Stereotypes of gaming: Still here

Posted on August 12, 2015

Social media was abuzz last week with the new cover of Time, which features this:

Cover of Time: 7th August, 2015

Cover of Time: 7th August, 1985 2015

You may well ask, what’s the big deal? It’s an image of Palmer Luckey, the creator of Oculus Rift, one of the Virtual Reality (VR) headsets on the brink of release. Sure, it’s ‘goofy’, but is it really the greatest threat to VR around?

Well, I think it’s worse. Sure, it is ‘really, really odd’ (Conditt 2015) and it’s also ‘insulting’ (Kuchera 2015). It’s a bit off, in more ways than one. But actually ‘it reinforces, rather than challenges, the perception that VR is a mask that nerds use to blot out the world’ (Lahti 2016). This image fundamentally paints a pretty bad picture of gaming, at the same time as it gets gaming out to the mainstream.

But you know what? Gaming is mainstream already: look at the DA 16 report which indicates that 98% of houses with children have video games, yet the average age of video game players is 37. In fact, it’s print publications like Time that need to catch up. The problem here is that it is not just games that are infantilised and ridiculed; it’s technology in general. This is the attitude that makes axing funding for Aussie game development a cinch, and enables a Prime Minister to make a joke of children learning coding at a time of rising unemployment and obviously declining mining and manufacturing industries.

I mean, even Stuff magazine has done away with covers like this.

I mean, even Stuff magazine has done away with covers like this.

This matters because it makes gaming and technology a space where some people aren’t welcome: especially if you’re a girl, or if you’re a certain kind of boy. It makes gaming and technology a special, unique zone which isn’t any good for anyone. In my University teaching I recently got students to read an excellent article (Shaw 2013) which argues that if you want to create more diversity in video games and game culture, you don’t just use a market logic of appealing to a diverse player base, you need to address the stereotypes of gaming itself, as a medium. We need to realise that gaming itself is an everyday activity for many people, and that new technologies like VR are interesting, sure, but don’t make their users into zoo exhibits.

And in this context, this Time cover is not only dumb, insulting, and hopelessly outdated: it’s toxic.

 


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