150: The Myth of the Media Myth

The Myth of the Media Myth

"There are six of us around the table, and the conversation turns to what I do for a living, also known as 'my field of study' in academia. 'I'm a game designer and a professor,' I say. The dinner had been arranged by a third party in order to connect academics from various institutions for networking purposes.

"'You mean videogames?' one of the teachers asks. It's said with the same professional and courteous tone that one might reserve for asking, 'Did you pass gas?'"

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Very nice read :)

Personally I think it's the medias fault for perpetuating this, they may not be the underlying reason. However they are the people that get it to mainstream, and it's their responsibility to make sure it's not bias. And it's scary how often the media misrepresent video games, and this does lead you to think, how often do they misrepresent other things to? It's obvious to us, the gamers, wherever the media makes a mistake. For example blaming Grand theft auto when a man robbed a video game store of 30+ titles, it's obvious to us that the media has it wrong, he simply wanted the games and didn't want to pay for them like any other thief. However the media's interpretation was to use GTA in every other sentence and put a spin on it that made it seem like the thief had said 'Yeah it's all GTA's fault'.

Innacuracies and misrepresentation are easy to spot when the news is talking about a subject that you know a lot about, however what about something you don't know much about? A situation in a foreign country perhaps? When the news affects so many people, and makes such an impact and can make people think video games are bad as a social norm, it does make you wonder what sort of spin they are putting on other stories. Though it does make sense, that they are victimizing video games for fear of losing viewers to a different medium that is growing in popularity.

"in 20 years, maybe the myths won't matter anymore"

I think the above is the most important quote in your article. What exactly is the difference between ourselves staring at a screen with a controller in hand and others staring at a screen with actors playing out a story, or staring at a chat show etc? Not much when you think about it, yet TV is such a respected medium and videogames are not.

My take on this is that the over 40's have not grown up in a world where videogames wern't as sophisticated as they are now, it is a fear of the unknown. Whereas TV has been around for 50 years or so now, the majority of the population of the developed world has grown up with TV and possibly love TV.

In 20 years time, the younger generation that have grown up with videogames will become the majority and they will know that there is nothing to fear, and videogames will be as a respected medium as TV is now.

Very good read and i agree with the user above, games are no different to movies in some respect. You stare at a screen when playing / watching, some games are for kids and others mature audiences and the same applies to movies. The only difference is the way in which people percieve them.

You wouldnt let your kid see an 18-years old rated movie at the age of 10 ... why let your 10 year old kid play GTA or similar games? The rating system is there for a reason and i belive that it is being ignored by the media and parents.

Another point to make is that most people that are fearful of games are people that have not played games recently and that see most (if not only) of the bad press that games get. Games in the present time have great story lines, some even beat holywood blockbuster stories but most people just look at the violence and shooting. If movies had no action then they would be boring, why are games any different.

When the present generation of under 30's grow in around 20-30 years things will probably be a lot different as stated in the above post. They will be the majority and they know that there is nothing to fear!

Very good read!

David Leverton, Computer Games Programming @ University of Derby

Twenty years from now we'll think of games the way our parents think of TV, but we'll all be freaked out by those total immersion cranial implants our kids want us to get them. Twenty years after that...

-Nick

Great article, Brenda.

I will say that my experiences with my non-gaming acquaintances has been almost entirely positive. Curiosity is the dominant response to the fact that I am a game reviewer. How does my graduate school training connect to my tastes in games? Can you explain World of Warcraft to me? Are they the new comic book/Saturday morning cartoon culture? At a faculty event last month, I sat by someone who had heard the GTA Causes Crime argument, and was happy to get a counterpoint from me.

I'm sure it helps that some of these people do related media studies. History of technology, film history...or are my age or younger. But even my senior citizen neighbors think games are at least valid subjects of inquiry.

But there is a demographic shift coming. When I taught high school a few years ago, gaming was so accepted by the students and young faculty that there wasn't even the social nerd stigma that it might have had ten years ago. And in the mainstream news, the GTA4 coverage was more "fair" than coverage of earlier versions.

The only way to hasten this mind shift among our adult peers, of course, is to be out of the gaming closet. To not evangelize for the industry or the pastime, but for adult gamers to at least be open about who we are. There's still a sense of shame about gaming that, let's face it, the gaming media indulges in with constant jokes about gamers living in basements or being sexless trolls.

