Gaming: tell me what you play, I’ll tell you who you are

“This is wasted time!”, “It’s sunny outside, go outside and play!”, “Why are you always playing? Why don’t you join us for drinks Saturday night?”. Gamers have heard these words for decades.

Once Upon A Gamer

Gaming is a tedious word. Not because it is difficult to explain what the action of gaming means, but because of the social implications that frame the word gaming.

First, let’s put things into perspective.

The average gamer is 30 years old, and at the opposite of assumed suppositions, 48% of gamers are women. Gaming is now considered to be exclusively limited to digital gaming onto various platforms: computer, consoles, mobile. Now what causes people and medias to burst into headlines and assumptions are the type of games that are being played, and specifically the genre of the video games.

Playing the devil’s advocate, I will flip a coin and give an insight from a gamer’s perspective. I grew up with an Atari computer, my first computer game was Boulderdash, a little mole has to dig tunnels through the dirt and collect jewels without being crushed by boulders. My sister had a Zelda and Marios Bros. digital games; not a gameboy, this was the 1980’s. My love for games under all forms: boardgames, card games, tabletop roleplaying games came from growing up with brothers. My brother did not read Cinderella to me as a child, but J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. My first video games on a PC, which preceded Windows 3.11, were Dungeon Master and Sid Meier’s Civilization. My love for fantasy came with Heroes of Might and Magic, and would later extend to many other fantasy games. Until a few years ago, I was an active hardcore gamer in mmorpg (Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game) such as Dark Ages of Camelot, World of Warcraft, Age of Conan, Aion, Neverwinter, GuildWars 2 etc.

It might seem like a resumé of games but this is to reinforce that I actually know what I am talking about. By hardcore, I mean, in an elitist manner: the time, effort and perfectionism required to reach the top level in the best guilds. A guild is a collective of players under the same name banner and who group up as players to achieve goals in the game. This promotes a sense of loyalty and pride, allows the player to increase his game character to higher level and get better equipment. In strategy games like Real Time Strategy such as Starcraft or Command and Conquer, it is your fellow players  who can be your allies to fight against other players and reach a common goal.

When I was studying Sociology in NTNU, I had the chance to take a class in the interdisciplinary subject “Culture and Media” taught by Kristine Ask. Kristine is not only a teacher, she is also a gamer in nature and wrote her Masters thesis on World of Warcraft. Under her teachings, we were encouraged as students to try games, tv-series and movies, social medias and other digitalised forms of culture and understand how these elements were technologically domesticated by us as individuals in a society. This process enabled us to reflect upon our own impact onto popular culture.

Domitille Menager

Illustrasjon: Katrine Dåstøl

Gaming and Addiction

Through UiO, I also had the opportunity to hear Faltin Karsen talk about video games and addiction, nuancing the degrees of addiction and their consequences.

I have witnessed game addiction and lived it indirectly. I do believe that game addiction exists and that it is a powerful addiction. Not because of the game’s nature in itself, but because of the escapism it provides the players. All things in high dosage can create addiction: alcohol, tobacco, drugs, sugar, sex, medicine. The role of the individual and its management of how he engages himself is crucial. Someone happy and balanced would not get addicted to video games, but someone depressed finds a solace in this online community where people are kind and friendly.

There is a also some video games bullies, but then again, it also depends on which platform one plays. Younger players tend to play on consoles and older players on computers.

If someone plays CandyCrush or Angry Birds on their mobile, it is fine and socially accepted, up to amount of 4-5 hours a day, multiplied by 7 days, let’s suggest an average of 30 hours a week. More or less depending on age, gender and occupation. However, if this game is being played on consoles or computers, heads are turning. Why would anyone spend so much time staring at a screen for a game?

Previous to the writing of this article, I checked how the medias expose video games and the correlations of this exposition on people in society. It is very negative.

If a teenager is rebelling, it is the fault of video games, not his hormones.

If a teenager shoots people at school, it is the fault of video games, not other problems he might have encountered with his family or schoolmates.

If Anders Breivik shot so many people, it was because he played World of Warcraft and Call of Duty, not because he is an extremist.

There is a self-righteous sense of discriminatory towards video games, mostly because they are misunderstood, and they represent the ideal scapegoat. But why are video games the perfect scapegoat to be placed on the altar of blame for all faults in modern human beings?

 

Why Are Video Games So Badly Depicted In The Media?

Video games arrived quite late in the development of entertainment activity. Whereas boardgames could include many persons at once and are seen as a family and friendly oriented type of social activity, video games were first limited to single player activity due to technological limitations. Further along, games were able to include other players. The other reason is age. When the first advanced video games were available to the public, the players were mostly children and teenagers, now they are adults and have children of their own.

