Help Me Understand This
Predicated by a comment by Dusty Monk on G+ (access required) in which he expressed his embarrassment at watching G4 with his family in the room, I got to thinking about gamer’s image problem, and where it actually stems from.
See, I my brother in law likes beer. I mean really likes beer. He’s an assistant brew-master at a local brew pub, although that’s not his day job. He does a lot of traveling to beer conventions to represent the brewery, and while he is knowledgeable about beer, he tends to go on and on about it if someone mentions beer, or sneezes in a way that sounds like “beer”. I thought about how freely (and how often) he talks about his passion with anyone and everyone, and realized that I don’t talk about gaming with anyone and everyone like I do with other gamers. Basically, I’m not comfortable talking about it with non-gamers, and that bugs me.
I don’t think it’s a secret that gaming as a hobby, a passion and as an industry has an image problem. It’s not only outside of the gaming circles either, or else Mr. Monk – who is an established game developer – wouldn’t have brought it up, and several people wouldn’t have agreed that the way G4 presents gaming culture is potentially causing more harm then good when it comes to building bridges between the gaming and non-gaming communities. Barring any hands-on time with a “real” game, or in sitting down with a gamer and engaging an open mind, non-gamers only have wider, non-gaming media – and the gaming spillover that may occur when channel surfing past G4 – to use as a template for what “gaming culture” is about.
Here’s a quote from Dusty’s post:
In the space of less than 10 minutes it took me to eat my lunch, I’m subjected to a comedy segment about vaginal herpes, multiple videos featuring nutshots, (their word, not mine), and Sarah Underwood squeezing her breasts. Multiple times.
If a non-gamer decides that they’re going to take the “Video Game Culture For Dummies” course to learning about gaming, I guarantee that G4 is going to show up on the syllabus, and this is the kind of content that they’re going to run into. But G4 has a demographic that they’re targeting, like Cracked.com, Comedy Central or any other niche cable channel or website does. If G4 is just a single, diminutive facet of a much wider industry, why does gaming still suffer from “image problems”?
I think it would be easy to blame gamers themselves. Many of them are foul mouthed, trash talking, entitled brats who are well known to spout racist, sexist or homophobic slurs at their opponents, and these vocal few are tarnishing the image of the greater crowd, right? Well, I suppose so, but they’re cardboard standees; they’re blanket stereotypes which are used as examples when some non-gamer is looking to make a point that they have already decided needs to be made. This minority is extrapolated freely to represent gamers as a whole, and I think we can all agree that this is absolutely wrong…and insulting. The point is that there shouldn’t be an opportunity for these crusaders to make this decision that gaming needs to be “dealt with” in the first place, and for that impetus, I think we need to look higher up the chain.
The real fight has been happening at the corporate level. We’re talking about serious ramifications here: laws which are proposed for the good of the children and which are fought by third party organizations on behalf of the gaming industry. There’s nothing good in that sentence:
1. According to the ESA, the average gamer is 37 years old and has been playing for 12 years. That’s at least back to 1998, when games were still more or less “underground” and the Internet was on the rise. In addition, 82% of gamers are adults – over 18. Laws proposed by people like Leland Yee of California are spending a lot of taxpayer money to convince non-gamers that those percentages are swapped. But his argument has help from many sources. Just notice any time video games are included in TV shows or commercials; it’s always children who are playing, and it’s the adults who are clueless about video games. That is an image which is just not borne out in the statistics, but it’s the one that the non-gaming public believes in because no one cares to present the reality.
2. Why is the ESA (an industry conglomeration) doing all the talking in defense of the game industry? It makes sense for game developers and publishers come together to participate in a specialized organization to handle things like legislation battles, but why do we not have publishers and developers speaking out for the good of the industry as individual organizations? The ESA is a legal bulldog used to deflect legislation and to promote the industry to trade groups and governments, while the actual gaming culture gatekeepers do nothing to combat stereotypes. I think all I have to do is mention “Cliff Bleszinski” and my point is made. It seems that the industry has a two-faced strategy: promote how “badass” gaming is by culturing wild personalities and creating over-the-top, testosterone-laden marketing campaigns, but also engaging the ESA to deal with the clean-up duties in the court of popular opinion after their personalities and marketing campaigns push the wrong somebody to dredge up stereotypes and start a new crusade.
Bringing it back around, third party media like G4 or the larger gaming blogs could be a decent band-aid in staunching this flow of misperception perpetuated by the community and the industry itself. Instead, they cater to a subset of the wider demographic with childish humor. It only makes gamers and the industry look like buffoons, and we continue to suffer under stereotypes that can, at times, make us ashamed to admit to non-gamers that we are gamers.
I second Dusty’s request for a professional, responsible and more accurate outlet for gaming culture in wider media, especially TV. As gamers age, studies show that we’re not “falling out” of gaming. We’re continuing with the passion, we’re going to be teaching it to our children and, eventually, our grand-children. This is not a children’s industry, and the forward face should reflect that whenever possible so we can have more productive discussions with non-gamers about who their heavy-handed attempts at legislation and off-base perceptions are really affecting.