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The Gamers You Thought You Knew

new face of gaming

A new study commissioned by the streaming video platform Twitch entitled “The New Face of Gamers,” released this week reveals some interesting facts about the gaming public. In her article, “Gamers More Likely To Be Social, Educated Than Non-Gamers,” Lisa Winter summarizes some of the key findings:

Gamers are more likely to consider family a top priority than non-gamers (82% vs 68%) as well as placing a high importance on friends (57% vs 35%). Gamers and their parents are also more likely to have been college educated (43% and 52%, respectively) than non-gamers and their parents (36% and 37%, respectively).

When it comes to their occupation, 67% of gamers feel positive about their aspirations, while only 42% of non-gamers feel the same way. Gamers are also more likely to be employed full time than those who don’t partake in games (42% vs 39%). Sixty-one percent of gamers would describe themselves as natural leaders, compared to 35% of non-gamers.

Socially-speaking, gamers are much more likely to value personally making a positive impact on society (76% vs 55%) while preferring to shop at corporations backing social causes (58% vs 36%). Ethical business practices matter to 78% of gamers, compared to 65% of non-gamers.

Gamers also appear to be more tech-savvy than non-gamers, as they are more likely to use technology like smart phones, tablets, or streaming devices (like Google Chromecast) while at a friend’s house (42% vs 15%), on vacation (40% vs 18%), at work (20% vs 10%), commuting (19% vs 5%) or at a restaurant (18% vs 6%). With gamers being connected so frequently, they could be influencing how media content is distributed. Broadcast television tune-in frequency is down 12% in 2014 when compared to 2011 as part of the trend away from traditional media and coming toward online sources.

Despite the success of sites like Lumosity, I think that this perspective is long overdue and the reporting often missing many of the positive aspects of gaming and gamers. It seems to be more popular to continue to bash video games as a childish waste of time at best and a training ground for homicidal maniacs at worst. As always, the truth is more complicated. Over the past few months, Lisa Winter has written other articles concerning how the playing of video games has been linked to a boost in brain volume and creating a sharper mind:

There has been a lot of recent research to suggest that video games improve brain performance – and now a recent study has shown that just 30 minutes of gameplay per day for two months can actually increase the volume of gray matter in the areas of the brain that control spatial awareness, memory, and strategic thinking. 

I could point out the pluses and minuses of playing video games and try to counteract the stereotype that gaming conjures in most non-gamers, but is it even worth it? I think back to a favorite film of mine, On Any Sunday, in which Bruce Brown legitimizes motorcycle racing much in the same way he did in his previous documentary about surfing, The Endless Summer. Surfing and motorcycle culture have spread all over the world and are enjoyed by the widest variety of people and yet their stereotypes are firmly implanted on everyone’s minds. Why should gamers be any different?

The Stigma of Gaming

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I am sure that many of you adult gamers out there have had the experience of bringing up the topic of gaming in a discussion with another adult and having them politely (or otherwise) dismiss you as a childish loser. I can’t defend all gaming or all gamers, but this wholesale dismissal strikes me as blatant ignorance. Yet most adults outside the gaming industry share the opinion that gaming is something that children and teens spend their time on and adults who are intent on not looking silly should avoid.

I believe that many things help form this opinion. These include the reality of teen and other gamers who spend inordinate amounts of time playing and often obsessing about a specific game or gaming in general. Parents and other adults just have no interest in hearing about the gamer’s achievements and advancements. That is somewhat to be expected. Much like someone going on and on about a television series that you don’t watch, there is only so much that you wish to hear.

But with gaming there is more to the disinterest which sometimes edges on disgust. Although almost everyone plays games of some sort whether it be crossword puzzles, Sudoku, Scrabble or chess. These are socially acceptable games. They are seen as broadening the mind and certainly not a waste of time. Other games, especially first-person shooters suffer a much worse evaluation. This is especially irritating as most of the critics have never played the games that they criticize. I do not expect non-gamers to jump into an online deathmatch to help form their opinion but perhaps they might see their actions in a different light if they likened it to someone who has never seen an opera dismissing it as snobby and irrelevant.

There is another side of it as well. Much like the old “Age/Fear of Computers” chart jokes of the recent past, age makes a big difference in the opinions concerning gaming. Younger adults tend to be more knowledgeable and have more video gaming experience than older adults. The fact that they have played some video games in the past leads many to be more accepting of the genre in general. A parallel to the different music types throughout the generations could be drawn. Rock and Roll, Punk, Rap, once edgy are all now more than accepted, they are the mainstream. Just as those of a “certain age” (or those younger who think like their older counterparts) who feel it necessary to not understand their computers or their smart phones, there are those who distance themselves from gaming. You know these people. They are your coworkers who refuse to “get” anything beyond word processors, email and spreadsheets lest they be pigeonholed into actually using the applications. In the past there was a time when these fears were justified. Architects who knew CAD were destined to perform these duties for those senior designers that could not be bothered to learn the new technology for example. But those days are gone and proficiency with today’s tools is no longer optional.

I believe that gaming knowledge and gaming industry knowledge is growing in social pertinence much akin to television, music and literature. The average person knows quite a bit about these mediums as well as their artists, actors, directors and producers. Again, age plays a big role in the depth of experience that the average person has with gaming and this plays a significant role in their attitude towards it. But it is my hope that the pendulum swings quickly so as not to leave behind a generation. Perhaps they will be swayed by the dizzying amount of profit that many of today’s games successes earn. From what start as simple apps grow industries. From some franchises grow empires. Not all will last and fashions and technologies change, but the trend is undisputable. Video games are taking over and swallowing much of Hollywood’s thunder and much of actual Hollywood.

Maybe the day that we broach the subject of video gaming and get the “that’s nice for you” look will be over soon. If you have ever experienced what I am describing, I encourage you all to share your stories here.

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