I write this blog in response to my good friend AhTheCastle's post about the perception of gamers in society. Before I begin, I will say I do agree wholeheartedly that the stereotype of gamers as socially awkward, pale teenage males (or some nerdy equivalent), does still exist. However, I believe that perception of video game players is no longer the majority opinion and that society's opinion of gaming as a hobby is that it is now mainstream.
The statistics prove that gaming is no longer the refuge of the socially outcast. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the average gamer is 30 years old and has been playing video games for 12 years. Also, 47 percent of game players and females over the age of 18 are one of the industries fastest growing audiences. This hardly fits in with the stereotypical pubescent young male. However, these figures mean nothing if people do not consciously absorb their meaning.
Ironically, the moment where I personally saw these statistics manifest, was during my four year World of Warcraft career. The only people I'd ever talked WoW with, were my fellow players I knew in real life. After joining a raiding guild and getting to know other players beyond the occasional group quest, I found that Azeroth was home to all kinds of players: a husband-wife duo with a newborn son, a college grad going for his MBA and even a dude from Greece, moving to Scotland with his longtime girlfriend. These were normal people, not die-hard fanboys with whom I was conquering the depths of Ulduar.
Despite some stubborn ways of thinking, society has actually adjusted to the idea of the "new" gamer quite well. For instance, about two years ago, public library systems across the United States began to stock video games, and they just fly off the shelves, games of all genres, for all age groups.
However, I think the most prominent evidence that society's perception of video gaming culture is changing, is the historical similarities that can be drawn to similar cultural phenomenon. Comic books first appeared in America in 1933. Throughout the early-middle decades of the 20th century, comics were vilified by mainstream culture as wastes of time, enjoyed only by forlorn young men. Almost 80 years later, there are multimillion dollar movies based on comic books are grossing more than $1 billion world wide.
Video games, like comic books, have evolved from a very small niche market a few decades ago, to one of staggering proportions. Just like it is now socially acceptable to love Spider Man or Batman (not just nerds are psyched for The Dark Knight Rises), society is rapidly growing more tolerant towards the love of leveling up and saving the universe.
In the past two decades, and even now, there are critics of video games claiming that there is no redeeming value in playing games. However, playing video games, especially cooperatively, can foster teamwork, problem-solving skills and other forms of productive, conscious thought. This is important because, like the demography of game players, this can be, to an extent, quantified. According to the ESA, sixty-six percent of parents think that playing video games provides mental stimulation and education for their children and fifty-nine percent say video games help their children connect with friends.
In other words: Parents accept, if not encourage, playing video games. If parents are okay with it, children will more than likely accept the behavior. That's where the real change lies. It is socially acceptable among the youth that video games are just a part of entertainment culture.
While the problem may persist that some more closed-minded people would write off gamers as lonely social outcasts, more and more people of varying ages and sexes are picking up a controller or their mobile device and playing games. AhTheCastle argues the more casual gamers using their tablets or smartphones do not wish to be defined as "gamers." Maybe it's not a case of the twenty-something woman playing Angry Birds on her commute does not identify herself as a gamer. Instead, it could just be that the spectrum of gaming that society has deemed "normal" has been widening.
In her book, "Reality is Broken," game designer Jane McGonigal argues the word "gamer" carries a negative connotation. To "game the system" is carries a negative connotation. "Games" are typically seen as unproductive, childish wastes of time. These negative connotations are partly responsible for the negative perception some people have of "gamers."
However, as society has seen, the gaming generation (I would put that at anyone from the ages of 8 to 30, basically anyone who's grown up with video games) is full of normal people. Gaming is no longer seen as an obsession for the outcasts. It is a hobby beloved by 67% of American households, according to the Electronics Software Ratings Board.
While society may never put professional video game players on the same level as professional football or baseball players, it is now socially acceptable to own and play a game console for an average of eight hours a week.
While gaming isn't celebrated like some other hobbies and past times, it is no longer turned aside by the majority. Gaming, as a hobby, is growing ever more popular, and people have noticed. But more importantly, they accept it.