If you are an adult who plays video games, there’s a chance you don’t talk about the pastime while you’re in what society calls “polite company.” Though the rise of casual gaming has brought the overall reputation of video games up a notch, you’re still bound to get weird looks if you’re over the age of 15 and you admit that video games are really cool.
The unfortunate reason for gaming’s ugly reputation can be blamed at least in part on the fact that games are still dragged to the fore when the media needs a scapegoat for the supposed degeneration of youth. When childhood obesity climbs to unacceptable levels, video games are mentioned. When a columnist feels the need to freak out about the breakdown of morals and communication, video games get a shout-out. And when a young person turns a gun against another person instead of using it to hunt dangerous or delicious animals, the spotlight whips over to the perceived culprit: Mario and his ilk.
We’ve assembled five stereotypes about the men and women who play games, and we’ve done our best to refute each one in the interest of making the world a nicer place for everyone.
“Gamers are violent.” — Far and away, video games come under attack most often for their supposed tendency to trigger aggressive behavior in kids and teens. The “menace” of violent video games has attracted the attention and concern of politicians, parents, and teachers. If you Google “video game aggression,” you’ll find equal numbers of studies “proving” and “disproving” that games desensitize kids to violent acts, though we humbly suggest that some studies are more reputable than others. Ultimately, if you want to base your perceptions of video games on cold, hard statistics, you’ll have to do your own research. Bring coffee.
Your time is better spent observing the workings of the game industry itself, and applying common sense. Yes, there are violent video games, same as there are violent books, violent movies, and violent television shows. Alternatively, there are many, many light-hearted games that never come within a hundred miles of a gun, and simply don’t need to. Compare a movie like The Godfather to a Pixar classic like Toy Story 3. Both are excellent contributions to cinematic history, and the fact that one of the films is graphically violent at times (hint: not Toy Story 3) does not discredit its artistic worth. One movie is meant for adults, while the other is for all ages.
Video games deserve the same level of recognition, especially since the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) applies a letter rating to each game that’s sold at retail and online, and also outlines the reasons why the game received that specific rating.
If some kids are more prone to imitating the acts of violence they see on the video screen (and we can confidently say that a mentally healthy child is not going to pull a gun on his or her sibling because he or she saw it done in Grand Theft Auto), then it makes sense for a parent to put away the aggressive games and buy one of the thousands of non-violent alternatives available.
“Gamers are mostly teenage boys.” — The poster child for video gaming is typically a boy in his lower teens hunched over a PlayStation controller and usually wearing a smile–or a snarl. The reality is far different. Who plays video games? Here’s your answer: Everyone.
Girls, boys, men, women, housewives, CEOs, stay-at-home dads, grandmothers, grandfathers, and possibly your dog when you’re not looking. Going back to a point that was brought up regarding the supposed link between video games and youth violence, the staggering number of video games that are up for sale means there is literally something out there for everyone. And now that the free-to-play and social game markets are thriving, many folks who found themselves disinterested in games are suddenly discovering that the price of the pastime is just right.
Females are becoming more involved with games than ever before, and while they tend to spend less time on the console or PC than their male friends, a study published in early 2011 revealed that younger girls love to spend time gaming with a parent. Thus demonstrating that gaming is an excellent way for a mixed-demographic family to bond.
So why do we automatically tend to think of gaming as a “male” pastime? Hard to say, but it’s possible that some folks outside the young male demographics are too embarrassed to talk about their love for games, as it’s still perceived as a hobby for young boys. Unless more people speak up about games, that stereotype will probably persist.
“Gamers are socially awkward.” — Pity the poor gamer, we’re told. He or she is withdrawn, a hopeless introvert, a shut-in who would sooner spend time with pretend characters than expend the effort to find a real mate.
Gaming has its share of obsessed, socially awkward participants–just like every other pastime conceived by mankind. But the people who play games generally have no trouble interacting with society and finding a partner, should they crave companionship. Video games, like most forms of entertainment, are there to help us recharge after a long day of partying hard.
The Internet has been especially helpful at connecting romantically-inclined gamers. Successful relationships have been forged by partners who met in communities dedicated to a certain game or series, but anyone who wants to ramp up the hunt is welcome to check out a few of the dedicated gamer-centric dating sites on the web.
“Gamers have a hard time distinguishing between fantasy and reality.” — Slipping back into the debate over video game violence (again), some parents are concerned that video games blur the line between fantasy and reality a little too effectively. What (they argue), is to stop a kid from beating up another person with a baseball bat if he or she can do it without consequence in a game like Grand Theft Auto?
Their fears are not eased by studies that, at first blush, claim gamers have a hard time telling the difference between fantasy and reality–even though those studies actually reveal that kids wish they could transfer the cool skills they perform in video games to real-life situations. Just like every other human being who has ever wished they could fly like Superman, fight crime like Batman, or swim like Aquaman (okay, that’s crossing the line; nobody wants to be like Aquaman).
Last month, John Walker from Rock, Paper, Shotgun wrote a detailed rebuttal to the argument that games break down the barriers that separate sane acts from video game-inspired crime sprees. In short, we haven’t seen too many people jump down the street while stuffing their faces with mushrooms and screaming about giant turtles. Reveling in video game fantasy isn’t much different from admiring fictional heroes in other mediums.
Gamers tend to get addicted to their pastime — We’ve all heard at least one horror story about a friend or a friend of a friend who started playing World of Warcraft a year ago and has yet to surface into the sunlight. There’s no shortage of examples of “video game addiction”–though to be fair, an “addiction” is technically classified according to the withdrawal symptoms it produces. Unlike an addiction to drugs or alcohol, if you pry someone away from a video game, their bodies are not dependent on a substance that will make them go into physical withdrawl.
That doesn’t mean an obsession with a video game isn’t capable of ruining school marks, relationships, even lives. It is possible to get so hooked on a game that you effectively forget everything and everyone around you, including loved ones. But the games themselves aren’t addictive as much as the social aspect of said games. A person who’s stressed out, overworked, or otherwise troubled is going to find compelling escapism in a game like World of Warcraft an adventure that has no definitive end. In most cases, we know when to stop and return to our lives. But for some people, the siren song is a bit stronger. An individual who is well and truly attached to a game has an underlying problem that needs to be resolved. Unplugging the console or computer is a start, but a therapist might be necessary in order to peel back the layers of the issue.
Simply put, there are gamers who don’t know when to quit, but there are many more who know when enough is enough.