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Games Ain't Toys for Little Kids. Games Are Culture

Posted by AndyLee Friday September 26 2008 at 1:25AM
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Truth, Lies, and Video Games

By Michael Thompson

If the mainstream media is to be believed, video games are about as healthy as cigarettes, except they cause psychotic breaks instead of cancer. Politicians use this artificially created fear of games as an excuse to pass legislation to criminalize the sale of certain games, although so far, each of these pieces of legislation has been successfully challenged and overturned in the courts. While more people than ever are playing games, and the audience for those games is expanding to include people of both sexes and all ages, the media's reporting on the industry and its effects on children remains reactionary and woefully misleading.

One of the biggest misconceptions about games is that they're the domain of adolescent boys. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the average age of gamers is now 35. Approximately 60 percent of gamers play video games with their friends, 40 percent of gamers in the US are women, and almost a quarter of all video game players are over the age of fifty. If video games are so popular and widely enjoyed, why are they still vilified in the media?

The full answer to that question is complicated, but the short-and-simple version is that, all survey data aside, video games are still a new form of media that older generations by-and-large rarely see or experience first-hand. Human nature is simple: we fear what we don't understand.

Politicians have made a point of trying to limit the sales and content of games they find morally objectionable, but the industry has managed to legally overturn every piece of legislation with an undefeated record of 9-0. This intimidating track record might not stall every attempt, but it sends a powerful message. The fact that gamers are making up an increasing percentage of voters might have a little something to do with it, too. At least part of this recognition is due to groups like the Entertainment Consumers Association, the Entertainment Software Association, and the ESRB making an effort to educate both the general populace and elected officials about the reality of video games. The gamers themselves have stepped up, and have become their own PR machine, showing the world that our favorite hobby is enjoyed by good, upstanding people.

Games are still perceived by many as toys, and toys are meant to be played with by children. But the idea of little tykes playing with mature content is more than enough to get concerned parents up in arms. "I think [this attitude is] due in part to the misperception that video games are primarily intended for kids," said Patricia Vance of the ESRB. "When you juxtapose that mis-perception with the presence of mature content in a video game, it causes concern. The more games are thought of in the same way as movies and TV shows, the more acceptance they’ll gain, and that’s been happening more and more in recent years."

These two ideas about games are at odds: one group sees them as toys with inappropriate content, and the other sees an emerging art form that is giving movies and music a run for their money, quite literally. Now that games have managed to infiltrate the popular culture at large, the politicians are becoming even more alarmed, and the expensive campaign to pass laws controlling the content of games and their sales may find new allies.
 

Politicians have made a point of trying to limit the sales and content of games they find morally objectionable, but the industry has managed to legally overturn every piece of legislation with an undefeated record of 9-0. This intimidating track record might not stall every attempt, but it sends a powerful message. The fact that gamers are making up an increasing percentage of voters might have a little something to do with it, too. At least part of this recognition is due to groups like the Entertainment Consumers Association, the Entertainment Software Association, and the ESRB making an effort to educate both the general populace and elected officials about the reality of video games. The gamers themselves have stepped up, and have become their own PR machine, showing the world that our favorite hobby is enjoyed by good, upstanding people.

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