This article is the second in a four part series, beginning with Gaming at the Margins.
The Cultural Crossroad
I don't know about you, but I feel like there's a target painted on my chest. Gaming is dead square in the cultural crosshairs, these days. Kids, teens and 20-somethings love us, which means parents and politicians are keeping an eye on us - and blaming us for all the ills of the modern age. It's kind of cool that people are paying that much attention to us after years of ignoring us, but why now, and what can or should we do about it?
The why is pretty straightforward:
The last few years have seen an explosion in the popularity and cultural credibility of games.
- Obviously, they love us for our money. The kind of revenue numbers we post ensures that we get some attention.
- We're written up in Newsweek and reviewed in Playboy, Entertainment Weekly and local newspapers.
- Will Wright is named one of Esquire magazine's most influential people and EA's Larry Probst makes Entertainment Weekly's Power List.
- Hollywood's all over game IP - and, on the flip side, looking to turn just about every movie idea into a game, now that we're stealing their core audience.
We've reached the point where, as MIT professor Henry Jenkins said after Columbine, "If you want to find the weird kid, look for the one who doesn't play videogames, not the one who does..."
That all sounds great, right? Our audience is growing and people are paying attention - nothing wrong with that. Well, maybe not, but there's no denying that the larger our audience grows, the more kids turn to games as a way of passing time, as well as entertaining and educating themselves, the more parents and cultural gate-keepers will pay attention and, in all likelihood, feel threatened.
There's a whole generation of baby boomers out there who, for the most part, grew up without computers and don't get games. They got their parent-bugging, rebellious kicks in other ways (notably by growing their hair long, listening to rock 'n' roll and protesting an unjust war - OK, so maybe things aren't so very different). A lot of boomers don't understand why their son barricades himself in his room every afternoon killing demons... why their daughter, instead of playing with Barbies, spends every waking moment raising a family of little electronic people. People fear and blame what they don't understand. It's always been that way.
And thanks to hardware advances, what gamers experience these days is clearly more compelling, at least on the surface, than what we used to offer, which further increases the gate-keepers' fear level - escaping to a 16-color virtual world populated by stick figure villains was one thing; escaping to a world where the cop you kill or the car you steal looks, sounds and behaves like the real thing is an entirely different matter. Is it any wonder non-gaming adults in positions of power fear us and our influence?
So, what do we do about this?
- Should we worry about parents who don't get it?
- Should we fear government or judicial intervention?
- Should we do things differently to mollify the worry-warts of the world?
- Or should we just hunker down, revel in the fact that we kinda own the teens and 20's scene right now and keep doing what we're doing?
On the one hand, it's a truism in the industry and among most cultural critics and financial analysts that, as gamers age, they'll continue to play, on their own and with their kids. And as those playing parents move into positions of authority - political, educational and cultural - gaming will inevitably be accorded the respect it deserves, moving from marginal activity to become the dominant medium of the 21st century.