Dispelling Rumors on Video Games
When Donald Trump referred to the “gruesome and grisly” video games as an influence on multiple mass shootings in 2019 that killed thirty-one people, he sparked a conversation that is familiar to gamers. Gamers have been a misunderstood demographic for some time, from being called lazy loners living in their mom’s basement, to video game addicts, and worse. The conversation lately has shifted from hurtful names to something more powerful. There is a political discussion surrounding gaming and its impact on our society, with blame being misplaced on video games.
Gamers are an incredibly diverse and misunderstood demographic, and this paper will help dispel some of the rumors surrounding gamers and the video game industry while outlining some pros and cons.
Demographics: Who Even Plays Video Games?
More than half of the country plays video games, either on a console, PC, or mobile device. Christopher Baker’s Video Games: Their Effect on Society and How We Must Modernize Our Pedagogy for Students of the Digital Age, uses data from The Entertainment Software Association which claims that 59% of Americans play video games, with the average household owning at least one dedicated gaming machine. Baker asserts that it is more likely than not, that any stranger you meet is a gamer. (Baker) This is an important statistic because it sheds light on the sheer number of people who play video games, but also provides insight on the demographics as well. It's unlikely that all gamers, which represent 59% of our population, are all the same whether in age or gender.
We often hear that gamers are mainly male, but this is a misconception. Christopher Baker tells us further that “As of 2014, 52% of gamers are male, while 48% are female. In addition, women aged 18 or older represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (at 36%) than boys 18 or younger (at 17%). This statistic is huge, because women over 18 represent over twice of that of boys under 18, disrupts two common misconceptions. One, that gaming is an activity for children, and two, that it is male dominated.
This idea that gaming is only for children can be further deconstructed by looking at what China has done. According to a 2022 article from The Economist called Powering up; Gaming in Asia, which compares the state of esports in China and Korea, outlines laws that were put in place to limit the amount of time, and when children can play video games, with China limiting game play to three hours of online gaming per week for those under 18. The article continues to say that this offers South Korea, who recently dismissed a law that also limited children from gaming during certain times, a chance to catch up in the competitive world, since serious esports players begin training around 14 for many hours per week to refine their skill. (Powering up; Gaming in Asia.) While this implies that a lot of children may play video games, or some children play too many video games, it also implies that the true life of esports gamers careers extend into adulthood, with more career paths such as coaches and recruiters along the way. There is an industry here that is being recognized by powerful people. According to the same article in The Economist, during a campaign trip to an esports venue in Seoul, South Korea's president Yoon Suk-yeol asked gamers for ways to improve the perception of gaming for parents. Again, this implies that children do play video games, but the implication provided from the setting, an esports venue, offers some insight into the future, which may include building on the success of esports, like how communities benefit from professional and semiprofessional sports. (2022)
Given the statistics surrounding the demographics, and the size of esports, we see that the video game industry is diverse in age, gender, and skill levels, and offers opportunities for players or contributors of all ages. Video games also offer a unique opportunity to either play solo, competitively, or cooperatively.
Loners? Or Team Players?
(Figure 1 Gamer representation from South Park's Make Love, Not Warcraft episode.)
Gamers are often portrayed as lone, dark basement dwellers with unhealthy eating habits. (See figure 1.) This is misleading because we know from the last section that the demographic is made up of adults, children, men, woman and even has a professional competitive scene. This alone seems enough to debunk the rumor that gamers are loners and eliminate images such as the representation shown in figure 1, but the growth of different types of games helps us deconstruct this myth even more.
Video games are no longer knocking a ball back and forth until one person misses, and while you don’t necessarily have to be in the same room with other players, online gaming offers the opportunity to game with others either competitive, cooperatively, or both. Jane McGonial, in her book Reality is Broken, summarizes the agreement that gamers make in every multiplayer interaction, which is to share a common ground, level of concentration, and synchronize engagement to either win or lose a reciprocal reward. This applies to both cooperative and competitive games. You can’t compete against someone who is not trying, there must be mutual engagement. (McGonigal)
Unless a gamer is playing a truly solo gaming experience then their experience will likely have a social element. Even when gamers are not in the same room as their friends, or even strangers online, there is still an element of collaboration and community, not even to mention common gamer courtesy, such as offering a “Good Game” (GG) at the end of a well-played match. Imagine the collaboration that has to take place to, as described in The Economists article Powering Up; Gaming in Asia when discussing esports in China and Korea, to be among the 12 teams competing during the League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational tournament, in front of 4,000 live fans and over 2 million online, all sharing this experience. (Powering up; Gaming in Asia.) This is far from loner behavior in all aspects, from the players working as a team, to the cheering fans, to the online spectators talking in the chat.
This is also supported by Christopher Baker’s thesis mentioned earlier, which on page 40 says that “In multiplayer video games (especially online games), players on a team often discover that their particular strengths balance out a teammate’s weaknesses, and vice versa. Communal goal-sharing amongst students in the classroom necessitates the same personal reflection, while allowing the students to acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses in a safe and supportive way. Group projects encourage teamwork, discourse, and peer-to-peer mentoring. This cultivates a vested interest in each other’s skills and perspectives.” (Baker)
Gaming offers an opportunity for your strengths to help the entire team and offers a chance to identify strengths and weaknesses in yourself and others, while learning to communicate effectively, sometimes in high stress environments. This level of awareness and communication skills helps in other areas of day-to-day life, such as leading a team at work, or communicating with friends to build stronger relationships.
