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I'm lifting this from a blog that you can read here. The whole thing is kinda long so I'm just going to post the most pertenent parts.
Gamer Culture Is Not As Big As You Think It Is
It may seem to you that everyone is gaming these days, but that really depends on who you surround yourself with. The internet’s most vocal and prominent denizens are naturally tech-savvy, and because of that, are likely no strangers to games. If you visit a bunch of gaming sites (you had to find this article somehow, no?), seek out a bunch of gamers to hang out with, etc, you’re going to feel surrounded by gamers. But the broader world is still fairly games-ignorant.
Is your boss a gamer? His boss? If you work for an indie game developer, maybe, but even if you work for a major games company (hi, Bobby Kotick!) the answer is probably no. Does the sales force play games? Marketing? Finance? Maybe. Probably not. When the NES and Genesis were around, most kids at school still didn’t play games regularly. Even in college, where a Playstation or N64 was always connected to a common TV, most people weren’t playing games.
You may be thinking that everyone you know plays games. Personally, out of all the people that I know from meeting face to face (i.e. not over the internet), about ten are gamers. I’m not just talking about members of an older generation that isn’t gaming; this includes people my age who still think gaming is a waste of time, or something for kids that they’ve given up long ago. They can talk the balls off a brass monkey about the upcoming football season, or that week’s episode of Lost/True Blood/Dexter/whatever, but bring up games and you get honest blank stares. Not because they play games, but games aren’t “cool” to talk about. Because they really don’t know what you’re referring to.
Here’s a totally unscientific video of a guy asking random people on the street about Final Fantasy‘s (one of gaming’s longest-running series) most popular mascot (the chocobo). It goes as you would expect. But maybe that’s just Cleveland though? Wark!
Ok, how about women gamers? What’s the rule about the internet? “Men are boys, women are men,” etc etc. Gamers make a tremendously stupid deal about girl gamers. Finding one is apparently as rare as a double rainbow. If they were around in regular numbers, it wouldn’t even register a thought. That’s almost exactly half the world’s population right there that apparently isn’t playing many games.
Let’s try some real-life situations. It’s date night with a girl you don’t know well. Do you take her to the movies, or somewhere to play games? You’re meeting a new group of people at some kind of social function. Would you feel more comfortable talking about books or movies before you bring up games? It’s Friday night – are you going to talk about your plans to see the new movie, or your plans to go home and play games all night? Being a “gamer” stillcarries a negative connotation in most situations.
Even if you personally aren’t, there are plenty of people who aren’t totally honest about their gaming habits. Even if you don’t lie about being a gamer, have you ever lied to someone about how much time you spend gaming? Why the shame? What’s to hide if it’s mainstream and totally accepted? But you’d never lie about games right? Fuck the haters! Well… would you admit in a job interview how many hours you play WoW? On a date that’s going well? Your convictions might change when it’s important!
How about this – who is the Roger Ebert of video game reviews? Who is an equivalently respected, published, cited authority on the subject? (I don’t know of one) When the mainstream media does a video game story, is it positive or sensationalist; treating video games as deviant, quirky, or a kid’s toy? I shouldn’t even need to link to examples for that one. Did you know that The Wall Street Journal does book and movie reviews for some incomprehensible reason, but not video games? In fact, while just about every major publication keeps a film or book critic around, you still have to go to a “game” website or magazine to get opinions on video games.
How about some numbers then? Statistics are easily cherry-picked and manipulated, but I’ll throw a few quick ones in here so it’s not just my personal experiences and rhetorical questions.
Modern Warfare 2 famously raked in the “the biggest launch in history across all forms of entertainment” with 4.7 million units sold in the US and UK the first 24 hours. That claimdidn’t hold water. The Dark Knight pulled an estimated 9.2 million moviegoers in the U.S. alone. But hey, many of The Dark Knight‘s viewers were probably gamers too, so how about something where the audiences aren’t likely to overlap? Twilight: Eclipse drew in about 3.75 million viewers (assuming an $8 ticket) in ONE MIDNIGHT SHOWING. It would go on to bring in over 17.8 million eyeballs for that opening weekend (assuming the same ticket price). Remember, we’re not talking revenue here (games are far more expensive per unit), we’re talking tickets sold/units moved/eyes on the screen.
What about those Asian nations where people play games until they die from them? Like China, where there are a whole lot of people (1.3 billion). Game consoles are banned in China, but online games are not affected and have flourished accordingly. Still, estimates put only 68 million online gamers in China for 2009 (some of which, I’m assuming, are gold farmers). That’s not a lot by comparison.
69% of all Americans go to movies, according to Nielsen’s 2009 American Moviegoing report. (It’s not free, so no links for this one.) According to U.S. Census estimates for 2009 (305 million) that’s about 210 million moviegoers in 2009.
Television viewership has been steadily declining, but Nielsen still estimates 114.9 million TV-watching homes in the U.S. alone. That just counts homes, not multiple people living in them.
Exact statistics for books sold are apparently somewhere between difficult and impossible to get, but I can tell you that 2009 sales were somewhere between $13.5 and 26.6 billion dollars. And print’s dead, right? I mean, who do you know that still reads books?
The most successful game around, FarmVille boasts 63 million active users worldwide. That’s getting up there. ButFarmVille‘s not a “real game,” right gamers? That’s something the secretary plays at work when the boss isn’t watching. It certainly hasn’t been proven to be a gateway to more hardcore titles, and very doubtful that many of those players come home to PS3s or Xbox360s.
The ESA finds that 64% of American households play games – a number which seems to put it directly against cinema attendance (though remember, that’s just theater attendance – the total cultural impact of movies also includes DVDs, TV rebroadcasts, online streaming; additional markets that the games industry doesn’t have). However, the ESA’s report doesn’t mention what they consider to be games, or how many hours are spent playing them. Aside from sales figures I’ve already referenced (showing a skew toward casual party/family games), the only real clue is the statistic of 42% of online game time being devoted to “Puzzle, Board Game, Game Show, Trivia, Card Games,” i.e. “casual games.” Which leads back to games being seen as simple diversions instead of frequently-consumed, respected, universally-enjoyed media.
You probably have a board game somewhere in your house or apartment. This means you’ve bought a board game. You’ve played a board game. You count as a statistic of board gaming households, but would you consider yourself a “board gamer?” If you’re like most people I know, you bust that board game out maybe once a year, but it hardly factors into your daily routine like movies, TV, or books do.
That’s why it’s hard to count casual gamers as proponents for, or examples of, mainstream gaming. Games for them are temporary diversions. Certainly not something they do often. Certainly not a lifestyle. Certainly not a passionate hobby.
Certainly not up there with established “mainstream” media.