The Gamer Stigma

Even as the number of adult gamers continues to climb, there still exists a certain stigma associated with choosing to spend your free time engaged in a great video game. While I was listening to sports radio the other day in Houston, one of the hosts launched into a tirade against gamers asking “when did it become OK for adults to play video games?” This got me to thinking more about the stigma that still exists against those that choose to continue playing video games after joining the 9 to 5 crowd.

Apparently, many adults that grew up with Pac Man and Donkey Kong never got the memo that once they grew up they were supposed to trade in their controller for a more age-appropriate hobby. This could have something to do with the generations that grew up gaming simply coming to age, or that video games have just evolved to a point where they are much more entertaining than they have been in the past. There are certainly more options available than ever before, so there is likely to be a game out there at any given time that is the perfect fit for a given person.

One of the driving factors in distinguishing a video game hobby from many other pastimes is that in many cases there is no set end time as there is for a movie or TV show. This makes it very easy to lose track of time for those that are deeply absorbed into a great game. Since oftentimes family members, boyfriends, or girlfriends may not all share the same passion for gaming, this can often lead to friction within relationships. Coupled with the large gender imbalance among core gamers and you have a great recipe for relationship poison.

As with anything these days, the media portrayal of gamers in both news and pop culture has a lot to do with perception. Take the following clip from Law and Order: SVU for example.  The over-the-top stereotype of the typical gamer is laid out perfectly here: overweight, obsessive, living in squalor, and completely out of touch with reality. And let’s not forget the South Park World of Warcraft episode.

Gamers certainly aren’t doing themselves any favors with stories such as this in the news. However, these news stories are more about addiction than gaming itself. While video game addiction is not entirely uncommon, it’s not nearly as serious of a problem as alcoholism, gambling addictions, or overeating. So why are those that spend a couple hours a day playing games looked down on so much more than those that spend the same amount of time watching TV or movies?

When taken to the extreme, even the most innocent of activities can become something rather insidious. Don’t believe me? Check out this completely unresearched list of perfectly acceptable activities and what taking them to the extreme looks like:

  •  Weekly poker game → Gambling addiction
  •  Pet lover → Animal hoarder
  •  Motherhood → Octomom
  •  Outdoorsman → Unibomber
  •  Christianity → Westboro Baptist Church
  •  Wine Enthusiast → Alcoholic
  •  Chemist → Meth Producer

In other words…

In many cases video games are a more constructive alternative to watching your average prime time TV show as well. For example, doctors that spend at least three hours per week playing video games make 37% fewer mistakes when performing laparoscopic surgeries compared to their non-gaming counterparts. This can be attributed to the increased hand-eye coordination, which most traditional controller-based video games require. While most of us are not surgeons, increased hand-eye coordination can certainly come in handy for a variety of real world applications. There are other potential benefits related to the problem solving and social aspects involved in many games.

“Being immersed in a video game, and having your brain stimulated, can encourage creative solutions and adaptations. These beneficial ideas and thoughts can then be applied to real life situations. The results can be surprisingly positive for individuals, communities, and society as a whole.”
-Allen S. Weiss M.D., President and CEO, NCH Healthcare System

And finally, to all those radio personalities out there still upset by the growing acceptance of video games in our culture, take a moment to allow the following statistics to sink in…

That’s right; you non-gamers are actually in the minority. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 72% of households played video games in 2011 with the age of the average gamer being 37 years old. Video games have become a huge part of our culture and as technology improves, will likely continue their ascent and become an even larger part of our lives. In the meantime, can we agree to stop giving gamers such a hard time?

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