When gamers go mainstream

by on May 3, 2008 · 17 comments

What happens as gamers grow older and become a more dominant voice in society? UK game developer Richard Bartle has some thoughts on that issue in an acerbic, in-your-face editorial in the UK Guardian this week:

I’m talking to you, you self-righteous politicians and newspaper columnists, you relics who beat on computer games: you’ve already lost. Enjoy your carping while you can, because tomorrow you’re gone. According to the UK Statistics Authority, the median age of the UK population is 39. Half the people who live here were born in 1969 or later. The BBC microcomputer was released in 1981, when those 1969ers were 12. It was ubiquitous in schools; it introduced a generation to computers. It introduced a generation to computer games. Half the UK population has grown up playing computer games. They aren’t addicted, they aren’t psychopathic killers, and they resent those boneheads – that’s you – who imply that they are addicted and are psychopathic killers. Next year, that 1969 will be 1970; the year after, it’ll be 1971.

Dwell on this, you smug, out-of-touch, proud-to-be-innumerate fossils: half the UK population thinks games are fun and cool, and you don’t. Those born in 1990 get the vote this year. Three years from now, that 1969 will be 1972, then 1973. Scared yet? You should be: we have the numbers on our side. Do your worst – you can’t touch us. We’ve already won. 15 years from now, the prime minister of the day will have grown up playing computer games, just as 15 years ago we had the first prime minister to have grown up watching television, and 30 years ago to have grown up listening to the radio. Times change: accept it; embrace it. Don’t make yourself look even more 20th Century, even more public school, than you do already. You’ve lost! Understand? Your time has passed.


Although I’m not sure I would have used Mr. Bartle’s smug approach to make this point, the fact is, for the most part, he’s got it right. Gamers and games are going mainstream. They are becoming an increasingly important and respected part of modern media culture. Once considered merely kid’s stuff, games are now rightly consider an important artistic medium, with rich narratives, astonishing graphics, beautiful soundtracks, and so on.

And, as Mr. Bartle suggests, as we games age and become an increasing proportion of society, public perceptions and public policy discussion about games should begin to change, too. I think things will unfold very much the same way they did for rock-and-roll with the current generation of social & political leaders. That is, although we still hear some criticism about rock music at the margins, we don’t hear people generally indicting the entire art form, as many critics did in the 50s and 60s. So, by the time 2020 rolls around–perhaps sooner–I suspect that games and gamers will be getting a lot more respect throughout our culture. At least I hope that is the case.

  • http://tieguy.org/ Luis

    Every generation since the Romans (or Victorians, depending on how you want to count) has grown up with porn, and we still hear how that warps our minds and needs to be regulated by the state. (Ditto dildos, and gay people, and booze, and… well, at least they stopped openly complaining about women’s rights.) So… at least the Americans reading this shouldn’t get too excited while there is still a viable theocratic political party.

  • http://tieguy.org/ Luis

    Every generation since the Romans (or Victorians, depending on how you want to count) has grown up with porn, and we still hear how that warps our minds and needs to be regulated by the state. (Ditto dildos, and gay people, and booze, and… well, at least they stopped openly complaining about women’s rights.) So… at least the Americans reading this shouldn’t get too excited while there is still a viable theocratic political party.

  • http://leedistad.com Lee D

    Building on Luis’ comment, every generation since the Etruscans (if not earlier) have bemoaned every social development they didn’t like as a harbinger of doom, and evidence of the impending collapse of society. The recurring meme is that the good old days were better, society is going to hell in a handbasket, and kids today have no respect.

    Yet, amazingly, we soldier on.

  • Some guy

    The movers of the world don’t sit home wasting hours on computer games. The more of you that do, the better for those of us that don’t. Go ahead, play MORE games.

  • http://leedistad.com Lee D

    Building on Luis’ comment, every generation since the Etruscans (if not earlier) have bemoaned every social development they didn’t like as a harbinger of doom, and evidence of the impending collapse of society. The recurring meme is that the good old days were better, society is going to hell in a handbasket, and kids today have no respect.

    Yet, amazingly, we soldier on.

  • Some guy

    The movers of the world don’t sit home wasting hours on computer games. The more of you that do, the better for those of us that don’t. Go ahead, play MORE games.

  • Adam Thierer

    Mr. Some Guy… I think your statement could be true just by substituting any other activity for “computer games.” For example, I would generally agree with the thesis that “The movers of the world don’t sit home wasting hours on BUILDING LEGOS.” Or that, “The movers of the world don’t sit home wasting hours on PLAYING WITH SILLY PUTTY.”

    What I mean to say is that, if taken to the extreme, anything that keeps you in the house all day long in isolation is not likely good for your psychological development or your future leadership prospects. But, taken in good measure, I see absolutely no reason why gamers can’t become “movers of the world.”

    Hell, my brother and I spent countless hours playing games together back in the 70s and 80s. Our mother and grandmother would constantly lecture us about “how we were never going to amount to anything if we didn’t get away from the tube.” Eventually, we got better about our self-control, and our parents found ways to incentivize us to do other things. And now my brother runs a successful computer business and I have written 7 books. Perhaps we’re not “movers of the world,” but we are doing just fine, thank you very much!

    [Note: See the last part of this essay of mine for more thoughts on how to teach kids self-control and a "balanced media diet" when it comes to entertainment.]

  • http://www.techliberation.com Adam Thierer

    Mr. Some Guy… I think your statement could be true just by substituting any other activity for “computer games.” For example, I would generally agree with the thesis that “The movers of the world don’t sit home wasting hours on BUILDING LEGOS.” Or that, “The movers of the world don’t sit home wasting hours on PLAYING WITH SILLY PUTTY.”

    What I mean to say is that, if taken to the extreme, anything that keeps you in the house all day long in isolation is not likely good for your psychological development or your future leadership prospects. But, taken in good measure, I see absolutely no reason why gamers can’t become “movers of the world.”

    Hell, my brother and I spent countless hours playing games together back in the 70s and 80s. Our mother and grandmother would constantly lecture us about “how we were never going to amount to anything if we didn’t get away from the tube.” Eventually, we got better about our self-control, and our parents found ways to incentivize us to do other things. And now my brother runs a successful computer business and I have written 7 books. Perhaps we’re not “movers of the world,” but we are doing just fine, thank you very much!

    [Note: See the last part of this essay of mine for more thoughts on how to teach kids self-control and a "balanced media diet" when it comes to entertainment.]

  • http://tieguy.org/ Luis

    “Some guy” clearly didn’t have enough fun as a child, through video games or any other form of entertainment.

  • http://tieguy.org/ Luis

    “Some guy” clearly didn’t have enough fun as a child, through video games or any other form of entertainment.

  • Fingal

    The entire over-39 demographic is bent on seizingRichard Bartle’s joystick, even if they have to pry it from his cold dead fingers.

  • Fingal

    The entire over-39 demographic is bent on seizingRichard Bartle’s joystick, even if they have to pry it from his cold dead fingers.

  • http://topfivesextoys.com/?p=217 lelo elise

    thanks for the post

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