Financial and economical reasons are justifying the backlash for the opposition. Why blame one single individual for a wrong behaviour when there is a development company to be blamed and sued in a court of justice for a large sum of money?

The development company constitutes an entity that can encompass all that is wrong with video games depending on the games they produce whether it is the graphics of the action or the narrative.

However where the needle hurts is that these video games have ratings, like movies. A parent would not take their children to a bloody and violent movie if it suggested that the movie was not suited for the children; but they would buy video games blindly for birthdays and christmas without investigating the rating or age recommendation. Why is that?

Video games are not considered important enough to be thoroughly checked for ratings, but movies are; because in a majority of cases, the parent will accompany the child or at least ensure that the child is not exposed to pictures or language that is age-unsuitable. That inclusion presupposes an acknowledgment and participation, whereas the participation in the video game is doubtful.

Admittedly some video games can be considering having a rather special content. Not all video games are educating but then again, not all books or movies are, in the strict sense of it. But alike books and movies, video games are meant to bring an emotion to the player. I have smiled, laughed and cried when playing the Dragon Age series as many other players I know. The Grand Theft Auto games also have a very strong gaming community but it is one of the most contested games in its sense of morality because of the stereotypes it depicts. GTA has been regularly figured in the media headlines as a video game promoting violence. But there are many other games who are actually set in a context of historical wars but it is then accepted because it is war. So the context determines whether the violent depiction is justified or not. However is it not a part of reality that there is such a thing as street wars between different ethnicities in Europe, Asia, Africa or America?

 

On The Bright Side

However after academical and scientific research by T.L Taylor, Miller, Reed, Nielsen and many others, it has been proven that gaming promotes teamwork, makes learning easier for both children and adults, helps develop hand-eye coordination and stimulates the imagination. There are games that encourage language learning, strategies, mathematics; the principle is not new, we already practice it with younger children, it works in the same manner with adults. Learning while playing makes it attractive and enjoyable for the individual, rendering it a pleasurable experience and making the player eager to develop his skills. Those games which merge the notion of entertainment and education are sometimes called “edutainment” games.

The video games industry is enormous and much wider than what the average person think. As of 2010, this industry reached a global sales of 55.5 billion of dollars, which is after the film industry (86.2 billion dollars) but actually before the music industry (23.4 billion dollars). This number is explained by the democratisation of digital platform such as mobiles and the proliferation of tablets at affordable prices.

 

“We could save the world if we spent more time playing video games.”

As an avid viewers of TED talks, I was ecstatic when I heard game designer and researcher Jane McGonigal claim that “we could all save the world if we spent more time playing video games”. McGonigal’s contribution to her cause is a game named SuperBetter, which has for purpose to help players tackle real-life health problems like depression, anxiety, chronic pain and traumatic brain injury. This game has so far helped nearly half a million players throughout the world. This was developed in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania. McGonigal says “My #1 goal in life is to see a game designer nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize”. She prognosticates that this will happen by the year 2023.

 

A Song of Consoles and Computers

There has been an on-going debate for decades about the advantages and disadvantages of playing platforms called “Console Wars”, or “Consoles Versus PC” which has also forced game developers to adjust to the demands of gamers. Most players are usually rooting for what they grew up with or what they can afford, rarely crossing over to another platform unless given the opportunity. This preference is mainly focused on habit forming but equally due to the fact that human beings are naturally resilient to change. Each defender of a given console or the PC group has a sense of loyalty to the group he belongs to and share common values and opinions. He is likely to promote his group over others during conversation but also on internet forums or game related communities therefore such a situation can be seen in relation to the Self Identity Theory.

The arguments are usually based on how the interface is represented or the controls are versus a keyboard and mouse. Some groups can have an elitist behaviour towards other groups.

The outlook of this article is to consider this: no video game in itself is damaging or bad but it all depends on the context into which it is being inscribed. A very violent and bloody game should not be played by younger and maybe more sensitive children. Video games like every entertainment should be seen as a cultural product shaped and scripted by individuals for individuals. There is virtually no difference between watching a two hours movie and playing a video game for two hours, the only difference will be how the action is being interpreted by the people outside the action. Gaming helps relieve stress, helps you concentrate and can be a good substitute for body damaging substances such as alcohol or tobacco or sweets. Gaming is an enjoyable experience that can bring people together. A game of tennis on the Wii is always a success!

Domitille Menager2

Illustrasjon: Katrine Dåstøl