Why everyone should care about video games

I've primarily been blogging about social media and technology, but I'm going to start to blog about videogames as well. Bizzarely I'm slightly concerned about this, part of me feels I should apologise to those people who have ended up on the site to hear me talk about other things, that you won't care about videogames, and you'll tune out, that you'll roll your eyes and sigh "videogames" and close the browser.

I think what I'm actually doing with these thoughts is internalising the stigma that still remains around videogames, but I don't want to do that, in fact I want to remove the stigma…

This week I had the privilege to attend the GameCity festival in Nottingham, and found myself surrounded by some of the most insightful, passionate and intelligent gamers, developers and game industry professionals I have hever had the pleasure to meet. It must have been about halfway through the festival when it struck me that maybe I shouldn't really get too hung up about this stigma anymore, because videogames are becoming more and more a cornerstone of human culture, and in my lifetime there will come a time where we will all realise this.

But that feels a little too much like sitting on the fence and letting other people fight my battles.

The next day I was sat listening to a panel of respected game developers and one of them said something that astounded me.

"we need to stop worrying about the stigma surrounding videogames, there isn't one, they are displayed in galleries and museums, they are accepted as having cultural value, people realise that they are culturally significant, it's just the gamers that have an issue"

I thought long and hard about this, was it just me, is there actually no stigma? Do most people actually realise the importance and influence of videogames?

Feel free to correct me, but I don't think they do, and I feel this was an extremely naive comment, in my experience almost every non gamer over 30 I talk to has no conception of the cultural significance of videogames.

In fact most of them think that videogames are for kids, and most of them think videogames consist of football simulations or games that involve shooting people.

So bear with me for a post, and I'll see if I can explain why everyone should care about video games.

First let's try and define what this stigma is all about…

Common perceptions I encounter from people

videogames are...

...for children

...all about shooting people / are violent / encourage violence

...devoid of cultural value

...not for me

...addictive

...time wasters

So for the purposes of this post, these are the perceptions that I will class as the "stigma of videogames".

Of course, we've been here before, as Richard Lemarchand mentioned at GameCity if we look at the introduction of the written novel to society we find the stigma surrounding it somewhat familiar, here's a passage from "the American Annals of Education" in 1835

"Perpetual reading inevitably operates to exclude thought, and in the youthful mind to stint the opening mental faculties, by favoring unequal development. It is apt either to exclude social enjoyment, or render the conversation frivolous and unimportant; for to make any useful reflections, while the mind is on the gallop, is nearly out of the question; and if no useful reflections are made during the hours of reading, they cannot of course be retailed in the social circle. Besides, it leads to a neglect of domestic and other labours."

Or try this from M. M. Backus in 1844

The habitual use of the stimulus of fiction is always enervating to the intellect, as that of alcohol is to the physical system. "
"A propensity to novel reading is a state of intellectual debility and megrim. It is dissipating, also, to the moral principles and character, introducing confusion into any system of ethics, and discrepancies into any course of conduct. It blunts the sensibilities, and deceives the votary with the substitution of a false edge, which will endure no service."

And with the introduction of cinema

In 1907, the Chicago Tribune threw its editorial weight against the movies, declaring that they were "without a redeeming feature to warrant their existence…"

So the stigma surrounding video games is nothing new

But why care?

Well the media of Videogames encompasses a staggeringly large range of titles, and is immensly influential, we're looking at an industry that's making more money every year than the film industry, or the music industry, and yet it's still finding it's feet.

Its such a young industry and you should care about it because it's an industry that can be shaped by us all, it's an industry you, personally, could have an impact on, one that you could mould.

And the perceptions people have are actually misconceptions, so you dont want to be ignorant, do you? do you know for sure that most videogames are for children, that videogames are the stomping ground of 17 year old boys who like shooting things?

In fact, according to research carried out by the Entertainment Software Association in 2011 the average age for a gamer is 37, that's a far cry from a teenager, and 42% of gamers are female...

And those army games you see on the tv, well the first person shooter genre so often percieved as the largest segment of computer games accounts for just 21% of sales.

So you ought to be informed about these things, you ought not to take the largest of the entertainment industries for granted, and you ought to get involved.

Look at the images on this page, click them to take a better look, do they fit with your ideas of videogames, do you really know what's out there, or are you only aware of the top few percent that are advertised on TV or sold in the one or two chains of Videogame shops? Would you ever state, "I dont like films" or "I never want to read a book"

Did you know games have narrative, emotional impact, storys that can last hours and hours, fleshed out characters, political messages, educational content.

Make sure you're in on the party, because they're going to change the world.