The Changing World of Videogames and Gamers

4 Feb

When I was a kid, I didn’t have a lot in the way of games, not compared to my peers. I had a gameboy pocket with two games when I was ten: tetris and pokemon: red. My primary exposures were through my friends and family. The first game I remember witnessing was my cousin, six months older than me, playing Doom on his computer when I was about eight. My best friend in elementary school had a Nintendo 64 and we spent many a day after school playing Bomberman while her sister babysat us.

As I grew up, a child of the early 21st century, I found myself wanting the consoles of my friends – playstations, nintendo consoles, the XBox, but I was hindered by the concerns of my parents. They weren’t overly strict, but they were concerned with the media intake levels of me and my sister. We didn’t own a real television until I was 12, and even then I was only permitted to watch for five hours a day, and only on weekends. Things changed, I grew up, and despite my rampant ADD and love of TV shows I also fostered a love of reading, and a healthy addiction to the internet.

Why were the videogames not encouraged? Most likely their novelty. Their realism. The frequent reports of violence, lethargy, irresponsibility and other such faults occuring due to games were heeded by my parents the same way they heeded the dangers of television rotting my brain. I grew up not necessarily deprived, but definitely without certain technological entertainment devices.

I don’t blame my parents – that’s not what this is about. It’s about the way games are changing, the way the market is changing, the prevalence of games and the new face of gamers.

Putting the fast forward button on my life, now I’m 23. I frequently play games on my computer, the internet, my boyfriend’s 360 and the PS3. I own a Nintendo DS. I enjoy games as escapism, as entertainment and as storytelling. Heck, at this point in my life I’m so invested in the gaming industry I’m hoping to go into law to help it grow and be defended from naysayers.

Clearly the face of gamers has changed. I’m female, first of all, and a social animal. Far removed from the original stereotype of the videogame geek living in his mother’s basement, clutching his controller with Cheeto-stained fingers. So are my friends – my boyfriend is a philosophy major who has been an avid member of the gaming community since childhood. He’s eloquent, well-adjusted, and a really good shot with a sniper rifle (In game of course).

The dark side of gaming exists. I’ve known and even dated guys who spend more time in front of the screen than with the outside world. Not just with World of Warcraft either, but other games. People still lose themselves in their alternate realities.

But that’s not the face of gaming in America any more. The face of gaming in America is so diverse in age, race, class and gender that most everyone these days could qualify as a gamer.

And I’m not the only one who thinks this is a good thing:

Jane McGonigal is just one of the people innovating gaming in the modern world. The idea of games improving the social connections of people and the overall mood of their lives is innovative, but valid. While I hate the concept of action-gaming consoles like the Kinect and Move, I appreciate the marketing approach companies are going for: family. Encouraging gaming as a family activity is changing the nature of games in people’s lives, their role. What used to be seen as an anti-social behavior, a lack of norm, is now becoming not only accepted, but encouraged.

The world is starting to open up. In a few years, I predict students will be taking classes to discuss the literary and philosophical ramifications of games like Bioshock and Dead Space the way I’ve studied graphic novels like Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and films like The Maltese Falcon. Multimedia storytelling, in games and on the internet, is growing in prevalence, and is looking to become as common and as worthy of respect as film as an art form.

Videogames ARE art. They’re storytelling. They’re entertainment. They’re an exercise for the brain. They’re a way to bond with family, friends, and significant others. And they’ve changed as much as we have in the last few decades.

Sure, people argue that kids playing an excessive amount of games is unhealthy. I won’t argue, because too much of ANYTHING is unhealthy. If we foster gaming as a positive, networking experience, one that creates bonds instead of damaging them, we’ve moved forward in an age fraught with social technology encouraging distance.

I think we can do it. I’m willing to embrace games as positive social behavior. As tools for growth, as entertainment and art worthy of as much respect if not more than film.

This is the changing face of gaming in the 21st century. I’m a 23 year old female, and I’m a gamer. And I agree with Ms. McGonigal: the more of us who game, the more chance this world has of becoming a better place through a mutual sharing of something, through community.

And at the risk of ending on a sappy note, I just want you all to know that I fucking hate Super Mutants, and that Fallout 3 is awesome. *goes to track down some landmines*

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