A couple of weeks ago I had an argument with my Dad about gaming. I’ve had many arguments with my Dad about many different things, but for some reason this argument stuck with me the most. The crux of his argument was that gaming is a waste of time and that people need to play less games and get outside more – you know, the basic 1950’s mentality that television will rot your brain and cause you to get square eyes, except modern – exactly the same argument but applied to video games. Things got even more heated from there, and there was a lot of talk about “being disappointed that you’re a gamer”. It felt like I was outing myself as gay in an extremely Christian household. Instead, I was just a gamer announcing how beneficial gaming is in Australia, and how beneficial gaming can be for a variety of people.
This argument stemmed from a calm discussion about Australian politics and how there needs to be a lot more nurturing of smaller industries, like gaming. As I’ve grown older, crankier, and (hopefully) wiser in my old age (52 according to Microsoft’s Age Guessing Device), I’ve found that it’s best to explain my point of view using facts. It’s all well and good to have opinions, but as the saying goes, they’re like bad Mario imitations; everyone’s got one. I threw around the truly great statistics that have come from the enviable Canadian game industry about how many people it employs and how much money the industry has earned for Canada.
Using information pulled directly from the yearly Entertainment Software Association of Canada report on the Canadian Video Game Industry, I mentioned the fact that Canada is the largest producer of video games in the world per capita. How Canada’s video game industry has added over $2 billion to Canada’s GDP annually. How just over half of the population believe that the video game industry in Canada has a positive impact on their economy. All lovely things that I had hoped would appeal to the businessman side of my father.
The latest Digital Australia report by Bond University states that the Australian games industry is worth over $1 billion annually. That’s a fairly nice figure, yet, given how small the Australian games industry is, a lot of that $1 billion is going to go to companies based overseas. The fact that the Australian government removed the $10 million Australian Interactive Media Fund in the 2014 budget is a concerning sign for the future of the Australian games industry. Now, the removal of those funds doesn’t mean that there isn’t support for Australian games developers from the Government, it just means that those avenues for support have been reduced.
How beneficial a thriving games industry would be for Australia wasn’t the crux of the argument – it was the fact that he still associated the term “gamers” with obese thirteen year olds in their bedroom who burst into flames when exposed to daylight and healthy food. The fact that the majority of gamers nowadays are around the thirty age mark was another statistic that went unnoticed by him. For a couple of weeks I felt like this argument was an isolated case and that my Dad was the one out of touch with our rapidly progressing society. I mean, I saw a lady who must have been over sixty (my prediction, not Microsoft’s Age Guesser here) playing Candy Crush on the bus the other day, a sight which throws my Dad’s fat teenager stereotype out the window. But then I read Guy ‘Yug’ Blomberg’s Facebook post about a taxi ride he had and the comments the driver made about his kids playing games.
My taxi driver was complaining that kids were wasting too much time playing ‘these stupid videogame machines’, complaining they’d never get a good job unless they focused on their homework more. He asked what I did for a living, and I said “Actually I run the largest video game event in the country.” After a pause, he said “well I bet you had to study hard at Uni to do that”. I said “Actually I never went to Uni, was too busy playing video games”.
Guy “Yug” Bloomberg
Blomberg is, of course, the event manager for PAX Australia – one of the largest gaming conventions in Australia. He never went to uni and managed to get to where he is now on his own. This is both a great thing and a sad thing. Great, because it shows a man forging forward on his own, creating a path through an infant industry. Sad, because there should be more education provided for people who want to enter the games industry.
Now, don’t get me wrong – there are uni courses available which will teach you how to create a game. However, if there is no games industry to walk into, then what incentive is there to join these courses? Without a growing games industry a degree in games design could become as useful for getting a job as an Arts degree. As studying games design leads to minimal job prospects in Australia, unless parents are willing to support their child blindly, they’re more likely to try and persuade them to take up a study path other than one which could lead into a career in the arts or gaming.
Yet, there is a distinct reason why following a career in gaming is a smart move compared to pursuing drama or film through an arts degree, and dreaming of becoming the next Hugh Jackman. The film industry in Australia is one in a constant state of flux, and unfortunately it’s not every year you have the latest Star Wars or Marvel film being made here. The games industry however, doesn’t rely so stringently on location to get funding. We live in a world without borders. We live in a world where anyone can get in touch with almost anyone else anywhere. Through the wonder and joy of the Internet, we are able to co-operatively participate in the playing and creation of games.
