If I was to provide you with the word ‘gamer’ I think I can be fairly certain what image that might conjure in your head; that of the nerdy, socially awkward, spotty teenager who spends too much time with computers and not enough time outside. Conjured up during the ’80s and to some extent the early ’90s, there is some partial truth in this stereotype, with gaming consoles still a fairly novel concept for the masses and computer gaming very much in its infancy. Yet in the modern virtual environment which we all inhabit, gaming has become ubiquitous, from the youngest children to the oldest generations, with the stereotype even more divorced from the truth than it was when first created.
I’ve noticed there’s always been something of a stigma attached to video games, especially for those on the desktop. Music, film and art tastes are all perfectly acceptable, probably due to the length in which we as consumers have been exposed to their outlets, but the notion of virtual gaming seems to scare, confuse, or even repulse certain types of people. Why this is still the case is probably down to primarily mis-information (aren’t all stereotypes?) and the association of other activities that have traditionally surrounded gaming.
In the past, there was never really any consideration of gaming being a truly accessible format for leisure. Sure, we had arcades and Pong was a revolution when introduced to the world in 1972, but breakthrough into the masses was never going to happen overnight, despite increases in computing power happening almost in the blink of an eye. For one thing, the cost of such systems were still reasonably high, and the market was still an emerging one, so the possibilities were still quite limited. Computers at the time, were slow, chunky and focussed on programming, which isn’t a particularly good combination if you’re trying to maintain they are ‘cool’. Quite another cause for the development of such a stereotype, is a social one, where people assume you are wasting hours and hours of your life, pretending to combat dragons, infiltrate a war zone, or building a simulated city only to unleash aliens, fire and hellish creations onto your poor, unsuspecting victims. OK, perhaps that was just me.
There is this assumption that to be a video game player you must be an avid video game player, not leading a productive and traditional life. Gamers apparently neglect the traditional activities of ‘going outside’ yet consider how many people are stuck in front of the TV all day? Thus referring to all gamers in the same light, and as separate from other media forms is realistically, quite offensive. Obviously, there are those that play more than others, but there are those that view more films, watch more TV and absorb more music than the average person, so it is hardly fair that the perception is so negative in a modern world. Although heavily featured in news stories and releases (although [The Edge], only just started encouraging game reviews this year), gaming isn’t mentioned in a very open context at an individual level in the same way music or film is and this is a legacy from the past, when gamers kept to their own in the context of a negative environment to play in. But the new generations challenge this.
People reaching their adulthood now have experienced their whole lives immersed in video gaming, to all levels and scales. What’s often forgotten is that gamers are not completely solitary; on the contrary it is often more fun to have a few friends round to have a gaming session. Demand is growing from all areas of society, as it would be crude to think that we as humans have never been excited by the joys of games and competition, only it is now located in a new medium, which is for some still very daunting; the computer. Understandably, there are those who still don’t quite ‘get’ the virtual phenomenon that inhabit the world today, but those in the business have be sure to try and get us all on-board, in one way or another.
The release of Nintendo’s Wii in 2006, has had a major impact on reshaping public perception of gaming. With its innovative, ergonomic controls and family-friendly features, the console has gone on to become a massive hit, selling over 90 million copies worldwide, more than the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, it’s competitors in the console arena. On the PC, even relatively simple systems will be able to play games to a decent level, both on-line and through single-player with unparalleled diversity. Mobile gaming is also expected to take off as the most accessible and most used platform for gaming in future years. It is only recently that people have come to accept and admire the concept of “casual gaming”, which was almost certainly happening already. All generations of my close family do at least some form of gaming, whether that’s Angry Birds, Farmville, Call of Duty on the PS3, or simple browser games on the PC, and I bet all of you do as well.
With everyone engaging in video gaming to some capacity, perhaps we will finally do away with a meaningless term. As a ‘gamer’, I certainly hope so.