For most of their history, videogames have been largely portrayed by mainstream media as an interactive format for kids to explore worlds of grotesque violence, shameless sexuality, and wholesale wickedness. However, over the last couple years, gaming has grown in popularity exponentially, and not only among children. With the growing de-ghettoization of games, mainstream media’s dire, alarmist view of interactive entertainment is destined to change, one way or the other.
A Brief History of Corrupted Youth
Throughout the late 70s and 80s, when video arcades hit their peak, you would hear the occasional story of how videogames “corrupted the youth of our great country” by luring them (and their parents’ quarters) into dark, cavernous halls instead of promoting flag-football games and ice-cream socials.
In the wake of the Columbine tragedy in 1999, the media’s view of videogames took on a darker and unforgiving tone. The refrain that both teenage killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, frequently played Doom and Wolfenstein 3D was repeated endlessly in the mediascape—journalists and pundits latched onto it, treating this small fact as a cause for the massacre.
Violence was now the predominant complaint against videogames. Mainstream media began treating videogames as little more than mass murder simulators, quickly turning the children of the nation into an army of bloodthirsty maniacs.
The trend continued into the new millennium and with the release of Grand Theft Auto III in October of 2001, tensions between mainstream media and the videogame industry hit a fever pitch. People who played videogames were still seen as recluses – freaks who did not venture outside, were often mentally unstable and could be driven to murder by their hobby.
But, in the real world, the kids who spent their youth in dusty arcades grew up, kept playing games and largely ridiculed the media’s portrayal of their pastime.
Wii Shall Overcome
With the release of the Wii in November 2006, gaming found a much wider audience. Unlike the “hardcore gamer” system manufacturers like Microsoft and Sony, Nintendo wanted to produce a system that appealed to people who were not traditionally gamers. They succeeded.
The Wii has found success across a wide demographic, including women and senior citizens, two of the groups least likely to play videogames. As these traditionally non-gamer friendly groups have become more acquainted with the digital arts, mainstream media has found it difficult to continue their battle against the vile corruptors of our country’s youth.
Mass Media Effect
In January of 2008, Fox News aired a story on the BioWare sci-fi epic game Mass Effect. In the report, they claimed Mass Effect featured “full digital nudity and sex”. The host of the program, Martha MacCallum, stated that the game “leaves nothing to the imagination,” and includes “the ability for players to engage in full graphic sex.” Anyone who played the game realized in seconds that no one associated with the report, aside from gaming journalist Geoff Keighley, had played or even seen any of the game for themselves. When asked by Keighley is she had ever played the game, Psychology specialist Cooper Lawrence laughingly dimissed the notion with a resounding, “no.”
Fox News is used to being faulted for bad reporting and gross bias on the political front, but the backlash from gamers is something we haven’t seen before. The huge response from gamers supports the notion that videogames have not only grown in popularity among kids and young adults, but they have found a place in our culture that few are not affected by. The apology from Fox’s expert, and Fox’s invitation to the game’s maker to tell their side of the story support it even further. Fox and the rest of the mainstream media, seem to ever-so-slowly be realizing that one-dimensional portrayals of gaming only serve to make them look hopelessly out-of-touch.
While we still have a long way to go, blaming games for every senseless tragedy that occurs in our county seems to be on the decline. It will still take years, but as gaming continues to boost its casual audience, more and more people will come to its defense when it’s unfairly demonized.
What do you guys think? What do you think is the future of the mainstream media’s relationship with videogames?