Doesn’t it just make your blood boil, the way grown-ups talk about computer games? If the tabloids aren’t blaming Grand Theft Auto for the London riots, then foamy lifestyle mags are guffing about how it’s suddenly cool to be a gamer: how Angry Birds has “revolutionised” the commute or how dowdy housewives can lose six pounds by jumping up and down on Wii Fit.
Whether it’s The Daily Mail wetting its right-wing knickers about videogame violence, or The Huffington Post misrepresenting Journey by reviewing it in the Tech section, there’s enough fluff written about computer games to fill an entire DFS-load of very stupid beds. And it’s not as if they’ve got an excuse; with more textbooks and webazines out there than ever before, games are gathering serious cultural momentum. We’re maybe one console generation away from being able to straight-facedly call games art – so why does the mainstream press continue to treat them with a mix of outrage and curiosity usually reserved for dog vajazzling?
Because of “gamers”, that’s why. We’ve created this icky, connoting label for ourselves that people want to avoid. It’s not like film buff, or muso, which describe a compelling level of expertise; gamer is more like trainspotter, or dogger, the kind of brand attached to strange, lifeless fanatics.
“Gamers” imagine themselves at the height of geek-chic; the kind of cool, Ellen Page-character nerds who can hit 4000 note streaks and name Final Fantasy characters. For them games are a counter-culture, best represented with referential t-shirts, online usernames and hair dye. With their in-jokes and specialist knowledge, “gamers” proudly form a barrier between themselves and the public-at-large: this is their secret club, and you’re not allowed in.
Don’t believe they exist? Then take a look in the front window of Gamestation – there’s a business that knows its customers. Gamestation have tailored their mascots to look like “gamers”; piercings, Mohawks, plaid shirts, make-up. These Jack Black-alikes and sod-society rock chicks are how “gamers” like to see themselves; exclusive, different, fun. It’s an alternative style that appeals to the pomposity of anyone who’s defeated Ruby Weapon, an offshoot of nerd culture with “gamers” at the top.
And it’s spoiling things for the rest of us. Films, books and music are perfectly acceptable dinner party talking points, but thanks to “gamers”, any mention of the latest CoD is met with sneering and disinterest. “You bloody loser” says the dinner party guest that I’ve just made up “sat in your bedroom playing games like a kid.” It’s a small minded opinion, but who can blame him (or her)? Thanks to gamer culture – the expensive action figures and feverish midnight launches – anybody with an interest in computer games resembles an excited child, jittering on about BeyBlades and Furbies. How can we expect to be taken seriously? When our flagship “hardcore” audience spend seven hours a day playing World of Warcraft with their curtains closed, how can we not look adolescent?
Of course, the image crisis isn’t all gamer’s fault. Like I said earlier, the only time tabloids brush up against games is when they do something outrageous – a punch-up over the last copy of Halo, a peripheral activated by burping. It’s not as if the non-gaming public get a full picture of our beloved industry, but it’s not like we’re helping them aboard, either. The kid’s toy misconception is one thing, but we need to go easy on the jargon, too. The more time spent posturing over which console has the more frames-per-bit-pixel, the less accessible we make games seem. “Gamers” are suckers for this sort of thing. Log on to any gaming forum and you can find twenty plus threads arguing the toss about Crysis 2’s draw distance – or something – and it’s exactly this kind of technical bullshittery that makes people afraid of computer games. There’s not enough literature for the uninitiated; the amount of acronyms used by “gamers” makes it seem like you need a license before you can own an Xbox.
It’s another wall between games and the rest of the world. “Gamers” can piss and moan about the industry’s withering standards, but when we put up so many barricades, when we give ourselves a uniform and a language, how can we expect original ideas to get past security? The more we willingly close ourselves off from the mainstream, the more it looks like we have something to hide; we’re happy to let mum and dad play Angry Birds, but anything beyond that is kept out of bounds in the fear that we’ll have to justify ourselves
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