Novels, music, movies, comic books: they all maintain their own particular universe, complete with clichés and well-worn perceptions by those outside of their respective industries. For example, in the world of the music industry, it’s assumed that touring with a rock band is a non-stop riot of partying, sex and drugs. And in the realm of literature … well, everyone knows that securing a book deal is a golden ticket to fame and fortune. Right?
Wrong. Ask any seasoned musician and you’ll find that – in most cases – tour schedules form a wearisome parade of packing, unpacking, sitting in airports and sleeping in vans. As for that debut novel which is going to launch you into the Stephen King stratosphere of success? Sorry to break it to you like this, but the average advance for a first-time novelist is somewhere in the region of $2000-5000. Not quite enough to start building that money bin. Misconceptions like these are everywhere … and the realm of gaming is no different.
What are some of the most widely held – and oft-cited – fallacies concerning the gaming industry? The many gaming myths range in subject from cultural impact to production practices to aesthetic quirks. In the noble tradition of setting the record straight, then, let’s take a look at ten of the most common gaming delusions, and how they are just not true.
Myth: Videogames Promote Violence In Young People
The whole “videogames cause violence” warhorse is such a cliché that it feels almost unnecessary to debunk it. The Escapist could probably fill an entire article in itself with the numerous variations on this myth: from disbarred attorney Jack Thompson’s ludicrous campaign against Grand Theft Auto to the story of 2004 murderer Warren LeBlanc and his supposed obsession with Manhunt (he didn’t even own a copy of the game).
The blunt fact is that a kid who takes a cue from Commander Shepard to shoot up his local Wal-Mart wasn’t really functioning on a “normal” level anyway. Correlations between videogame violence and its real-world equivalent do exist, but only when there were underlying issues in the first place – tendencies that conceivably could have been triggered by anything, and which really can’t be blamed purely on Microsoft or Sony.
Of course, the myth of videogame violence is often countered with …
Myth: Videogames Make You Smarter
Far from being the violence-inducing spawn of Satan, videogames are actually a godsend. They help boost problem-solving skills and reaction times. Anyone who plays games is almost certainly smarter than anyone who doesn’t. Correct?
Well … no. Not exactly. Nintendo DS games like Brain Age are launched with advertising campaigns that make a big deal of their “intelligence-building” potential. Such claims are almost entirely unfounded. Tests have shown that DS thumb-twiddlers are no better at a spectrum of intellectual pursuits than their non-gaming counterparts. While there is evidence that certain abilities are more abundant in gamers, the generally-held benchmarks of braininess – wider IQ tests, emotional intelligence – seem unaffected. Put it this way: if you’re flunking college, it really won’t help to take John Marston on a jolly jaunt around Mexico every night.
Myth: Game Testing Is An Awesome Job
Ever had to proofread an essay, meticulously checking for spelling errors and inaccuracies? Chances are that job wasn’t much fun. Now consider that process when applied to videogames. It’s a tester’s job to find flaws within games, which means painstakingly plowing through them over and over again until they are unfun and tedious. That incredible opening level of Modern Warfare 7: Explosions And Stuff won’t seem as amazing once you’ve played it eight hours a day for two weeks straight. And while a veteran game tester can earn a decent salary, those on the lower rungs of the ladder can expect a much more humbling wage.
None of this is to say that game testing is a bad job (sweatshop workers in Indonesia would presumably be very happy to switch places with Activision’s new recruits). It just isn’t the digital Shangri-La of popular perception.
Myth: Game Design Is An Auteur’s Medium
Blame the Molyneuxs. Blame the Wrights. Blame the Bleszinkis. Blame anyone who boldly proclaims a game as their “vision,” creating a skewed impression of a lone Terminator-like figure, battling with inhuman power against all odds to lovingly handcraft every line of code.
Just as Hollywood likes to venerate the director (shunting every other important filmmaking role out of the limelight), the videogame public all too often focuses on one benevolent figurehead. While there invariably has to be a Big Boss calling the shots, this can often mean that the collaborative nature of design is shamefully overlooked. Games are not made by one person, but rather a team of dedicated designers and support staff.
Myths: Girls Don’t Play Games
Chalk this one up with “games cause violence”. Yes, to gaming-savvy readers of The Escapist, it will hardly come as a shock to hear that 40 percent of gamers are women (42 percent in an online capacity), nor to hear that female gamers play 7.4 hours a week (almost equal to the 7.6 hours enjoyed by the boys).
