The Omnic View: Top 5 Media Misconceptions About Gaming
Wherever you look, it seems like gaming has been in the news recently. From the horrific Jacksonville shooting at a Madden tournament to the continuing discussion as to whether esports should be considered an Olympic sport, everyone has something to say about gaming. Minus tragic events like mass shootings, major media outlets discussing gaming is generally a good thing: it normalizes playing video games (not that it should need to be normalized) and introduces gaming culture to the public at large. For a culture that has long been criticized, it feels good to finally see gaming on a general news outlet. There’s nothing quite like flipping past the Today Show on TV and seeing the hosts discuss the Overwatch League!
However, just because major outlets discuss video games doesn’t mean that all of the discussion is productive. Despite constant progress since the inception of gaming culture, there are a few things about gaming that the media just can’t seem to get right. Why does this matter? Much of the general public’s opinion on topics they may not be very familiar with, like gaming, is influenced by what they read, hear, and see on mass media. If we want gaming and esports to continue to gain respect, it’s important that major media outlets ensure that their facts are correct and that they avoid time-worn stereotypes and biases about gaming and gamers. Here are five of the most egregious things that a lot of outlets still get wrong.
1. Violent video games cause real-life violence.
This is the biggest and most common one. It seems to come up every time someone commits a violent crime and police find out that they enjoyed playing video games. Despite having been debunked in multiple studies, including this one published in the prestigious journal Nature, the mass media still seems to cling to this idea, perhaps because it provides a clean motive behind perpetrators’ criminal actions. This one isn’t necessarily the media’s fault–humans tend to cling to learned ideas even if science has proven them incorrect, such as the myth that we only use 10% of our brains–but the media could be doing a lot more to debunk this idea.
Beyond the idea of violent games triggering violence in players, I’ve noticed a startling new misconception: some seem to believe that all video games are violent. In the immediate aftermath of the Jacksonville shooting, I was flipping news channels on TV, trying to find out what happened. I paused on one that had an “analyst” weighing in on the situation. He said something similar to this: “Well, people who play video games for long periods of time are sometimes unable to distinguish between the game and real life.” Quite a disturbing assumption! If we expand his assumption to games beyond military shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield, this statement no longer makes sense. I don’t spread paint on things after playing Splatoon, nor do I seem to jump back and forth in time after playing a competitive match as Tracer. After the game in the tournament was revealed to be Madden, it made even less sense. Madden is a sports game–no guns or weapons of any kind involved. The fact that this analyst heard that the shooting occurred at a gaming tournament and automatically assumed that the game in question was violent says a lot about the media’s portrayal of games in the past. See also: the wide-reaching statement made by International Olympics Chief Thomas Bach about how esports will not be allowed at the Olympics because of their violence.
2. Disbelief at being able to play games for a living and thinking that it’s easy.
This might have been acceptable a decade or two ago, when video games were mostly marketed toward children and gaming was thought of as child’s play. Things are a lot different now than when you got your first console for Christmas: Twitch is a multibillion-dollar enterprise that allows thousands of streamers to make a living through streaming and associated activities like sponsorships. Esports has grown into a thriving culture and business, particularly with the introduction of the Overwatch League this past year. Despite these advances, many still don’t believe that you can make a living playing or streaming games. A good example of this misconception can be found on this Today show segment where Megyn Kelly interviews Jake Lyon and Shane Flaherty of the Overwatch League. While it’s amazing that pro players are being invited to interview on shows as big as the Today show, the title and Kelly’s tone of voice belie the media’s (and most likely viewers’) real opinion of pro gaming. The clickbait-worthy title states, “Meet 2 kids who get PAID to play video games ($50,000 minimum!),” as though this is something that could never happen. (It might be, to a mainstream audience!) In the video, Kelly’s questions came off a little condescending to me; her tone of voice makes me think that sometimes she’s not taking Lyon and Flaherty seriously. This may make others think that their success is an unusual occurrence, one worthy of spectacle rather than everyday respect.
Even if the mass media does come to accept that gaming is a viable career path for the professionals and entertainers out there, they may still believe that it’s easy. Look again that the title above: the capitalization of the word “paid” is meant to emphasize it, making it seem as though getting paid to game is, again, an unusual thing. Those who participate in and follow the esports scene know that it’s anything but easy: long practice hours, mental health issues, and sponsorship requirements mean that pro players have their own issues to content with, just like anyone else who holds a job. Streamers play for long periods of time and must create and balance their image, leading to big problems when it breaks (for example, xQc’s rude and homophobic comments on his personal stream). Gaming for pay is a lot different than gaming for fun, and it’s important that news outlets realize this.
