In the “old days,” before Tony Hawk signed his name to video games and MTV Cribs showed professional athletes with cabinets of video game consoles, being a gamer wasn’t something to be proud of. Only geeks were gamers, and to be obsessed with Final Fantasy or Super Mario Brothers was a crime as nerdy as having a collection of Dungeons and Dragons games, or playing Magic: the Gathering on school break periods.
However, at some point, video games became cool. Instead of saving their money to buy bicycles and basketballs, kids started to save in order to buy a Playstation 2 or Nintendo Gamecube. While many people might dismiss this as a shift in interests, just as the interests of youth changed between 1900 and 1940 due to technology, the movement that pushed video games from unforgivable geekery to the new cool thing to do had a number of effects.
Video games, since their move to the mainstream, have gone from a small industry to one that brings in upwards of six billion dollars per year, according to PC World writer Tom Mainelli. The video game Halo 2 grossed $125 million in its first day of sales alone. The Numbers, a website devoted to movie finances and records, quotes the highest weekend opening of a movie as being the film “Spiderman,” which opened at just under $115 million in its first weekend during May of 2002. As the figures point out, it is clear that video games are rapidly catching up to, and even eclipsing movies as a tool for cultural entertainment.
The cultural effects of the video game phenomenon are even greater than the economic effect. There are few people in today’s society who haven’t heard the cry of “video games are turning our children violent!” Everything from suicide to the school shootings in Littleton, Colorado have been blamed on video games. As a result, people have started to take games more seriously, with both good and bad results. The good results include higher quality games that don’t simply rely on shooting and racing, and limits on what children of a certain age can buy. The bad results include people like Jack Thompson, a lawyer who is vehemently opposed to video games of all kinds. Even mainstream politicians like Hillary Clinton have joined the fray; after the Littleton shootings she is quoted in Mother Jones as having said “What kind of values are we promoting when a child can walk into a store and find video games where you win based on how many people you can kill or how many places you can blow up?”
While most people, both gamers and politicians, stand in the middle of the spectrum, it is too often the fringes that receive the most press space, leaving many non-gamers perplexed as to whether games are the creations of saintly developers or temptations from the fiery underworld – which only confuses the situation even more. As can be seen from the above evidence, the cultural influence of video games becoming more popular among mainstream society has been both positive and negative, but it cannot be dismissed.
The third major effect of video games going mainstream is the entertainment effect. Even Ray Bradbury, in his book Fahrenheit 451, foretold a day when people would have a more interactive entertainment experience. In his world, it was with televisions. In our world, it is through video games. Video games take the entertainment value of television and add in the interest of interactivity both with the game and socially. According to MIT professor Henry Jenkins, sixty percent of frequent gamers play with other people, be it friends, spouses or other family members. Whereas television is a socially isolating activity, with both parties sitting and watching passively, video games provide interactivity not only on the gaming level, but with the other person or persons with whom the person is playing with. As systems and games progress in technology, the level of interactivity will only increase, leading to an almost inevitable blending of movies, television and gaming into one large entertainment system.
It is clear that the phenomenon of video games becoming popular in mainstream society has had a number of effects, both on the video game industry and on the society it now influences. Some are positive, some are negative, but none of them can be overlooked or dismissed.
“‘Halo 2’ Reports $125 Million in First-Day Sales.” MSNBC. 10 Nov. 2004. MSNBC. 26 Apr. 2006 .
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York City: Ballantine Group, 1953.
Jenkins, Henry. “Reality Bytes: Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked.” The Video Game Revolution. MIT. 26 Apr. 2006 .
Keegan, Paul. “Culture Quake.” Mother Jones. Nov.-Dec. 1999. The Foundation for National Progress. 26 Apr. 2006 .
Mainelli, Tom. “Video Games Go Mainstream.” PC World. 22 May 2002. IDG. 26 Apr. 2006 .
Nash, Bruce. “All Time Box Office Records.” The Numbers. The Numbers. 26 Apr. 2006 .