In my opinion this gaming myth comes from three sources; people do not understand games, they view games as a childrens toy, and they are only exposed to the more disturbing images of games, that are designed for adults, taken completely out of context. This cobination makes makes it look like all games are attempting to twist their childrens minds into something horrible.

The only way to make people understand video games would be to get people to play current video games. The second issue comes strait from gamings roots, when many parents were growing up video games laked the depth to entice many adult players, as such they were advertised as childrens playthings. That concept is well engrained in peoples heads, and is persistant to this day. Most likly the only way to solve it would be for video games to become accepted as an art form, and as such be seen as sophisticated. The last issue, which is compounded by the first two, is completely in the hands of the mainstream media to solve. Although it would become a null issue if the first to were solved.

DaveLev:
You wouldnt let your kid see an 18-years old rated movie at the age of 10 ... why let your 10 year old kid play GTA or similar games? The rating system is there for a reason and i belive that it is being ignored by the media and parents.

I think this is a result of the over saturation of censorship to some degree. When every CD had a parental advisory stamp on it (seriously, DEVO albums got em') my mom no longer cared about them. Also ignorance. Plus I think people ignore it. Mostly ignorance though (I just put that other point first cause' I thought it was the most interesting, not the biggest factor).
Also, good read. Cheers.

What the videogame industry is expericing right now is the exact same thing that happend to the film industry for about 100 years ago. Nickelodeons where cinemas where you for a nickel could watch a cheap movie, but a lot of people thougt it was terrible. No place for children. When I studied film I thought to myself that this is the same thing that videogames are going through now. So my personal guess is that we have to wait at least 20 years or more before it is widely accepted to like and play videogames.

If we believe that the "media" can "brainwash" people, then we are pandering to those who believe that "video games" can "brainwash" people. In response to that, I think it's difficult to say why people hold such deep opinions. Perhaps it has something to do with people being lazy, why should they have to actually play through a game/ read the book/ watch the film/ get to know the person, if someone who's opinion they trust tells them what they need to know?

Maybe people shouldn't trust the people they "know on TV", or maybe negative opinions spread through personal/social networks.

My best reply to someone who thinks video games are evil, or wrong, or a negative influence to children? I ask them if they think bible stories are a bad influence to children. If they believe that they are a wholesome family activity (inevitable in most places) I refer them to the story of Abraham (a common bible story) in which a father is asked to -murder- his son in the name of god. Of course God stops him at the last second, but surely this illustrates to children that loyalty to god is everything, even to the point of murdering a loved one - and perhaps that their own parents would if "god asked".

If the issue is pressed, I refer to a passage in Judges, in which the child *is* sacrificed in the end. God doesn't stop it, discourage it, and in fact delivers on his end of the "deal".

I believe that some things shouldn't be in children's hands. Violent video games, inflammatory religious stories....

very interesting read, two remarks:

1/ this is very US centric. A lot of the criticism look positively bizarre to a jaded european, and is certainly a small theater of orperations for a much bigger cultural war (as the whole debate on Darwin, the "war on christmas" trumpeted by FOX, etc.). I have not seen anaything remotedly as negative where I live (France)

2/ others have rightly pointed at that; there is a generation distortion, all new medium are created evil (rock and roll, novels, etc.). Once the generations that support these medium come to power, they gain acceptance.

Thanks for such a great article Brenda. I've been a gamer all my life. I was lucky my parents didn't think they were evil but I also had a very well rounded need to get out and play as well as stay indoors naturally. I had migraines and chronic back pain growing up so there was times I couldn't go out and play like I wanted to and video games helped me with that need to play and explore. My dad doesn't quite understand them still but has really enjoyed playing a few and since I now work in the industry realizes that it wasn't a waste of time. My mom however still wastes her time on Dr. Mario like she has for the past 15 - 20 years. I keep trying to get her to try something new but every night its Dr. Mario that brings her back again and again. ;)

I have a lot of gamer friends so its rare I meet someone who doesn't play video games. But when I do, even when they're my age (30) or younger they are rabidly anti-gaming. Some are the hiking/biking/traveling/mountain-climbing types, others are business types who can't be bothered. They just see them as wastes of time with no redeemable value. They almost never broach the topic of game violence and such but that may also be because I live in the SF Bay Area and people aren't prone to Jack Thompson like rants in general.

