‘Video games’ – surely popular enough now that one understands what is meant by the term? Certainly, the words will conjure an image in the minds in this current generation of the student population; A living room of lads gathered around a game of FIFA or COD on the TV, a boy at a desktop PC in a dimly-lit bedroom, or perhaps the person sat in front of you in your lecture with Football Manager open on the laptop. Games aren’t limited to these environments by any means – they’re now aimed at a multi-generational audience outside of the living room, with players purchasing the latest big title from (increasingly disappearing) retail stores, logging into social network sites to play with friends or fighting off commuting ennui with a new app to obsess over on their tablet. Their building appeal is promoting involvement from people of all ages, while the gender imbalance is gradually levelling out.
Though not quite ubiquitous, games are springing up in many places, as one of the fastest growing industries of recent times gains more traction in some way or other (there are of course winners and losers in all aspects of the industry). This begs the question: If games are so popular these days, why is their coverage less prominent, and quite frankly bad compared to other forms of media? Indeed, a search on the Leeds Student website leads me to believe the last mention of video games specifically with regards to the industry (not technology in general, or other media) was a defence of the activity in the fallout of Anders Breivik’s heinous killings. In every issue of the paper last year, books, films and music were covered to various extents on a regular basis. We assume the majority of the audience reads, watches, or listens as a pastime; Why not games?
There seems to be an issue video games have to overcome that other media does not, aside from the age of the activity. An accessibility barrier is propped up by numerous aspects – the price to get involved, the environment within which people game, and of course the technical skill tied with a positive gaming experience. As time has passed, the first two aspects have lessened in their restrictive impact, yet the third remains – not everyone is confident in their ‘natural’ ability to game, thus are perhaps less likely to play more often. A negative experience doesn’t bode well for future possibilities, or so we might presume.
Another difference between media formats is that authors, musicians and directors are all considered artists, while gaming as an artform is something of a ‘debate’. The late, renowned film critic Roger Ebert once claimed this was because games existed as objectives to be completed, and art is not so binary in its propensity to be understood. I’m of the opinion that such a thought process belittles gaming, as more often than not it can be about stories and experiences formed through playing, often unique to the player and what they take from it. Soundtracks become more than soundbytes, they becomes memories, and the way in which gamers go about playing is surely a pure expression of character, be it of the self or be it a fictional role-play. Interestingly, a spokesperson for Nintendo recently declared the company does not make art, merely making a product to meet a demand. However when developers, such as independent creators, are pouring so much heart and soul into games that they admit the games are essentially a manifestation of their personality, who is to say that isn’t art? Games may cover themes in the figurative or conceptual, abstract or surreal sense; There are far too many possibilities to limit its existence.
Gaming is here to stay, but it will only grow as much as we allow it to. Whether we treat it as an innocent, playful child or a mature adult with connotations of responsibility is on us. Some might always see it as a juvenile distraction, while others may expect too much of it too soon, as there is plenty of life ahead of it. I, for one, think it’s time we took a step back and accepted it for what it is, with a fresh perspective.