What is coolness? Okay before everyone does their best impression of "the Fonz" (think about how that image comes to mind - it'll prove my point later) let's take a break and look at it scientifically. I know - yawn - but this is social science, so there are no beakers involved.
"Coolness" is really the combined nonverbal and verbal appearance of a person, created by combining personality with social awareness. It's a two part equation - the first part is personality - you can be as aware of all the popular trends as you want, but if you're completely anti-social, you're not going to be very cool.
The other part of the equation is social awareness - that is, how in tune you are to the memes (units of cultural exchange) aka the events, memories, trends, beliefs, values, icons, and language of a culture. You can have the greatest personality in the world, but when you step off the boat into a new country, chances are you look like a dweeby tourist. There are a few exceptions - a British accent being considered tre' chic in the states - but those are societally constructed (mostly by James Bond movies) so they prove the rule.
So we've established what "cool" is - an outgoing personality mixed with a high social awareness. How does that translate into being cool? These two traits allow a person to give off an aura of confidence, appear "in their element", chat with new people, say just the right things at the right time, and share discussion of common events.
So how on earth could playing videogames make someone cool? Well - because we're all playing them.
omg wtf gaming meme
Let's face it, gaming is its own culture - it has come a long way from the days of reading Nintendo power in your parent's basement. Games are everywhere, nearly everyone is playing them, and the latest games, consoles, and handhelds are hot topics that take front page even in mainstream media. The tweens, the teens, the twenties, the thirties, and now even the baby-boomers are targeted audiences for the gaming craze.
Games themselves are going two steps further by becoming self-referencing culture, as well as cross-culturally connected. Games like GTA IV contain dozens upon dozens of well-known songs - not only does GTA IV ingrain itself in the existing musical culture it pens from, and the New York culture it copies, but it also spreads those memes to an audience that isn't aware of them
GTA IV teaches the urban audience about gaming, and the gaming audience about urban culture, stirring the cultural melting pot, and creating a mutual understanding.
Games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero make the music of an older generation cool to a younger generation, while making gaming accessible to an older generation. The inter-cultural mix makes that "old dude who plays guitar" into "that cool guitar guy at the coffee shop" and turns what would have been "some dweeb" into "that awesome Guitar Hero player on YouTube".
It's not just that gaming has become cooler, it's that gaming itself has reshaped culture, integrated into existing cultures, redefined what our culture, both as gamers and the new generation, thinks - all while overtaking movies as the new hip industry.
But playing a videogame doesn't make you cool... or does it? Videogames are part of our culture, being ignorant of them - like Jack Thompson, most of the US congress, and MADD (with their latest GTA "drunk driving" comments) - conveys to our generation that they are uncool, unhip, and behind the times.
Playing games is part of life now - and playing the games of our times - Mario Galaxy, Halo, The Sims, GTA IV, Orange Box, Call of Duty 4, et cetera has become an important part of being involved in the ever growing gamer-culture.
Games alone won't make you cool - if you've got a bad personality, or simply aren't interested in social interaction, a few rounds of Mario Kart aren't going to change that, but the reality has become that it's the kid who *doesn't* own some kind of Gameboy these days who is the odd duck out. Of course culture is a complex thing, clothing, language, appearance, voice, personality, awareness, social ability - these things are all going to shape just how much of a "with it" kind of person you're capable of being. At the end of the day though, videogames are becoming a shared experience that gives us something to talk about, argue over, debate, share, and party - they're an invaluable medium for building friendships, culture, and communication - and a channel through which memes are flowing full force.
And what about all those people fighting over which console or game is "the coolest"? Just the jocks arguing with the band kids - at the end of the day they both play on the football field. So game on trendy hipsters and - as "the Fonz" would say - "Live fast, love hard, and don't let anybody else use your comb!"