One thing you didn't mention is something I've seen in many non-gamer friends now and it's the 'I fear that I'll get addicted,' excuse. Normally they put up a front around anyone, dismissing them entirely in a crowd of anyone but just me. But once it is down to me the truth comes out that they fear they'll be sucked in because of their proneness to being addicted to things already. Its the kind of people who may have even tasted how addicting they can be, like back in college or high school. Like drugs or partying that later in life shun them so entirely and sometimes even raise a banner against them because of their own experience which they try to bury and deny even to themselves.

Im 16 at the current time and one of those who encounter harsh criticism.
One of the things that always resulted in questions for me was the issue of a lack of excersie. I myself am fat, perhaps grossly fat for my age. But since when was it video games fault for the increase in obese children? Were there not unhealthy people before Pong? Perhaps our lives have increased in happiness due to having an excuse.

To get back on topic though, the problem is possibly getting people to give video games a try. Out of my vastly inferior group of friends, all those who were able to get their parents aquainted with gaming have found someone to split the screen with.

Dang good read Mrs. Brenda Brathwaite I can't wait to read the next arcticle

maroule:
very interesting read, two remarks:

1/ this is very US centric. A lot of the criticism look positively bizarre to a jaded european, and is certainly a small theater of orperations for a much bigger cultural war (as the whole debate on Darwin, the "war on christmas" trumpeted by FOX, etc.). I have not seen anaything remotedly as negative where I live (France)

2/ others have rightly pointed at that; there is a generation distortion, all new medium are created evil (rock and roll, novels, etc.). Once the generations that support these medium come to power, they gain acceptance.

I agree completely. Videogames in general are largely ignored by most European mainstream media. Unfortunately, it tends to blindly mimic American media in the rare cases that it is deemed interesting enough for TV.

I Mav I:
"in 20 years, maybe the myths won't matter anymore"

I think the above is the most important quote in your article. What exactly is the difference between ourselves staring at a screen with a controller in hand and others staring at a screen with actors playing out a story, or staring at a chat show etc? Not much when you think about it, yet TV is such a respected medium and videogames are not.

The comparison of video games with television and film is an interesting one because they have so much in common, yet after some consideration I find the analogy flawed.

I'm not even that old and I remember a time when parents were worried about the amount of TV their children watched. A friend of mine wasn't allowed to watch more than 1.5 - 2 hours of cartoons on a Saturday morning before his dad turned the TV off and told them to go do something else. The FUD surrounding TV was similar to that we see around video gaming today: children are wasting their youth, not playing outside and with others enough, and seeing violence (He-Man, TMNT and X-Men were often criticised for that).

While both media share many criticism there are a few significant differences between them that warrant that they be considered individually.

Firstly, television and film are very passive activities. Even with the advent of reality TV (save us!). Television was often compared to reading a good book since reading was said to require an act of will while TV just required that you sit there and absorb. This is a criticism video games overcame since no-one can call video games passive entertainment.

Television shows and film have a definite ending. You turn on your set when you want to watch your favourite show(s) and after 1 or 2 hours they're over and you get back to your evening. Video gaming consumes much more time than that. Call of Duty 4 was heavily criticised for having only a 4-5 hour single player campaign. We pay 5-10 times more for a game than we do to see a movie of course, so naturally we'd expect a longer experience from them.

With the advent of MMO games we even have games that simply don't ever end. But they break the TV/gaming analogy even further by introducing something one simply doesn't have in television - interaction with real humans. And no, neither voting on a reality TV show nor phoning in to a live broadcast constitutes "interaction" in this sense.

I hope my point is clear enough... I'll post clarifications if I read this later tonight and realise I'm blabbering :P

As a person who has been playing games 21 years, since I was 5! I can say that games perhaps did keep me from socialising. But they were a welcome escape at the time, I didn't like people, sport and all that kind of thing so it was much more entertaining and exciting to go off into fantastical worlds on my television. In a way my head is still stuck in that realm, which is the problem really, I need to get one with life. There will be those like me and those not, it has different affects for everyone.

poleboy:

maroule:
very interesting read, two remarks:

1/ this is very US centric. A lot of the criticism look positively bizarre to a jaded european, and is certainly a small theater of orperations for a much bigger cultural war (as the whole debate on Darwin, the "war on christmas" trumpeted by FOX, etc.). I have not seen anaything remotedly as negative where I live (France)

2/ others have rightly pointed at that; there is a generation distortion, all new medium are created evil (rock and roll, novels, etc.). Once the generations that support these medium come to power, they gain acceptance.

