Next time you’re shopping for cat food, take a look at the magazines that are typically peddled beside the cash register. What do you see? Probably a lot of smiling actors and actresses, talk show hosts, and generally a whack of pretty people with perfect teeth.
The media decorates the news, papers, and magazines with actors, but the names of famous directors are usually sandwiched somewhere in between the pages. Michael Bay, James Cameron, Ridley Scott, Steven Speilberg–love ’em (Stanley Kubrick) or hate ’em (Uwe Boll), you know who they are, and you’re familiar with their work, even if you only attend a few movies a year.
The ladies and gentlemen who work on video games, however, aren’t awarded with a fraction of the recognition that movie directors and best-selling authors receive as a media spokesperson. Every schoolkid knows who Mario is; it’s doubtful more than a few of them know he came from Shigeru Miyamoto and did not in fact simply pop out of Nintendo’s sterile womb fully assembled.
Japanese developers do tend to keep things humble and low-key, but Western developers are rarely celebrated, either. “Sim City” is a familiar name even in the mainstream, but “Will Wright” is not.
Bioshock creator Ken Levine thinks it’s about time for game developers to gain some recognition from the public. Not simply for the sake of gaining celebrity status, but to elevate the mainstream’s perception of video games as a whole. “We’re making products that cost however many millions of dollars and have the potential to have a large audience,” he told Gamers With Jobs during an interview. “To get people who aren’t alpha gamers there’s a whole different kind of activity that you have to undertake.
“That isn’t just about buying ads. It’s the places you can reach [new people]… We need to be on mainstream shows, we need to be on NPR, we need to be on The Daily Show, we need to be in those places talking about what we do,” said Levine. “We’re still ghettoized as game developers … we really need to think about how do we reach out and talk to people so you don’t have a room full of college kids saying, ‘I’ve never heard of [Bioshock].'”
Despite major demographic upheavals over the past few years, video games are still by and large classified as “kids stuff”–look at the Today Show, which hosted a relationship advice segment called “The Other View” on July 8 and informed a caller that it’s “weird” for a man above 30 to play video games. It’s no wonder that mainstream talk shows aren’t very interested in hosting the likes of Levine, even though his insight on the industry would educate viewers and exorcise them of notions about video games being outside of adult territory.
In fact, if we saw more devs on talk shows, in magazines (outside of game magazines), and on television (outside of G4), the industry might receive that little jump it needs to respected as an all-ages pastime. Of course, the problem lies with the fact that few people who tune into late night television want to see a game developer as a guest in the place of an A-list actor or a bestselling author.
There is hope, though. As pointed out by Industry Gamers, talk show host Jimmy Fallon regularly demos major games and systems before their release, including Donkey Kong Country Returns, and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (wherein Fallon slaughtered a Stalfos with a whack of mad slashes). He has also tried out the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U in front of a life audience.
To date, Nintendo of America president Reggie Films-Aime has been the warm body accompanying these games and systems on stage, not an engineer or a developer. But it’s a start. It helps to see grown adults stand behind games, thus illustrating to planet Earth that grown men and women put a lot of hard work into games, and that they’re not magically assembled by elves in the North Pole.