a bit more on the relaxing no time limit, lack of huge peaks of activity that a normal flowing game may offer.
They do overlap, but not always. Relaxation and an explorer's pace are more in tune with Zen gaming as a description than someone who is in a flow state. And yes, I hate that term as much as everyone else who noticed people started using it more like core gameplay loop.
First, Zen games, like all kinds, can come in many forms. But mostly, Zen gamers reflect the original etymology of the word and its meaning in sanskrit, which is absorption and/or with a meditative state.
Most Zen gamers explore or interact with the game with less focus on the systems themselves and/or the angst of improvement within those systems, little to no time limits, and/ or a high level of exploration.
Zen gamers in one form or the other have always been around, however, especially as technology, game engines, memory, world size have all advanced, we hear the term more often. Repeated like a mystical mantra within the game coverage of titles that perhaps aren't greeted with the most rewarding of review feedback upon release.
This game got a 5 but if you are Zen player who can ignore this and that it might be your thing
Only Zen players need to apply. Everyone else, "this is 2 stars out of 20
19 out of 10, not enough Zens"
Ignoring that scored reviews makes about as much sense as a stupid person dressing up as a smart person on Halloween and thinking it will change their life. Within the context of a review, as long as it is a holistic reflection of the reviewers experience and associated value perceived, the information is still valid and the question remains why are we hearing it so often, and what does it mean in these contexts.
First, one reason we are hearing the term far more often is the explosion of open world titles that are not based originally on a Zen like structure or gameplay mechanic themselves, which I will get to in a moment. The second and probably more profoundly discussion worthy reason is simply, we hear more voices in gaming discussion.
Forums were always a thing, well at least since the internent, but their very ecosystem with an ecosystem structure meant that thoughts usually game and went. Where video, and the ease at which people can now jump into YouTube, or tiktok, or create a website with Squarespace, means that more voices are heard, and since all search engines are indeed created to point out like-minded discussion points, whether they are images, websites, or videos, the discussion can be leveraged in ways it could not be when magazines had a certain amount of space and went out 2 months after the reviewer played the game.
Moving from that, lets discuss a bit of classification for a moment and why it probably falls apart
The Bartle Taxonomy of player types broke types into 4 categories: Achievers, explorers, socializers, and killers in 1999. That's right, pretty much before everything cool in life happened on the internet.
Because of that, those categories are a direct reflection of the lack of many game-genres we have currently including vast mmos, and open world game which offers such a staggering amount of gameplay types and experiences all in one situation, that 4 archetypes just don't come close to hitting all the axis
Bartle expanded this to planners, opportunists, scientists, hackers, networkers, friends, politicisation and griefers as within those categories as well
There are Those who want an entire game to be a flow of movement or exploration with no real bumps in the road, and those who are totally accepting of moments of anarchy and action but want some instances, places, or pointed experiences where they can zone out. There are also gamers who don't worry about many of a games ultimate gameplay systems simply exploring without pressure, time, or combat requirements. You could say, a Zen player has very little regard for the tracked systems within any game, and to a point that would be right but their expectations for those moments can be just as high as the expectation that some MMO player be able to grind 10000 levels after the basic gameplay is complete, or that a fighting game player wants a weapon to be balanced when they unlock it.
However, the context, and the reasoning behind what a Zen player likes, can be incredibly confusing to other players.
To where we sometimes consider them terrible judges of a game, or easy marks, or lose with their money
In a way, that makes sense.
For example, usually when someone buys a Call of duty they are getting it for the shooting action. Sure, they may engage in just the multiplayer, just the single player, just zombies, but at its core, they usually enjoy the shooting mechanics. You could say a Zen call of duty player just enjoys hanging out with their friends in a lobby or the game and ignores the overall tracking, just having fun with none of the angst. However, usually, they still picked that game for that specific underlying element that it feels enjoyable to them as they relax..
Where a zen gamer is usually picking a particular aspect of a game, that may not at all be known for what they enjoy, and enjoying the experience of it.
These misconceptions certainly feel like they are the most prevalent when discussing open world games. Simply due type of games themselves.
We aren't talking about say a Startopia or city builder. We are talking about a game where, because of its complexity of form factors, depth of delivery styling, thats GOOD for everyone across all those mechanics, ,seems to bring out this discussion more often.
Again video and more speedy coverage has helped the Zen gamer find a place, if not a bit of understanding, where int he past they may not have.
Easily seen videos can parse out some o the structures zen players may like in a game that doesn't get an incredible score like enjoyable exploration versus interaction.
Speaking around just exploration for a moment For many developers and for gamers themselves, seeing an empty open world is like opening up a book with 400 pages and seeing 13 words per page.
Where are the collectables, craftables and customization, the towers to climb, the easter eggs to find, what is the level of the interactions as well as the exploration. Do entire towns go nuts when you bump into a horse, like they do in red dead, releasing a horde of homicidal unwashed smoke wagon shooters at you. Or does nothing happen?
Where a Zen gamer may see the space and feel anticipation or excitement in that word silence and wonderment as they turn the page, hanging on the last word of the prior p[age and enjoying that pause as they read the next.
Developers work for ages trying to figure out the proper timing for experiences in an open world, to make a system not seem to convoluted but at the same time responding to the changes in player attitudes and styles to make
Exploration is simply the movement and uncovering of more of the game world itself in whatever forms are available to the player. While interaction are more like the Fishing in red dead, or just exploring in Zelda, or some mechanic or system in a game that offers zenlike moments built within some system oc collection or advancement, even if the Zen player ignores it.