There is no greater form of entertainment that is as inclusive for the modern world than gaming. You can collectively watch a film in a cinema, but that’s only a local thing. You can collectively read in a library, but that is still a very personal experience. You can collectively watch a band play live, but that’s a one off experience. Films, books and music can all be created collectively over the Internet, but none are as border-breaking as games. No experience brings strangers together the same way that gaming does. You may be playing through Journey co-operatively with a stranger in Russia, or playing Tetris projected onto the side of a public building with a group of strangers – either way gaming is bringing you together. I consider myself quite introverted and find social situations very difficult at times. Thanks to gaming, I have been able to have social experiences without having to deal with the elements of social interaction that cause me stress and anxiety.
Thanks to the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft’s Kinect, gaming has broken down more than just social barriers. Aged care facilities stocked up on the Wii to encourage seniors to exercise. The Kinect has been used in hospitals to help doctors examine surgical data. With the Nintendo DS’s Brain Training games, a whole world of gamers was created who had no idea they were playing games. There are games that have been designed to assist those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and games to assist with understanding mental illness. Or, going back to one of the earliest examples,– games have been used in education, teaching users how to read, type and do math. All of these things are wonderful examples of what gaming can provide.
At the core of a lot of arguments against gaming is the old adage that the whole of the gaming population is made up of thirteen year old boys sitting in their dark bedrooms playing Call of Duty quietly getting fat whilst they dream of killing their classmates. Research has shown that gaming does not create violent individuals. As for the weight inclined people, there is definitely an over representation of unhealthy food products being used to promote games. Take a look at your petrol station shelves the next time a Halo title comes out and you’ll find a wide variety of Halo themed V Energy drinks. Without a doubt, this relationship between unhealthy foods and video games can be a problem – just like McDonald’s and their Happy Meals. However, the games industry cannot be held entirely responsible for an individual’s physical health. Nintendo made a solid effort with the Wii of notifying gamers prior to each game to only play for a short period of time and then go outside or do something else
As more and more people start gaming, and new generations come into a world where technology dominates, it’s up to the parents to raise their children correctly. Spend five minutes with a child and you’ll see how active they can be. Their minds are open vessels just waiting to take everything on. Thanks to the wonderful creation of Minecraft, kids have been given an endless world of opportunity to create whatever their mind can conjur with what is essentially digital Lego. In a good home environment, kids may take what they’ve experienced in video games and create playground versions of these games to play. Whether it be an alternative version of Angry Birds, where their siblings or friends are the pigs, and stuffed birds are thrown at them, or playing in a sand pit and recreating their latest Minecraft creation, kids will find ways to recreate the things they love.
Beyond all of that, the most important thing about gaming is that it’s enjoyable. As a form of entertainment, it’s immersive in ways that films and books aren’t. It unites us in ways that people haven’t seen before. Whilst I love films and I love books, some of my favourite memories have been gaming related experiences. As part of the generation that grew up with gaming and has seen gaming grow from the 8-bit games of the late 80’s and early 90’s through to the hyper realistic worlds of the current generation, I’ve experienced a culture growing up and seen it influence the world as a whole.
Maybe that’s why I get so defensive of gaming. Because it is such a huge part of who I am, it feels like an attack on me personally when people speak poorly of the hobby. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling this way when telling people what I’ll be doing on the weekend. When I say that I’m planning on playing a video game instead of going out and socialising, or to the beach, I feel as if I’m being judged. When I booked time off work to attend this year’s PAX, the response I had was “oh what a nerd” and “do they know you’ll be the only person going? ” I’m a grown man, I can deal with these sorts of comments, but I do hope that one day these sorts of comments won’t be made and that going to a games festival will be treated the same way that going to the AFL Grand Final is.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that gamers are part of a vilified culture that needs protests in order for people to recognise us as equal. I’m just saying that even though the culture of gaming has come so very far in the past thirty years, we still have a long way to go before the social stigma surrounding gaming disappears. I’m a proud gamer. I don’t think being called a ‘nerd’ is an insult as it’s a tag I whole heartedly embrace. I may never be able to change my Dad’s mind about gaming, but at least I know that the hobby I enjoy is something that makes me happy and can also make a world of difference to many people out there.