The Transcendence of Digital Play
by Ryan Stevens
This year saw the launch of Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s Playstation4, which have currently sold a combined total of over 13 million units. Last year, consumers spent an estimated $21 billion on videogame products, and the industry as a whole is the second fastest growing media segment in the world, valued at over $86 billion. In spite of the explosive success videogames have demonstrated over the past five years, the stigma that surrounds the players is still hanging around.
When asked about what videogames entail, many people still have the ridiculous image of an overweight, Dorito-stained thirty-year-old sitting alone in a dark basement of his mother’s house playing some sort of violent shooter. Even those who recognize such a stereotype to be absurd still describe videogames as socially ostracizing or unhealthy. This mentality is a troublesome notion that can be easily remedied by providing a little perspective.
Putting the monetary weight of the videogame industry aside for a second, let’s consider the social ramifications. Gaming is no longer a minority group of outsiders who play alone in front of their television. In fact, 59% of Americans play video games, and nearly two thirds of players are doing so with others, either online or in person. The social element of gaming has even led developers to increase the output of multiplayer games, to the extent that the feature has become the standard. There are even contemporary games such as Titanfall and Destiny, for example, that take place entirely online with other human players. More importantly, this multiplayer community is not comprised entirely of total strangers, in fact it’s quite the opposite. The majority of gamers play with either a family member, a spouse, or with close friends, and 58% of parents play games with their children. The number one cited reason? It’s fun.
While games used to be male-dominated, even this aspect of the stereotype is being rebuffed, with current gender ratios of gamers nearing 50%. Games have extended into every age demographic, and though the average console owner is just above 30 years old, games are enjoyed (and marketed towards) children, teens, young adults, parents and even the elderly.
Curiously, the massive influx of gamers from every demographic is still not enough to deter critics who claim that videogames are overly violent, insufficiently monitored, or a generally unimaginative and passive experience. The truth is that the violence in videogames is no greater than that of film or television, and the rating system has advanced to compensate. Ratings extend to cover all the same age groups as movies, with the vast majority (88%) containing content equivalent to a G or PG rating. What’s more, over 90% of parents monitor what their child plays, and over two thirds of parents place personal limits on their child’s content usage. On the opposite end of the spectrum, artistic development for games has undergone monumental improvement, employing teams of writers, cinematographers, visual effects artists, and creativity directors to create games that are as stunning visually and thematically as they are fun to play. This influx of imagination has even led to national magazines like IGN, which rate games based on the experience they provide the player, which necessarily includes categories like visual depth, immersive gameplay, character complexity, storyline quality, and even sound and musical score.
Games have not only transcended the ugly stereotype that plagued them, they have left any credibility it had in the dust. Games have the complexity of film, the entertainment value of television shows, the intelligence benefits of books (including literacy rates), and have become more social than all three. They represent a colossal component of US and global economies, and have become a creative outlet for young and old, men and women, parents and children alike. Regardless of whether or not we find videogames personally enjoyable, it’s high past time to stop criticizing gamers, and start understanding why they picked up the controller in the first place.
Ryan Stevens will be blogging for R&S about film and social tendencies. As he describes it: “This would include an analysis of how ‘film people’ are viewed and how they behave (and how to behave around them), or a commentary on the ways we look at film vs. how we ought to look at film. I tend to find human behavior both fascinating and like to look at why we do or think the things we do and think. I’ll also likely include revelations about life and faith from the perspective of someone with depression.”
Image above is from here.