Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Videogames and the Mainstream

Videogames may finally be getting a fair shake from the mainstream. It's true. Take a look around. In the last month, a major title was announced on the network broadcast of a late night talk show, the Boy Scouts of America (an organization I don't particularly care for, by the way, but that's another blog altogether) have legitimized it by creating merit badges (or activity pin? Something?) for them, and, most recently, the Wall Street Journal linked to John Davison's "Too Long & Too Hard" article.

Welcome to the mainstream.

Now, for the record, there are only a few reasons this interests me at all. One of those reasons does not involve my hobby being socially acceptable or whatever, because, quite frankly, I could give a fuck less if what I do is socially acceptable. I'm a straight edge, athiest libertarian. I get enough sideways looks that by now being a nerd is just icing on the cake.

No, the reasons more have to do with an art form (yes, art form) finally be accepted as what it is (Roger Ebert being the holdout, of course) and the entertainment industry realizing, after a crash and recovery that happened nearly 30 years ago, that games aren't just a fad, like hula hoops and pet rocks. Of course, they're realizing what we, as gamers, have known for a long time.

Still, it refreshing to see the hobby we've loved that has been alternately demonized and ignored getting some traction. This most recent burst started with Gears of War 3's unveiling on the Jimmy Fallon Show. Quite frankly, I can't stand Jimmy Fallon. I find him to be insufferably un-funny. The man is a terrible performer, to the point that he can't even keep a straight face while doing comedy that isn't very amusing to begin with. Be that as it may, however, he's taking steps to bring videogames to the same level as movies, by having guests like Cliffy B. and Tim Schafer and treating them with the same respect as people like Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan. As well they should be.

The reason he does this is because he, like me and, I'm guessing, you, grew up with videogames, and to him they are as legitmate, both as entertainment and works of art, as films. That's what is really bringing games to the mainstream. The same thing that brought rock 'n' roll to the mainstream. People who were kids when it was new are adults now, and they're the tastemakers.

Another example is the Boyscouts of America lending some credibility to gaming. They're offering something called "activity pins" to Scouts who educate themselves on ratings, and learn to hook up their systems by their damn selves. By offering a reward to Scouts, not for playing games, but for informing themselves about them, they are showing parents and teachers that games are something that are as worth learning about and looking at from an academic standpoint as films.

Even more than either of those things, though, are two other things that really opened my eyes to the fact that the mainstream is finally catching up. The first is the semi-recent coverage of games by the Wall Street Journal. The Wall Street Journal is a paper that I read on occasion, but my grandfather reads everyday. My grandfather is not a gamer. He doesn't understand videogames, and he probably never will, and he's ok with that. And I'm ok with that. But the fact that one of the best, and most respected papers in the country is now covering videogames says a lot to the rest of the media. Of course, they're covering it (or at least linking to people who cover it) the way they always do, with a slant of academia, which says even more. It says that this is material that's deserving of the kind of in depth discussion and coverage that other art and entertainment forms get.

The second of those things is the recent inclusion of Penny-Arcade's Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins on Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People" list. There have been gaming personalities on that list before, but they were designers. They were executives. The Penny-Arcade dudes aren't either of those. They aren't even reviewers. They're just dudes who draw a comic about videogames. Really, they're tastemakers. That's important. For two dudes who are really naught but tastemakers, tastemakers in this media that the mainstream has been woe to acknowledge until recently, to make the Time 100 above Oprah and the President of the United States sends a clear message that games are viable. They are important. Most notably, they are not going away. So, as a gamer, thanks for that, Time Magazine.

You see, games are growing up, and more importantly, the culture around them is growing up. Quite frankly, I'm surprised it's taken this long. Artists in other mediums like Clive Barker have been saying this for years. (In fact, Sir Ben Kingsley recently said that games are art, and even that performing in them is a unique challenge, different from stage or screen.) I'm not going to go on and on about why it did take so long, because I'm honestly not sure. I'm only going to say that I'm happy that they finally are.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the link to the Wall Street Journal I hadn't seen that yet. To clarify it isn't the Boy Scouts but the Cub Scouts that have created the pin. Cub Scouts are like junior boy scouts, generally age 7 to 11 years old.

    Glad to see we're finally going mainstream though.