I agree completely. Videogames in general are largely ignored by most European mainstream media. Unfortunately, it tends to blindly mimic American media in the rare cases that it is deemed interesting enough for TV.

Anyone from the UK remember this? It was only last summer:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/manchester/6736809.stm

Uh... I swear I read this several months ago. This exact story... Came in an Escapist Newsletter. Anyone else remember this?

Anyone from the UK remember this? It was only last summer:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/manchester/6736809.stm[/quote]

the comparison is interesting:
- The church of England did not object to video games per se, just the fact they used the church as a gory battleground (which you can understand)
- the critics in the US press/political arena is much more profund = "videogames corrupt youth".

I have yet to find one politician in Europe, or a major media organ, starting up a crusade to prove videogames transform teenagers into violent sex crazed antisocial zombies, the way FOX or others is hammering at it. That just wouldn't sell very well. They tried that a bit with role playing games in the 80s', didn't catch on. You need a serious conservative/religious leaning base in you population for that crap to catch on. Even the Sun didn't try it.

In the end, US media and politicians have found fear to be a very compelling narrative to catch people's attention, and will use any subject through this lens. That's at least how it looks from outside.

This is a situation in which video game players will have to speak up, like this author, and set the record straight regarding our favorite pass-time. Whenever some ignorant fool says, "Video games are all violent," it is us who will have to say, "Only 8% of all video games are rated "M" for "mature." During this hypothetical conversation, we could also educate people about the ESRB and game ratings.

There is fear in the unkown. The more people know about something (or some people), the less it is feared and the more it is understood. The more video games are understood, the more WE will be understood. In this understanding, people will assume, less often, that game players are shut-in nerds who are practicing homocide.

We, as gamers, need to stand up and have a singular voice: Video games are just like all other media. Take that fact into consideration. Just like all other media, there are good games, and bad games. Point out the similarities, and the understanding will come.

~~Nick

This article was very interesting and thought provoking, and that is rare. I mean genuinely rare. Not in the sense you would typically see used in the comments section.

I have one little nitpick, since I need to think about this before I can safely say that I have something worthwhile to say, and that is that the bolding on pages four and five is really unnecessary. The points made are more than strong enough to stand out on their own without throwing a Ctrl B in there. It just doesn't feel right in this article.

And now to put on my thinking cap.

maroule:

I have yet to find one politician in Europe, or a major media organ, starting up a crusade to prove videogames transform teenagers into violent sex crazed antisocial zombies, the way FOX or others is hammering at it. That just wouldn't sell very well. They tried that a bit with role playing games in the 80s', didn't catch on. You need a serious conservative/religious leaning base in you population for that crap to catch on. Even the Sun didn't try it.

Obviously, you aren't living in germany :)

Try Wolfgang Schäuble, who is currently Minister of the Interior here..
He holds the opinion that videogames are evil and that people who make them
should be treated the same way as those who make kiddyporn.

Fortunately, most of the laws he wanted to get passed were thrown out, but it still scares the shit out of me what kinds of people we have in our gouvermet..

EDIT: I guess the actual "(violent) video game manufacturers = kiddyporn makers" comparison was from Günther Beckstein, but Schäuble is not far behind..

Is it just me or are people starting to blame ALL of the worlds problems on videogames?

"Omg, my kid just killed someone for no particular reason! Let's blame videogames!"
Okay, vaild point that there ARE many violent video games but there are other things in the world that could make someone kill someone else.

If you're silly enough to act out murdering people with a car like you would on GTA then maybe you need a little help? Anyone agree?

Troy Goodfellow:
The only way to hasten this mind shift among our adult peers, of course, is to be out of the gaming closet. To not evangelize for the industry or the pastime, but for adult gamers to at least be open about who we are. There's still a sense of shame about gaming that, let's face it, the gaming media indulges in with constant jokes about gamers living in basements or being sexless trolls.

