Wow! Turns out we aren’t a bunch of pathetic losers living in our Mom’s basement! Who knew?
I don’t know if many of you realize this, but being a gamer in 2014 is very different than in the past. The hobby has evolved into mainstream acceptance, as the revenue generated from gaming dwarfs that of film and music. Some readers here may be too young to remember, but at one time video games came with a stigma attached to them. For years, we have been fighting against the stereotype that if you play games you’re obviously doing so because you’re anti-social. The assumption being that if you’re good at say first person shooters or have a level 60 Death Knight in World of Warcraft you could have only done so by closing yourself off from society in a dark basement somewhere (and since you have no friends anyway, who’d miss you). Thankfully, most people know better than that today, but this type of narrow mindedness still exists in some circles.
Thank goodness a new study has FINALLY come along to prove otherwise! Our good names have been cleared (sarcasm dial turned way up on that one).
A recent quantitative study published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication concluded that, just because someone is enthralled with a virtual world, does not mean they do so at the expense of their social skills in the real one. The report entitled Public Displays of Play: Studying Online Games in Physical Settings observed a group of 300+ gamers at different public gatherings (like conventions or Internet cafes) and compared their interactions to that of their online counterparts. The purpose of the paper is described as “….a large-scale study of virtual worlds…challenging conventional approaches to quantitatively driven virtual worlds research, which categorizes players based on their involvement in an online game at a particular point in time, this account demonstrates how players' networked gaming activities are contingent on who they are playing with, where, and when.”
OK, I know your head may be spinning trying to make sense of that psycho-jargon (as I myself took a couple tries to make sense of it). What you should take away from the study (and ultimately the conclusions they come to) is this: gamer’s personalities don’t s evaporate into thin air due to gaming, nor do in-game actions translate to real world results (like violence, a subject I’ve covered extensively on this site).
While I understand the study was meant as a ringing endorsement of our industry, as a gamer, I’ve found it has left me more offended than anything. Here is why you should be too.
Looking through the data in the link above (which I encourage all of you to do) you pick up on a disturbing trend. While it is an exhaustive study to be sure, I challenge the premise. I find that the video game industry (and more specifically the gamers who support it) is under the microscope more than any other field of entertainment. Even though we have grown our medium into a multi-billion dollar machine, we’re often treated like the red-headed stepchild in many circles. The fact that gamers are repeatedly the subject of such studies in the first place is a bit preposterous. When is the last time you heard of a learned institute studying a group of rappers to determine if coming from a single-parent household contributed to their latest “Boats and Hoes” album (Stepbrothers reference)? Did the number of DVDs a kid received at Christmas directly correlate to their burning passion to work at Blockbuster Video? Gamers have always had an uphill battle in the eyes of the general public, often times having to deal with a guilty until proven innocent mentality. School shooting? Must have been due to the violent games they played. 13 year old hangs himself in his room? OBVIOUSLY it’s because the M.M.O. he loved made him unable to deal with society.
Jumping to those types of conclusions is not only unfair, it’s immoral. Don’t get me wrong, I do feel those behind the study probably had the best of intentions. The efforts they put into collecting their data is clearly outlined in the study and you can tell its purpose was an attempt at “clearing our good name.” Problem is, I never needed a study to do that. I don’t know about you, but the idea that we’re being “watched” like a herd of cattle while some academic ticks off boxes on a clipboard disturbs me a bit. I’m sure many of you would agree we have nothing to prove to them or anyone else. Frankly, until the video game industry itself fully shakes this “stigma” I mentioned earlier, we’re always going to be held to a different standard than others. A sad fact, but true.
So I ask you this: now that the research has proven you’re not the pale, un-washed troll the world always thought you to be…do you really feel any better about it? Perhaps you feel worse that they felt a study was warranted in the first place?