Driving your 6 wheeled creepy truck through the ass end of the world in Mudrunner.
Ok that last example is pretty much all zen other than damage and gas tracking but you get the point.
A good example Today and recently is of course bio mutant coming out a title that hasn't got the best of scores. However, even as I said in my review, offers a great deal to a zen player.
. EvencraftingforefrontBiomutant hinges and its PR has been around a Souseguard mixed anamorphic world of genetically enhanced creatures and the story of their crucible to make a new world or save their own. Action, combat, skills, and crafting, have all been at the forfront of the coverage. There is no surprise than that the game, is indeed scored on many of those elements, even when not taking into the context of anticipation and expectation, the game has some issues.
However, when I review I have always liked to look at a game not only from the expectations, the genre the game is in and its reflection of it, but also the newness of it, and also, if a particular gamer, that isn't the expected audience may find something surprising within it from those standpoints, The grinder, the open world lover, the gamer who loves the feeling of dynamics, the zen player may see bio mutant and sees the same open world you and I see but totally gets something else from it, and perhaps is doing so right when another player would consider it the most boring.
Biomutant pays that off in a couple of ways. First exploration is varied, unique locations abound and while not dramatically inspiring in its verticality, it does have restrictions to just moving throughout the entire world, based upon the resistances that you need to prepare for in later locals such as hypoxia and poison. Leaving an air of mystery to some locations that can only be met by a bit f the gameplay mechanics themselves. The game makes sure to not reward those who might just run from north to south, with anything other than the base locations and keeps giving them tastes of other moments, by showing them a snowy peak or a chocked off green swamp.
It is also aid,ed purely in the Zen style, with a smaller than normal enemy allotment. Take that as you will, and many will find it far too lean in encounters for their liking, but someone who just wants to explore and talk to NPC's and get some story, can do so with very littler worry of being killed by enemies. This also aids a bit in the storytelling as enemies every single moment in a game always leads to the stupidest of contradictions there you realize it would be too dangerous for ANTYHING to happen, as well as balancing problems if enemies are kited.
Lastly the game has a number of lootable items in locations where there are no enemies, also allowing for a player who is just sitting back exploring to still customize at least a small amount of their character.
That is getting a bit more into the interactions and systems within the game so we can talk about that now.
Like Zen in a group of my dogs, he may engage in the same games, but totally differently. Especially as those activities become even wider in their possib9ilkties.
There are the interactive systems they remember When big games used to release they couldn't even mix driving and 1st person shooting because the graphics engines didn't even have the complexity memory or computer power to do so. then we got open world and suddenly it wasn't just this large space it was explorable it was red dead 2 measuring a horses nuts
look at Gun versus Red Dead 2 for instance.
And thus began the problem,. do you fill the game world with things to do, or do you not. What is the different between a myriad number of collectables and a serene run as a biogenetically engineered creature across a beautiful landscape? An experience that can be both wondrous and boring to two people who normally agree on everything.
Biomutant has a number of systems many of them somewhat disconnected, however for the zen player this may ultimately be even more rewarding as it doesn't require the tit for tat upgrade fashion some games have where this part needs to be upgraded over here and this skill as well because they can't be to unbalanced. NOw skills in Biomutant are decidedly combat oriented, but systems such as the customization of the armor and its constant changes visually as well as the collection of mounts for travel do over interactive feedback systems that also directly reward either exploration or adjust it accordingly.
While biomutant does fall into the leaner side of exploration, that also means it most likely wont be considered to have collectable or random grind style filler and bloat that gamers lament. just as they are getting shiny useless trophies for 100% a game that tells them to collect every weed.
Mind fuckery aside, and interestingly enough, this one area area is the one place where usually most if not all gamer types agree. That bloat does impact a game negatively. t
As I said before, contextual reviews, those trying to discuss the entire product, is a series of answers to the questions a game tasks you with as you experience it, and not just the static answers being checked off that you made up prior to playing. That way hype, expectations, and earth shattering disappointment don't become the core of a review of a product delivered. but one part of it mixed with the actual representation of what is experienced.
When faced with an enemy or a puzzle this question is usually somewhat easy even if the game is flexible, up close weapons, a trap perhaps, a long range, and those games usually celebrated are ones that allow for flexibility and back it with good reactions to the gamers answers to the question, or those that do indeed perhaps stick to one particular way of moving forward but offer excellence within the smaller facet. Tightly paced first-person shooters, or track racers. Obviously offering their own incredible amount of dynamic gameplay, but still focused more on a particular viewpoint.
But open worlds have always been a more hard nut to crack and its not just balancing those who want excellent control and story and plot music voice, sound, its also those who may want to explore against those who want a punchier narrative. Or one that at least makes sense.
We have all dealt with that quest giver who tells you that their family is in danger and you MUST hurry
and you return 10 years of gaming time later and he is still there.
At some point you may ask yourself well what is bio mutant
there is a very good chance when you finish the game you will ask yourself
what is biomutant?
In the end, perhaps Zen gamers liking a game that isn't scoring well or considered good is nothing more than than someone saying, hey I love the music in this crappy game. Its just one element, its just a bit harder to define and perhaps put your finger on. No less useful a discussion point, but one that, without proper thought and context, can collapse into misunderstanding quickly.