Friday, August 05, 2005

Video games and stereotypes

Over at, I've got a personal profile, as well as a club I just set up for Video Game Industry Professionals. Over at the club, someone posted a journal entry discussing the need for video games to "go mainstream" and break stereotypes.

Here's what I said on the matter:

"Video games going mainstream? Perish the thought!!

Actually, the reality is that the video game industry IS slowly gaining "mainstream acceptance", but I think that people are missing the point as to WHY it's happening. The video game industry is only now starting to break out of the stereotype that it never deserved to begin with.

Contrary to popular belief, the video game market consists of a much broader spectrum of people than teenage boys with a penchant for violence, or little kids looking for a new cartoon. Gamers include everyone from men to women, little kids to senior citizens, Fortune 500 CEOs to the bagger at your local grocer, and everybody in between. Take a look at actress Vanessa Marcil. In a recent Maxim interview, she discussed a $10,000 bet she had going with a friend of hers to see who would go further in an online tourney for Halo 2. She's 35 years old, a woman, a mother, and a popular actress. Does she fit the mold of the "typical gamer"? I say she does. Why? Because THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS A TYPICAL GAMER!!!

Webster's defines a stereotype as "a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment". It's something that, by definition, is unfounded.

The problem is, society as a whole has let itself become brainwashed into thinking that everything with any semblance of a "fanbase", MUST be represented by the most extreme examples of said fanbase. For every one Trekkie that dresses up as Spock and takes courses in "Advanced Conversational Klingon", there are twenty who are content to sit back, enjoy the show, and simply feel guilty at being compared to the extremists.

Take a look at the comic book industry ... an industry I was involved in for about a decade. When I ran a shop, my customers covered the entire scope of humanity. Television reporters and city officials came in to pick up their monthly subscriptions right along with the high school kids with money to burn. And yeah, I had my share of "fruit loops" too ... but they were few and far between. Then, when I left the shop to work behind-the-scenes in the industry, I discovered that this wasn't an isolated occurance, but rather a worldwide phenomenon. Why do you think movies like Spider-Man, Batman, and even Hellboy and Fantastic Four have done so well? It's because people are starting to "come out" so to speak, and admit that they are comic fans ... thereby breaking the stereotype that had no business existing to begin with.

Unfortunately, the video game industry is currently under attack by overzealous politicians looking for a new hook, sue-happy lawyers, poor parents, and special interest groups all looking for a sacrifical lamb to blame for the ills of society. Think McCarthyism on a smaller and more modern scale. It seems like Washington just isn't content unless it has a soapbox to stand on and some "evil" to protect "our children" from. Even the aforementioned comic industry suffered through these witch hunt tactics in the late 60's.

Of course, the problem is that once a stereotype sets in, too often those that are affected most by it tend to accept it and even perpetuate it. If a company BELIEVES its market is teenage boys, who will it skew its product towards? Meanwhile, those companies who design for a different market are viewed as either ignorant or visionary ... depending on the way the wind is blowing.

The key is to realize that in EVERY fanbase, there are representative from almost all classes, genres, and sexes. You can't pigeonhole yourself into thinking that there's only one singular market. And if you ARE a gamer who breaks the perceived stereotype, you need to embrace your interest and not be ashamed of it. Because until more of you come out of the gaming closet, the myth of the "typical gamer" will continue to grow.

Okay, I'm stepping down from MY soapbox now."

So what are YOUR thoughts?

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