Outside of game-literate circles, however, the notion that gaming is a purely testosterone-filled market is shockingly prevalent. Hence the existence of abysmal newspaper articles lamenting “gaming widows” printed in the UK’s Telegraph regarding the 2009 release of Modern Warfare 2.
Myth: Gaming Is Social
This peculiar myth relies heavily on interpretation. It’s a standard gamer defense, the classic counterpoint to the accusation that gaming is a solitary pastime or the realm of the perpetually withdrawn. “But,” one might cry, “I always play with friends via Xbox Live! That’s ‘social,’ right?”
While online multiplayer (“social” in a very loose sense, by the way) is hugely popular, the single-player experience still remains the cornerstone of gaming. In essence, that is socially isolating because it is an activity that is usually performed alone.
The question is: what’s wrong with that? No one complains that reading a book or listening to an album is a lonely experience. Just because gamers sometimes enjoy a solitary activity doesn’t necessarily mean that they do not also go outside and embrace life to the fullest. Videogaming might often be a one-man show, but that’s the nature of the beast. It is nothing to be ashamed of – and maybe its time people realized that, rather than trying to force a social context onto the medium that, frankly, doesn’t exist.
Myth: Games Have No Artistic Merit
Braid. Shadow Of The Colossus. Portal. BioShock. Ocarina Of Time. Five titles that destroy this myth completely. Games are art, just as gravity pulls you to Earth and water quenches your thirst. It’s not even debateable.
Myth: PC Gaming Is Dead
A true horror story for our beleaguered times; the avalanche of piracy and console-favoritism is killing PC gaming. Not exactly. While it is undeniable that there are many issues which the PC market has to confront, we shouldn’t be holding a tearful funeral just yet.
Take a little game called World of Warcraft – a PC & Mac juggernaut pulling in over $100 million per month in revenue. Developers such as Blizzard and Valve invest heavily in PC games, and countless indie developers find it the most liberating platform on which to work. The head of BioWare has recently encouraged smaller developers to turn away from the console market. The question is not whether PC gaming will die, the question is how it will adapt to changing market pressures. It is no longer the natural home of the blockbuster FPS, true, but it would be foolish to confuse an unpredictable future with certain death.
Myth: Cloud Gaming Is The Future
Lots of us are embracing a world in which the physical capabilities of a specific computer matter less than the bigger picture. Welcome to the Cloud, and the possibilities of connectivity. And – with the impending world domination of OnLive – pretty soon we’ll all be playing our videogames from remote servers, eschewing the need for a console altogether.
Or maybe not. Skeptics claim that the broadband capabilities needed for OnLive to work properly are an unrealistic dream. Oh, and there’s one advantage to having a nice physical-format stack of games next to a nice physical-format console: you won’t lose absolutely everything when a centralized server goes kaput. Which is handy.
Myth: Casual Gaming Is Killing “Real” Gaming
A prevalent industry gripe at the moment is that “casual gaming” – say, Facebook games or the relatively lightweight motion-control japes that form most Wii content – is getting so popular that it will annihilate more serious or “core” gaming. And just when people were starting to treat the medium with a bit of respect, too.
Again, it all boils down to interpretation. What is “casual”? What isn’t? Wii Fit might be the best-selling game ever, but let’s not overlook something like the recent Red Dead Redemption – an intense, complex and profound work that has sold by the bucketload to become one of the year’s biggest hits. Is it possible that casual gaming might be a distinct market sector in itself, and will no more affect “real” gaming than Dan Brown has affected the sale of Dostoevsky novels?
Yes. Yes, it is. Myth debunked.
There we have it: a broad selection of misconceptions that have arisen from many different sectors of the videogame industry. Yet these are simply the most common (and in some cases, the most grating). There are many more … and, given the rapid cultural/technical acceleration of the videogame world, we are almost certainly due a whole new slew of baffling non-truths in the future. How long before we’re being told that Motion Control gaming causes arthritis, that 3D-HD-gaming gives you Superman-style X-Ray vision, and that subliminal messages in Gears Of War 32 encourage players to stab kittens? Time – and the predictability of tabloid-fueled hearsay – will tell.
C J Davies is a screenwriter and journalist based in London. He can be found over at www.cjdavies.com.