OK, so you’re a gamer. You’re at the coolest party of the year and just happen to be talking to the hottest girl there. You’re getting on well and then she asks you what you like to do in your spare time. Most people, assuming of course that you are a straight male, would lie about their gaming habit and make up something far cooler, like snowboarding or something. Whenever I tell girls I write about videogames they just vomit in my face. Maybe that’s because I’m hideously ugly, but I like to think games have something to do with it. In another scenario, you have just joined a new men’s football team. When being introduced to the other players, it would certainly not surprise me if you chose not to discuss your gaming habit. Furthermore, I doubt many videogame players put gaming under ‘interests’ on their CV when applying for jobs outside the industry, for fear of employers wrongly misjudging them as some kind of lethargic, immature waster.
So why would otherwise normal people conceal their favourite thing to try to impress girls or even guys in some circumstances?
As displayed by a recent CBS article, it is almost considered unacceptable for any mature person or parent to actually spend any time playing games. A recent study showed that over 90% of teens in the West regularly play games and I’m sure at least a handful of those have and will continue to do so into adulthood. It is fascinating that despite these large numbers of people actively participating in gaming, it is somehow still a fairly uncool and subsequently ‘hidden’ hobby. To put it bluntly, to most of us gaming enthusiasts, videogaming as a cultural interest is an embarrassment. Indeed, Dr. Jerald Block, a psychiatrist from Portland even suggests that even internet porn addiction is less embarrassing than compulsive gaming!
All hope is not lost. There is potential for a rise in coolness for gaming, as there has been with its general progression and popularity. With comic books, the film industry has propelled the sector into coolness and popularity and the comic market currently holds a significant amount of cultural capital. Even the film industry itself took a number of years before the public accepted it as a worthwhile pastime. So if Iron Man and Hugo Weaving are cool, why is Mario so comparatively lame?
As I mentioned before however, gaming has progressed, it just seems to have hit a roadblock about 10 years ago. At least it is no longer confined to those social depths shared by Warhammer or Dungeons and Dragons and today it probably exists on a par with a magician. You would likely get a similar reaction to gaming enthusiasm as you would upon announcing your magic hobby. The disapproving adult would inform you that while it may be fun and look pretty good, you should grow up and do something more productive with your time.
Despite this, more and more people are becoming familiar with gaming as a medium. Perhaps in an attempt to combat the warped perception of videogames, husbands, sons, brothers and boyfriends have united and have convinced mothers and girlfriends to pick up the controller and play (note: sorry gamer girls, a generalisation was necessary). So as more people traditionally uninterested in gaming are getting their hands on modern consoles, one would expect attitudes to be changing to reflect this shift. Unfortunately they’re not, or at least are doing so very slowly. Mothers still see games as their guilty pleasure, most girls consider ‘hardcore’ games to be for geeks or losers and lots of people still see a videogames career as an ‘unusual’ choice. I believe that gaming still retains some kind of novelty value for these new gamers and is showing no signs of wearing off. Just because we got our girlfriends to admit that Wii Bowling is quite fun, it doesn’t mean that we have succeeded in making a four hour session on Gears co-op a cool and worthwhile thing to do.
So game playing as a hobby still inhabits an undesirable social status and gamers’ latest tactic to reverse this seems to be failing. What can we do to create an environment in which we are no longer ashamed of our beloved pastime? We gamers truly know the merits of videogaming and the potential it has for enjoyment, education and cultural worth. Perhaps next time we are at a party and someone asks what we did last night, instead of lying about the awesome nightclub we never went to, let’s just admit that we managed to save Albion from peril and saved a central African country from civil war. United in a new-found pride in our hobby, it will be far easier to admit our passion for the medium. If the 90% figure is to be believed, as everyone begins to announce their love for videogames as an art-form and worthwhile activity, surely it is only a matter of time before the videogame industry is no longer an embarrassing community to belong to.
Publishers and developers are already doing half the work for us. With huge promotion campaigns and improving art and game design, games like Mirror’s Edge and LittleBigPlanet are nudging us one step at a time to coolness and are far easier to defend than say, Goldeneye ever was.
The games medium as a whole has massive scope for progress and is perfectly capable of becoming just as cool as films are today, and in a unique way that comics and other media can never quite achieve. All we have to do is admit it.