Even if a gamer attempts to go offline, most games have what are called NPC’s, non-player characters. These are computer-controlled characters that offer quests or dialogue options, offering a social element to the game, even if it is computer-controlled dialogue. It’ is possible that there are some truly lone gamers out there who are sticking to the classic offline solo games but based on the number of gamers across the world, and the popularity of online games, it looks as if gaming is now primarily a social activity, dispelling the idea that gamers are loners.
This does not mean there is not a dark side to gaming. Tensions can be high as the competition increases, and the visuals and audio can be shocking and violent, and it is often asserted that this violence translates to desensitization and real-world violence.
Kids With Guns
(Figure 2. An enemy banshee is shot out of the sky with a rocket launcher in Halo Infinite.)
Following tragedies and controversy, politicians have placed blame on video games citing content as shown in figure 2 as a cause for violent behavior. "Ellie Kaufman’s Fact check: Are violent video games connected to mass shootings?" which followed two shootings in Dayton, OH and El Paso, TX, outlined how Donald Trump spoke to video game content following these shootings, as well as the mass shooting in Parkland FL in 2018, and how former Republican house speaker Newt Gingrich, and former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have all directly or through actions placed blame on the violent content of some video games, even though the data does not seem conclusive. This is shown comparing studies by the APA and the American Academy of Pediatrics that claimed there is a link between violent video games and violent behavior, with studies by Western Michigan University professor Withney DeCamp and a study published in the British Journal Royal Society Open Science, which did not find a link between violent games and violent behavior. (Kaufman)
It is common knowledge that the US has a high level of violent crime when compared to other developed countries. Considering the conflicting studies surrounding violent video games and violent behavior, and the fact that other countries that consume video games at a similar rate as the US do not have as many mass shootings as we do, it is dishonest and likely deadly to pass the blame to video games. Some questions have been raised when we look at the testing methods as well, and what is considered “violent” or aggressive behavior. On page 97 and 98 of Patrick Markey’s Video Game Play Myths and Benefits, which outlines the myths and benefits of video games on society, we see that the testing methods meant to measure the relationship between video game play and violent or aggressive ask questions that may not provide the information we need. (See Figure 3) (Markey, Ferguson, and Hopkins 97-8)
(Fig. 3, sample questions used by researchers. From Patrick Markey's Video Game Play Myths and Benefits, pg. 97)
The data that would be collected from the answers to these questions does not seem strong enough for politicians to blame the events that take lives on video games. The rumor that video games contribute to violent behavior can also be contributed to the reaction parents get when it's time for children to stop playing. Julie Jargon explains the struggles parents may have at bedtime in her article "Life & Arts -- Family & Tech: Your Child's Brain on Video games --- Why the games trigger the nightly meltdown -- and how to help your children cope". This article talks about how video games offer a path to keep us entertained and immersed, and when parents take the game away, it leaves the gamer with a feeling of dissatisfaction, as their adventure was cut off in the middle. (Jargon) If this situation is not handled correctly, it may result in a violent reaction from the child, but that does not mean that the video game inspired that violent behavior. This is true for almost anything. Being left wanting more causes frustration and irritation, but those feelings in these cases are not necessarily caused by the games content. Given the uncertainty on video games effect on behavior, we owe it to ourselves as a society to invest in the research to make decisions from conclusive research for the best possible results.
As stated, gamers have been misunderstood, and have had their hobbies attacked following recent tragedies. It is important to understand the intricacies of the culture. Gamers are diverse and can be very social depending on the game they are playing. Gamers are not necessarily violent, but like anyone, may be unpleasant if you take their source of joy away from them without warning. Let us continue to look at the video game industry and gamers with open minds, and learn more about the effects, both positive and negative that video games have on society.
Baker, Christopher John. "VIDEO GAMES: THEIR EFFECT ON SOCIETY AND HOW WE MUST MODERNIZE OUR." VCU Scholars Compass (2014): 3, 40, 41.
Jargon, Julie. "Your Child's Brain on Video games --- Why the games trigger the nightly meltdown -- and how to help your children cope." Life & Arts -- Family & Tech 3 April 2019: A.11.
Kaufman, Ellie. Fact check: Are violent video games connected to mass shootings? CNN, 2019.
Markey, Patrick M, Christopher J Ferguson and I Lauren Hopkins. "Video Game Play Myths and Benefits." American Journal of PLAY (2020): 97-98. PDF Patrick Markey, Christopher J. Ferguson,.
McGonigal, Jane. Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. Penguin Books, 2011.
"Powering up; Gaming in Asia." The Economist (2022): 32.
Figure 1. Depiction of WOW player from South Park. Located from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0850173/mediaviewer/rm2863578881/?ref_=tt_md_1) Located on 6/15.