This. It seems that a lot of the adult gamers who have wives or husbands and 9-5 jobs, kids, the whole works, will often avoid bringing up their pasttime. I know I'm guilty of this myself. I often feel awkward and embarrassed bringing up the fact that I am a gamer, fearing the perceptions of others. In fact, it's partially because a lot of my friends, who are the same age as me, live with their parents and don't have jobs and are the ones who most obnoxiously and loudly pronounce to all the world that they are gamers. And I don't really want to be lumped in that category. Unfortunately, by not admitting that I'm a gamer, I'm really helping to reinforce that stereotype.

Dave Taylor's quote is spot on. Successful modern games are extremely addictive, and confer very few skills that are useful to society as a whole. They are effectively very cheap drugs, and game makers like Blizzard and Rock Star need to be more responsible. Kids end up playing GTA IV in their formative years and it's all downhill from there.

Or maybe I'm just jealous because gaming when I was a kid was a lot more work for a lot less game..

"Successful modern games are extremely addictive, and confer very few skills that are useful to society as a whole"

the same can be said of dancing rock' roll, reading pulp comics, watching TV, and any other leisure activity outside of sports... it didn't make the baby boomers more useless to society that the generations before...

And by the way, as a 20 years old student in a top university in the 90s', I was more challenged intellectually by a game of Civ or Railroad Tycoon than by macro-economics lectures... let us not fall in the arch typical gripe of the older generations that "the younger generation has it too easy, they're lazy, etc.". Our parents thought the same of us.

So we've established that this is an iteration of an ancient cycle. A more pertinent question might be: Can the cycle be broken at all? Can games become an exception to it? Is there anything to do besides wait?

I doubt it.

tsaketh:
Uh... I swear I read this several months ago. This exact story... Came in an Escapist Newsletter. Anyone else remember this?

This week's issue is a reprinting of several prior articles.

maroule:
"Successful modern games are extremely addictive, and confer very few skills that are useful to society as a whole"

the same can be said of dancing rock' roll, reading pulp comics, watching TV, and any other leisure activity outside of sports... it didn't make the baby boomers more useless to society that the generations before...

And by the way, as a 20 years old student in a top university in the 90s', I was more challenged intellectually by a game of Civ or Railroad Tycoon than by macro-economics lectures... let us not fall in the arch typical gripe of the older generations that "the younger generation has it too easy, they're lazy, etc.". Our parents thought the same of us.

This is so true and Parental Paranoia and the medias' fixtation in creating controversy over video games needs to be shown up as straw man arguments that they ultimately are. VG's have been with us for nigh on 30 years now and I don't believe that they're dangerous. Yes they can be addictive [24 hour stints online gaming on NWN attests to this] but it all comes down to the individual and their responses to the game and its allure.
It was a great article as well.

maroule:
"Successful modern games are extremely addictive, and confer very few skills that are useful to society as a whole"

the same can be said of dancing rock' roll, reading pulp comics, watching TV, and any other leisure activity outside of sports... it didn't make the baby boomers more useless to society that the generations before...

And by the way, as a 20 years old student in a top university in the 90s', I was more challenged intellectually by a game of Civ or Railroad Tycoon than by macro-economics lectures... let us not fall in the arch typical gripe of the older generations that "the younger generation has it too easy, they're lazy, etc.". Our parents thought the same of us.

This is so true and Parental Paranoia and the medias' fixtation in creating controversy over video games needs to be shown up as straw man arguments that they ultimately are. VG's have been with us for nigh on 30 years now and I don't believe that they're dangerous. Yes they can be addictive [24 hour stints online gaming on NWN attests to this] but it all comes down to the individual and their responses to the game and its allure.
It was a great article as well.

maroule:
very interesting read, two remarks:

1/ this is very US centric. A lot of the criticism look positively bizarre to a jaded european, and is certainly a small theater of orperations for a much bigger cultural war (as the whole debate on Darwin, the "war on christmas" trumpeted by FOX, etc.). I have not seen anaything remotedly as negative where I live (France)

2/ others have rightly pointed at that; there is a generation distortion, all new medium are created evil (rock and roll, novels, etc.). Once the generations that support these medium come to power, they gain acceptance.

Yeas aswell over in Australia there is very little public hostility to it. Sure you have Atkinson and the like but the general population sees little wrong with it.

 

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