A while back a mate of mine asked me to do a guest post on his gaming blog.. thought I'd share...
WHY IS GAMING STILL SHUNNED BY TV DESPITE ITS POPULARITY?
Typically I get home from work each day at a quarter past five. My wind down after each day starts when I walk out of the office, headphones on, listening to podcasts and having a cigarette on my walk home. This routine is unchanging and signals to my brain that it can take a time out and ponder more trivial matters such as what I am going to have for dinner, what game is on the menu and whether the rain will hold off until I reach my front door.
Arrival home sees my routine continue: Kettle on. TV on. Pointless on. Relax. Now I admit that Pointless is hardly Mastermind and, thankfully, not Going for Gold but it is about my level after a long day in the office and for that reason I sink in to my chair with a brew and absorb myself the gentle banter and a torrent of obscure trivia.
Blockbusters: The precursor to Minecraft but with Hexagons
This week was different though. As Alexander Armstrong amiably introduced yet another question on football my brain rebelled and I found myself surrounded by a picket line of neurons holding placards and chanting for change. What had so upset my hardest workers? Why is my brain thinking? Surely it should know by now that 5:15pm is purely a time filled with the recall the useless trivia that I had accumulated over the years.
I tried to ignore it. I tried to let the jokes about bad shirts and bad answers wash over me in an effort to drown out the revolt happening in my head but unfortunately there was a sympathiser. In a small corner of my mind Curiosity wandered over to the picket line, warmed its hands by a makeshift fire in a barrel and asked what all the noise was about.
Alexander and Richard quietly faded in to the background, their quips and jests muffled by inattention as I listened silently to the woes of my brain. When it had finished I paused a moment, thought it through, and then wordlessly walked over to the picket line myself, turned, picked up a placard and began chanting.
So what was the problem? It was this: Computer games are still treated as a fringe interest.
Hardly a new revelation but what Pointless had, ironically, pointed out to me was one clear symptom of this discrimination. Where were all the questions on computer games?
Now I am not pointing fingers at Alexander Henry Fenwick Armstrong.. I do not think it is completely his fault.. but I do feel justified in accusing him of not doing much to help the situation, especially as he has skin in this game as has made money from our beloved industry. In 2000 he pre-empted the Armstrong & Miller shows WW2 airmen sketches with a more serious version for Wings of Destiny and more recently was the voice actor for the main character in Hidden and Dangerous 2. Now I appreciate that this does not make him a gamer but I think he would still agree that computers games have legitimacy as, if not art, as a valid source of entertainment to the masses.
Many would scoff but, and this is the key point here, many would also agree. Why should Joe Bloggs and his encyclopaedic knowledge of football be prioritised over my knowledge of which materials you need to make which items in Minecraft?
We are also routinely asked to name characters in popular TV shows but never the popular characters in games with even cultural icons like Mario and Sonic getting shunned. We are asked the plots of movies like Batman but never do the questions touch upon the story arc of Arkham Asylum. We are asked to name the author of a series of books but never who the creator of Elite was.
Now I appreciate that this is all my opinion and I understand that many would disagree with my (selective) reasoning so let us look through some statistics.
So how big is gaming?
In 2013 the UK market for printed books was valued at £98m compared to a whopping 1.45bn for the gaming industry (2011). I appreciate that digital books will boost these numbers but hardly enough to make up the 1.3bn disparity.
Also in 2013 the Telegraph revealed that 4m (6%) people in the UK had never read a book for pleasure and noted that 12m (20%) people read less than 2 books per year. I will readily admit that at first I thought these numbers would be higher and was pleasantly surprised by the apparent literacy of our little island but on reflection these are the kind of figures you would expect for a millennia old pastime.
Our other favourite time killer is TV with 96% of the population spending an average of 25 hours a week glued to the box compared to gamers who spend just 12.5 hours a week in front of their console/PC of choice. Again this is to be expected given how ingrained TV is within our society but what is important here is that the gap is not as big as you would first think.
In 2010 the UK bought 63 million games - the equivalent of one game per person, with 1 in 3 people describing themselves as gamers. Half of UK households owned at least one computer console. Additionally if we take note that 7 out of 10 people now own a gaming capable smartphone we can confidently assume that gaming is closing the gap on TV like an emaciated tiger would on a pantomime horse.
Of course books and TV are not the only subjects that grace our quiz shows so I will return to my earlier football analogy and highlight that it is estimated that just 25m people watch football on a regular basis (that is 40% of the UK population) but despite this you can guarantee that there will be a football question hidden in the depths of every sports round. Considering that gaming is more popular should that not justify the same attention as the beautiful game?
It is also worth noting that with e-sports on the rise and the USA recognising it as a pro sport should we not see a What Happened Next? round featuring Starcraft?
The cynic in me hypothesises that traditional media goes out of its way to ostracise gaming as they see it as a threat whereas the realist in me suggests that instead there is actually no malice behind it, it is just instilled by the ignorance of the grey men in grey suits making the decisions at the top. Time will of course solve this as the next generation takes up the baton but I just wish they would hurry up.
A Question of Art
Unfortunately I could not find any statistics for the numbers of art enthusiasts but I do not believe that it is a stretch to assume that we will see a similar story as we did with football in this field as well. In fact I would argue that more people could identify a Wayne Rooney than a Rembrandt.
There is a movement amongst gaming journalist to promote computer games as a form of art, a view I can get behind fully. Interestingly though Wikipedia includes game design as an example of art but shuns the other creative roles played in the development of games.
Now I will readily admit that computer games may not have the history of a Constable, or the scope of an Antony Gormley piece and I definitely would agree that museums and galleries are probably not the best place for them (despite efforts to the contrary) but any gamer will agree that games do have the ability to invoke strong emotions (ranging from the vitriol of XBOX Live to the loneliness of Dear Esther) and likewise they can clearly influence and educate the masses. Qualities any traditional artist would strive for in their own piece.
Now I doubt I will ever see Chuckie Egg or Flappy Bird in the National Gallery during my lifetime but at some point the traditionalist stance will have to relent. (OK maybe not those games but you get the point).
If quiz shows refuse to devote a whole round to computer games then perhaps it is within the art round that computer games should reside. If only for the amusement of seeing the eager geeks choosing the round with glee only to be stumped by questions on Dickens and Damien Hirst whilst praying for a Skyrim reference to come up.
Now do not get me wrong. Personally I like a challenging football question and similarly I believe it is important that we place value on subjects like literature and traditional art however I also think that it is a stretch to consider yourself a general knowledge quiz show without acknowledging one of the largest and fastest growing entertainment industries in the world.
It also seems strange to me that producers of TV quizzes fail to take advantage of a key demographic: Gamers. The clue is in the name. Why would a game show not want to snare the interest of gamers?
I will leave you with this last optimistic thought. As a kid I always marvelled at how intelligent my parents were as they answered every question correctly on Blockbusters but now I know that they had a major advantage. It was their generation in charge and the subject matter reflected the lives they had lived. As I sit and watch my experiences replayed one trivia snippet at a time I realise that it is now my generation coming to the fore. I just hope that future quiz show hosts and question writers remember that computer games were likely a big part of their life and adjust the questions accordingly.