What the mainstream press won’t report: Gamers are everywhere, and we’re doing fine
It was odd to watch Vice President Joe Biden place his hand on the shoulder of EA CEO John Riccitiello to assure him the video game industry was not being singled out and stated they met with the law enforcement community, the National Rifle Association, the medical community, at-risk groups, gun safety groups, and more. Biden said that there was some question about whether these conversations were an attack on the cultural norms of rural communities and gun ownership. These meetings were a far-reaching attempt to speak to people about violence in general and guns in particular. The press reacted in the expected way by trying to drum up controversy. “Makers of Violent Video Games Marshal Support to Fend Off Regulation,” the New York Times wrote, including a picture of the Vice President surrounded by faceless, imposing figures, the “video game industry executives.” “There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and sows violence against its own people,” NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre stated during a press conference. “Through vicious violent video games, with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse.” In his world video games were the problem, and more guns were the solution. These conversations have a nasty sense of paternalism to them. They want the kids to leave the room while the adults figure out what to do with these terrible games we’re all playing. The problem is that the dialog, at least so far, ignores the most important people in the equation: Those who actually sit down and play the games.
The gamers don’t need to be protected
The conversation about video games and their place in pop culture usually hinges on children, and what they should and shouldn’t play. There have been attempts to subvert the First Amendment and force certain games to carry warning labels, and a multitude of laws about mandatory ratings and retailer punishments for selling certain games to underage children. The Supreme Court finally acknowledged that video games are protected speech, so those laws are all but off the table now for anything except political points. Even the New York Times hints that these are solved problems. “Executives cite 2009 research by the Federal Trade Commission crediting game makers for going further than any other media group to shield children from inappropriate material,” the article stated. “Major retailers like GameStop consistently refused to sell ‘mature’ rated games to minors, the commission found, and game makers usually did not market them to children.”So we can say, with much evidence from the FTC and the Supreme Court, that these issues are all but handled. Adults may still buy violent games for their children, just as they may buy guns for their children, but there’s very little one can do in terms of legislation. Pretending otherwise is both counter-productive and expensive. The reality is that video games aren’t only for children, and haven’t been for quite some time. I attended a LAN party over the weekend and everyone who played games, including violent titles, were married, had children, professional careers, and no criminal records. When the host’s little girl toddled into the room to say goodnight to her father everyone dutifully paused the game and made a conscious effort to watch their language. This is the reality of modern gaming: there are just as many responsible adults who see gaming as a hobby as there are children playing games in the basements and bedrooms of their homes. You never hear about the lawyer who wears a suit to work and then comes home to unwind with a few rounds of Battlefield 3, although I know him. I’ve talked to doctors who are Devil May Cry fans. My wife enjoys when I come with her to parties thrown by the accounting firm she works for; her co-workers love to talk about video games and my slightly unusual job. These are men and women who handle millions, if not billions, of dollars in their day-to-day job, and they play video games. The media wants to portray gaming as an anti-social activity. The articles always seem to imply that it is slightly wrong to enjoy and play games, and the hobby may point to problems with the mind of the gamer. Playing online games is seen as a reason you shouldn’t hold public office, when in fact many people who work in government already play and enjoy games of all types. EVE Online held a memorial for a player who lost their life overseas. He worked for the U.S. State Department. The New York Times won’t write about NFL players who try in vain to describe miniature war games to Salon. “Yeah, they’re little miniatures that you assemble, paint ‘em, and then battle against other people. It’s kind of like Risk and chess mixed together, only a lot more intricate,” Viking punter Chris Kluwe told the incredulous interviewer. “That’s your main hobby outside of football?” she asked in response. The interview was for the “Sexiest Man of 2012 article.” Kluwe talked about Fallen Enchantress, and listed Borderlands 2 as a more “mainstream game.” The writer of the article may have been surprised to find that she was talking to a gamer, but I wasn't. We're everywhere. I've included what may be my favorite Penny Arcade strip, because it's one of the few representations I've ever seen about what it's really like to be a gamer these days. It's not a matter of basements and pizza, it's happy, well-adjusted adults talking about games during a backyard barbecue. It's an image and a situation that's incredibly common, but almost never talked about. The reality is much less sexy than the scary headlines. You don't have to be a professional athlete or a politician to prove how off-base the gaming stereotype has become. Those of us who grew up playing games are now the majority. I go to cookouts and talk to teachers and professionals managing major construction in my city about their Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. During my wife's last pregnancy I had long conversations with our midwife about her gaming habits, and I admired the exclusive Comic-Con action figures in her office. These people aren't special in the scheme of things, nor are they rare. I just know how to pick up the signs and begin the conversation. Many adults who play games don't have a strong support structure or community of other gamers, and the relief of having another adult who takes games seriously can be seen on their faces. I've talked to truck drivers who play their Vita when they spend the night in their vehicles. I notice the Triforce earrings on the cashier at the grocery store and I talk to her about growing up while playing Zelda. Many people won't realize the “N7” logo embroidered on a shirt is a video game reference. Most gamers won't wear or show their fandom in any way; they simply play games in the evening to have fun. We've been told by the media that our hobby is somehow different and other in some unspoken way, as though it's okay to have a drink after work and watch a football game, but playing XCOM is somehow wrong. They are only looking out for us, you see. As if people playing games need help figuring their lives out. Once you understand the many versions of the secret handshake you begin to see gamers everywhere. We're already running the country. We treat you when you're sick. We help you fill out forms for your home loan. We protect you in court, and we may arrest you when you break the law. We send our children to school and we raise them well. We pay our taxes. If you don't play games you may not notice us, but we're everywhere. Gamers are as common as people who listen to music or go to see movies, and we don't need politicians or laws to tell us how to raise our children or what games are okay for us to play. You may not be paying attention, but we're everywhere already, in all walks of life, in every profession. And we're doing fine.