“Video games are ingrained in our culture. Driven by some of the most innovative minds in the tech sector, our industry’s unprecedented leaps in software and hardware engages and inspires our diverse global audience. Our artists and creators continue to push the entertainment envelope, ensuring that our industry will maintain its upward trajectory for years to come.”
– Michael D. Gallagher
In my lifetime, gamers have always been stereotyped into these sweaty, neck-bearded, Mountain Dew-drinking, Doritos-eating, fedora-wearing losers who dwelled in their moms’ basements at the age of 40 and never left the house because they were so glued to the computer screen all day. They were overweight men who experienced difficulty in finding romantic partners, and possessed no reputable skills other than playing video games. But has this stereotype more or less dissipated?
A study found in 2015 that as many as 155 million Americans play video games, and four out of five American households own a console (“Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry”, 2015). These numbers are unprecedented compared to thirty years ago, when gaming was first making it into the public eye. Thirty years ago, fairly rudimentary video games such as Pong and Pac Man were only accessible through arcades, and even then you had to wait your turn before you could play them. Today, video games are accessible everywhere and to everyone, and have evolved to a point where you can literally explore entire worlds from the comfort of your own living room. The current trajectory could lead to full blown virtual reality that engages all of your senses, including, God forbid, pain.
Technological advances have obviously accounted for the recent explosion in video game popularity, but what about cultural advances? As I’ve stated, it used to be that if you played video games, you simply didn’t have a life. It didn’t matter how much or how often you played them—you were always defaulted to this basement dweller who was “below” everyone else on the social hierarchy. But we know that the hierarchy has become more accommodating in recent years. If you play video games, you’re now seen as no different from somebody who watches movies or reads books.
The increased social-cultural acceptance of gamers could be reflected in mediums such as television shows and YouTube videos.
Take the widely beloved sitcom The Big Bang Theory for example, which will be going into its twelfth season in 2018. This show follows the antics of four socially awkward close friends, Leonard, Sheldon, Rajesh, and Howard, as well as Leonard’s way-out-of-his-league neighbor, Penny. The cast has expanded to include more female characters.
The Big Bang Theory has received critical appraise for its humorous depiction of nerd dynamics. Typically, characters will have conversations about how Indiana Jones has no effect on the plot of Raiders of the Lost Ark, or in what order the Star Wars movies should be watched.
However, The Big Bang Theory’s greatest strength is equally its greatest weakness. A common qualm with the show is that while it promotes social acceptance of nerds, it perpetuates false perceptions of who nerds really are. I define a nerd as anyone who exemplifies extreme enthusiasm for his or her hobby of choice, but in The Big Bang Theory, nerds are presented as socially compromised. In the beginning of the series, for instance, Leonard is a chronic loner, Raj is unable to speak to women, Howard is a creep, Stuart is cripplingly depressed and routinely embarrasses himself in public, and Sheldon cannot connect with anyone on a human level. But hey! At least they all love to play Dungeons & Dragons and go to the movies together, right? Nonetheless, The Big Bang Theory has turned out to be one of the highest-rated, longest-running, and most profitable American sitcoms of all time.
Take PewDiePie, the most subscribed user on YouTube, as another example. In 2011, Felix Kjellberg attended college for a degree in industrial economics and technology management, but dropped out to instead pursue a passion in making videos. What began as a hobby would then evolve into an enterprise in its own right, with Felix rapidly rising to prominence by taking advantage of the YouTube algorithms, uploading consistently, and maintaining but refining the fundamental format of his content. As of November 2017, PewDiePie has amassed up to 57.7 million subscribers, and in effect defined the gaming genre on YouTube and inspired countless others to create their own gaming content.
What about my opinion? I am by no means a fan of PewDiePie. I’ve got nothing against the guy personally, but I don’t find any of his videos funny. I don’t see where the appeal comes from—is it just immature children who find amusement in watching a Swedish man incessantly shout into a microphone while playing a horror game?
PewDiePie’s gargantuan fan base cannot solely consist of immature children. He appeals to a wide audience unbound by age, race, or sex—an audience that derives entertainment value from watching their preferred personality play games as opposed to playing games themselves. And, it’s this new entertainment value that has contributed to the popularization of alternatives to PewDiePie like VanossGaming, Markiplier, and RoosterTeeth. Even Smosh, one of the top channels on the website that previously did not produce gaming content, has branched out to appeal to a more gaming-centric audience.
Overall, through clever exposure to their way-of-life, shows like The Big Bang Theory and content creators like PewDiePie have incrementally lifted the stigma off gamers, and proved that they are not just basement dwellers who can’t find girlfriends. They’re people, too.