The other day, a friend walked into my room to find me playing my Xbox 360, to which she asked, “What is this? World of Warcraft?” I was annoyed, not because I was playing a totally different genre of game than World of Warcraft, or because you can’t even play that particular game on Xbox. It was the condescending tone, the negative inflection, and the frown that creased her face when the word “Warcraft” rolled off her tongue that got to me.
I wouldn’t normally be phased by something like this, but it got me thinking about the negative stigma that videogame culture has had throughout its history. Gamers have often been portrayed as the type of people that live in their parents’ basement, living on Hot Pockets. Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly some people like this, and I must admit to enjoying the occasional Hot Pocket; but this generalization is often applied too liberally.
Gaming has grown considerably since the age of Pong and Tetris. It is now no longer merely a random hobby, and has become an international business akin to that of the music and movie industries. According to DFC Intelligence, a private research firm, the videogame industry is worth 44 billion dollars worldwide as of 2011. It is also one of, if not the top, fastest growing industries in the entertainment sector. Although the recession has been responsible for some speed bumps recently, the gaming industry is still going strong. Whereas in the 70s, one lone programmer could create a game, the process has developed and expanded to involve multiple companies, rigorous advertising, and the effort of hundreds of hardworking people across the globe. Video games have become a craft and an art in their own sense; they have developed a culture and a business that seem limitless in a world driven by evolving technology.
Still, video games have often been popular targets in the political sphere. Leftist politicians such as Hillary Clinton have often attacked games, calling them a danger to morality and psychological development in children. This is absolutely ridiculous; the ‘dangerous themes’ presented in some video games are most certainly also present in other entertainment industries, such as television and movies, even though the gaming industry seems to have taken the brunt of the criticism in recent years. The Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB, has for years rated and regulated the sale of video games to minors. Much like the rating system for films, these classifications intend to protect minors. The ESRB is pretty conservative, and some games with very strong violent or sexual themes are all but banned from being sold on the mainstream games market. Despite this, there is a US Supreme Court case being reviewed right now concerning the sale of violent games to minors. This case angers me because it proves that society still does not trust the videogame industry and its extensive and stringent rating system, even though it has been around and functioning effectively for years.
Videogames have many positive aspects that usually go unmentioned. Just like enjoying a movie, a book, or music, playing videogames is an escape. Gaming always makes me much less stressed and is an excellent break from a hectic college life. Unlike movies, videogames are very interactive, and they promote problem solving and hand-eye coordination. In fact, National Geographic reported on a study conducted by the University of Rochester that found that videogames can improve hand-eye coordination to almost the same degree as other activities, such as physical sports. Videogames aim to be challenging; they promote active thinking and snap decisionmaking. They are offer us a break from work and the stress of college life, but also promote the skills that get you ahead, such as problem solving and quick thinking. Critics also try to make the argument that videogames are too solitary and isolating, which is a complete fallacy. Videogames have been a key icebreaker on numerous occasions for me. Playing Mario Party with a couple of strangers will make you fast friends in no time, and as a group of Tufts guys demonstrated on YouTube, drinking while playing Halo is a hell of a time.
It seems very strange indeed to me that despite the growth of the videogaming industry, society is still struggling to accept it as legitimate and successful. Besides being fun, videogames are great social devices and can both encourage academic success and relieve stress. That the gaming industry is repeatedly attacked and slandered by today’s society is foolish—most critics are uninformed or biased, and tend to cite extremes rather than the norm. It is certainly true that videogames are more accepted than they were years ago, but every time someone condescendingly asks me if I play World of Warcraft, I feel like gamers haven’t made much progress towards being more socially accepted than they were decades ago, and it’s high time that changed.