Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The End of an Era

So it ends with a whimper, not a bang:
More than half of American adults play video games and one in five play just about every day, according to a survey released Sunday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

I've been writing for several years that, as gamers, time was on our side in terms of demographics, and I strongly believed that we would see a day where gaming was no longer declared the demon by politicians seeking to make a name for themselves nationally.

What I didn't expect, though, was for it to happen so soon.

What struck me after I read this story was how little attention it's gotten, and I think that's because no one sees it as particularly remarkable. That, in itself, is an overwhelming statement of how mainstream gaming has become.

Do you remember how just a few years ago, politicians with national profiles used the issue of gaming and children as a bully pulpit? That issue won't resonate, though, when most of the parents themselves play games. They know full well that some games are not appropriate for children, and they will be able to manage that issue just fine without any government intervention, thank you very much.

This is now a dead issue for politicians at the national level. Have you noticed how no one at the national level is really bringing up gaming anymore? Sure, there will still be some backwater state hacks who try to rile up the 60 I.Q. locals, but that won't even make a ripple in a larger pond.

So why has this happened so much sooner than I expected? Three things, I think. One, the ESRB has done a truly outstanding job in the last two years of addressing legitimate complaints. It's much easier for kids to buy DVDs or music that is inappropriate for them than a video game, and the new, detailed ratings system is outstanding. No political hay to make there.

Second, I think the stunning rise of casual games has exponentially expanded gaming's reach for adults. For years, games were treated as a separate class when it came to entertainment. Critics contended both that gaming was both juvenile and harmful to juveniles.

That artificial construct has been blown to bits. Games aren't a separate class, and they don't have unique effects. They're just another form of entertainment, no more juvenile than anything else. The people who said gaming were juvenile were just another version of those people in the 1970's who refused to have televisions in their houses because television programs were "infantile."

Third, I think the Wii has had a huge influence. It's just impossible to believe that gaming is harmful for kids when you see them playing games on the Wii. Thanks to the Wii, gaming is a full-blown cultural phenomenon in the U.S. now.

Combine all those factors, and the writing is clearly on the wall. We are gamer nation-- demagogues beware.

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