We had some of our test consoles rigged up to an internet connection to see how these Missing Gamers would respond to online play. But whilst they were initially impressed at the ability to play with other people all over the world, they soon picked up on the fact that many of the people they were playing with were either too good, or too immature to endure for any length of time.
It wasn't long before the online games were abandoned in favor of the simpler split-screen local multiplayer offerings. The ability to nudge, rib, and cajole each other on the sofa (not to mention share snacks and drinks) was simply too much fun to resist.
Even the suggestion that they could have the full screen to themselves if they were to play online wasn't enough to get them off these games.
These Missing Gamers want experiences that provide contexts in which they can catch up with friends and family. The play was, in many respects, secondary to the social event.
Accordingly, games that provided split-screen play were a good fit and even better if you could access all the multiplayer levels without being forced to work through a single-player campaign.
Luckily we had already unlocked most events in Mario and Sonic at the Olympics. But the realization that they would have to put in a good few hours themselves was enough to put off some of our subjects from seriously thinking about buying the game.
Our Missing Gamer group seemed to be different from others we had tested in that cost wasn't the main determining factor for them. If the experience was one they wanted, then one way or another, they would work out a way to afford it.
One group described buying a Gamecube on the day it was released. As it transpired, after reminiscing one night about the SNES games they used to play together in University dorm rooms and each others' bedrooms, a plan emerged. "Why don't we buy the new Nintendo console together? We could all chip in."
They went on to tell us how they went on to buy a Gamecube together on launch day, each paying a part of the cost and choosing a game and controller.
Since then, though, they had fallen off the gaming wagon, but it wasn't the cost that kept them away. The failure of the Gamecube to deliver the games they wanted meant they simply moved on to other things -- poker, Diplomacy, and Carcassonne as mentioned before.
Many in the group talked of how they didn't consider themselves to be someone who plays games because it was perceived as a bit immature. "Isn't it just for kids?" was a common refrain, along with "I used to do that when I lived with my parents."
The perception of gaming as something kids do meant they weren't willing to seriously consider themselves part of the gaming crowd.
Many pointed to the Wii as the main culprit. "The boxes just look like they are for children. I wouldn't buy a DVD or book that had a cover like that." That's not all that surprising considering Nintendo does largely aim towards the younger market.
Looking for something more substantial with a grown up narrative, we pulled Heavenly Sword of our shelf. Again, they balked at the busty redhead on the cover: "My kid brother would go for this, but it just makes me mildly embarrassed."
Once we got them playing it, though, they were genuinely impressed at both the well-directed storytelling and general filmic quality of the experience.
"I actually forgot I was playing a video game and not watching a film at one point," was probably the highest praise we had from one of our gamers.
Compare the marketing and packaging of games with that of a popular paperback or film and they are a mile apart. Games are largely packaged with either childish cartoons or warlike aggressive images. "If they had images of people and places that looked like my life, I think I'd be more up for giving them a go."