In addition to publishing The Escapist, I serve as president of the Triangle Game Initiative, commonly called “TGI”, a not-for-profit trade association that promotes the video game industry in North Carolina. While as publisher for The Escapist, I largely communicate with game developers, game journalists and advertisers, my work with TGI has taken me into a broader circle of relations – economic developers, politicians, small businessmen and Fortune 500 executives.
Recently I was invited to a TGI business lunch with one of the region’s leading sales executive, ostensibly to discuss how the region’s game engine sales could benefit from enterprise software sales practices. I asked how he’d found out about my role at TGI and he said, “I heard you speak at the Chamber of Commerce, and you were very articulate… for a gamer.”
It’s true. I am well spoken. Unfortunately, praise, like everything in business, is often double-edged, and “articulate” is particularly so.
Denotatively, articulate simply means “characterized by the use of clear, expressive language.” In recent years however, it’s acquired unwanted connotations. It has become a loaded phrase; some even call it a racist phrase. You might recall that Vice President Joseph Biden got into hot water a couple years ago for saying Barack Obama was “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate…” Flumesday explains, “When a white person calls a black person ‘articulate,’ there is an underlying assumption that this black person is an anomaly or special.” In short: Singling out Obama as articulate backhandedly singles out other blacks as inarticulate.
So in being called “articulate,” was my lunch colleague singling out other gamers as inarticulate? Well, duh: It’s pretty hard to read the “… for a gamer” disclaimer as anything other than singling out the rest of our tribe as inarticulate louts. (Sorry, guys.)
I’d laugh this off, except it’s not an isolated incident. In another example, I was recently invited to speak on how video games were contributing to the growth of the creative class in our region. When I inquired as to key points I should touch on, I was asked to “just talk about what gaming is all about. Most people think of dragons, and stuff like that… But you have an interesting background coming from Harvard Law. How did you get interested in gaming with a law degree? You don’t have the ‘image’ of a gamer with long hair and body art.”
Unpack that comment and it says “why would someone with a degree from Harvard Law waste their time working in videogames?” It also says “you’re very clean cut… for a gamer.” (Or perhaps “you’re not very cool… for a gamer,” depending on whether you appreciate long hair and body art, I suppose.)
Or consider this recent email I got from a fellow lobbyist, telling me that I needed to understand how trivial my industry is: “You really need to understand some cold hard facts. Cutting edge, economy changing technology the game industry is not.” (No, my colleague is not Yoda, though talk that way he does sometimes.)
Now, let’s look at the facts from the ESA:
- 68% of American households play computer or video games.
- The average game player is 35 years old.
- The game industry contributes over $3.8 billion to US GDP annually.
- The game industry supports over 250,000 jobs in the United States.
- The average salary for direct employees is $92,300.
- The game industry generates more revenue than the movie industry.
How is it, in an industry with a quarter of a million employees, making around six figures income, generating almost $4B in added value, people are surprised to find a game industry employee who is clean cut and well-spoken? This suggests to me that gaming, as a business, is not yet being taken seriously.
As someone who did, in fact, give up my law career to pursue gaming, this bothers me. So let me take a few minutes to share a few choice thoughts on why it ought to be taken seriously.
First, gaming is the entertainment of the future. If you’re not playing games now, you will be soon. You may not realize you’re playing games – they may find a new word for it, or bundle it in a way that hides the game-like nature of your experience from you – but you will be engaging in entertainment that is based upon the design and technology developed by the video game industry. Virtual reality is coming. Augmented reality is coming. Ubiquitous gaming is coming.
Second, and perhaps even more important, gaming is the educational tool of the future. The UK Army is already actively recruiting teenagers who play video games to become elite helicopter pilots, explaining that “skill in flying aircraft is to absorb large amounts of information from different sources without becoming flustered. The new generation of computer-game-playing youngsters…already have some of those skills.”
But it isn’t just flying aircraft that depends on absorbing large amounts of information without being flustered. It’s everything. Facebook, Twitter, Google, Wikipedia and the rest of the web have put more information in our cell phone than all of mankind has had in recorded history. As a society we’re still using techniques developed by the ancient Greeks 2,000 years ago, but we live in a world so complex and fast-changing that Socrates himself could not keep up.
Gaming is our way to change all that. Whether it’s training soldiers, teaching doctors the intricacies of surgery, or educating K-12 children in science and math, gaming’s ability to tap directly into the engage-play-learn network of our mind makes it far superior to traditional methods of practice and learning.
As a result of these trends, gamers – people like you, reading this article – will be the new cognitive elite. Smarter. Faster. Better at football. Which isn’t to say that there won’t be a place for people who don’t like video games. Ours will be an inclusive society, of course. I’m sure there will still be some folks who are smart and articulate… for non-gamers.
Alexander Macris is co-founder and publisher of The Escapist, as well as president and CEO of its parent company, Themis Media. He has also written two tabletop wargames, conceived and edited the book “MMORPGs for Dummies,” and designed the award-winning web game “Heroes Mini.” After hours, he serves as president of Triangle Game Initiative, the Raleigh-Durham area’s game industry association, and runs a weekly tabletop roleplaying game campaign of concentrated awesomeness.