3. Esports are not real sports.
This one is a common refrain from parents when their kids tell them about the popularity of gaming and the potential for things like the Overwatch League. Many of the points that parents argue are summarized in this Fox Sports opinion piece on whether esports will ever become an Olympic sport. While author Chris Chase makes some valid points–it’s true that the lifespan of some games is questionable and that there are other activities that are worthy of participation but do not appear in the Olympics–I can’t help but think that this “narrow-minded traditionalism” that he describes himself with is the real reason that many do not consider esports to be real sports. He also mentions performative wrestling, which to me is a completely different thing: we know that a lot of WWE wrestling is performance and spectacle, and it’s not meant to be taken seriously. Esports, on the other hand, are asking to be taken seriously, and when the media doesn’t grant them this right, the general public won’t, either.
My biggest issue is with his first point, which he goes on to somewhat refute later on in his own piece: esports cannot be sports because there is no physical exertion involved. Never mind the huge rise in esports medicine to deal with issues like thumb and wrist injuries, or the huge numbers of physical button presses that professional fighting game players have to recognize and execute faster than their opponents. Refusing to consider something a sport just because it lacks physical exertion is a poor attempt at gatekeeping existing sports and refusing to expand their definition to evolve with the times. The level of dedication, practice, and teamwork is just as high in esports as it is in regular sports, so why not give them a chance? Millions of others have, as evidenced by the rise of pro gaming and tournaments. Whether or not they’re included in the Olympics is irrelevant; esports have established themselves as a sport and are here to stay.
4. Video games are only for children.
There’s a strange relationship between this misconception and the first one on this list, that video games are too violent and cause real-life violence. It is true that many people believe that video games are just children’s toys (and that, as an extension, no respectable adult should play them,) but I would be that many of the same people also believe that video games as a whole are too violent. If all games really are violent, why are they aimed toward children? I wouldn’t want my child playing something that I believed would cause violence in real life, yet many people do that every day. Either gaming really is just for children–in which case, not all games must be violent, as media presented to children is often created with the developing mind in consideration–or games are violent, which means they must before adults and deserve more consideration as an advanced medium. These two ideas cannot both be held; they very much contradict each other.
Gaming is clearly not just for children, but even if it was, there’s no reason to disparage adults for participating in it. Many adults enjoy animated movies made for kids, young adult novels, and childhood pastimes like dolls and costumes. (What is cosplay if not the childhood love of dressing up as your hero mixed with adult money and capabilities?) Kids and adults alike enjoy games like Pokemon and Minecraft, which offer engaging possibilities at every skill level. In fact, games made for kids often have the possibility for skilled play or completion by adults, giving others an incentive to play them. An example is the Pokemon competitive scene: you don’t have to be a pro to enjoy battling and training, but the option is there if that’s what you want to do. Furthermore, games made for entertainment have even begun to cross over into the educational space: Minecraft is being used in schools. Nintendo has made millions of dollars by making “games for kids” that people of all ages continue to enjoy. Games aren’t just for children, and even those that are aimed at kids have the potential for other uses by teens and adults; to me, this is one of the most striking examples of expansive future potential in the medium.
5. Gamers are Doritos-eating, Mountain Dew-chugging, parents’ basement-dwelling man(or woman-)children.
Well, the caricature of Gremlin D.Va certainly isn’t helping with this one! All joking aside, this is definitely the most tired stereotype on this list. It’s been around for decades since the heyday of tabletop and roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons. The 90s cult classic TV show Freaks and Geeks has an entire episode dedicated to this stereotype: the cool stoner guy initially makes fun of the nerds’ game of D&D before becoming intrigued and joining. In a nice twist on the norm, he has a lot of fun and becomes good friends with the nerds.
Despite years of effort from gamers of all types and genders, this misconception continues to stick around. It connects to some of the other statements on this list: games are for children, so gamers must be overgrown children who are unable to do anything but play games in their parents’ basement. Players who spent long hours practicing and training to become esports pros must be wasting their time, because how could gaming ever take enough skill or effort to be a sport? These images have, over time, become entwined with the stereotype of the meme-making internet dweller: someone who is lazy, unattractive, and spending their time doing things that ultimately don’t matter. I’m not sure where being a computer user became a stigma–after all, we all use mobile phones constantly, which are essentially tiny computers–but when a controversy involving gaming comes up, this stereotype often exists in an unspoken manner.
The idea of the gamer is also stereotypically a white, high school- or college-aged straight male. This has changed immensely in the last decade: with the rise of mobile gaming, women make up almost half of those who play games (though few identify with the term “gamer,” which is an issue in itself). There is a huge amount of diversity in players’ gender, location, age, abilities, and sexual orientation, which can only help to make the gaming community more accessible to all. So next time you tell someone you’re a gamer and they give you a disbelieving stare because of what you look like or how you identify, let them know that the face of gaming is a lot different than what it used to be perceived to be.
There are more than this, but these to me are the most glaring examples of misconceptions that need to be done away with. It’s important that the media continues to report the truth when it comes to matters involving gaming, because sticking to overused and incorrect stereotypes will only serve to increase misinformation in the general public. What do you think of these misconceptions? Are there any more that you’ve seen in action?
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