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.

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