Getting older has many downsides. One is that I have accrued so many pet hates, that I now need a zoo to accommodate them all. But taking pride of place in the centre of my hate zoo (which, by the way, is not a nice place to visit) is the predictable, condescending response I get when I reveal my passion for gaming.
‘When are you going to grow up and get a real hobby?’
It’s not always worded precisely that way, but you get the gist. And if you’re a gamer over, let’s say 25, chances are you’ve dealt with some variation of it (perhaps it starts earlier, but my memory ain’t what it used to be). The presumption that gaming is a hobby, or a pastime, exclusively for little kids is pretty widespread. Just a little bit of analysis shows how wrong that perception is.
First, the revenue angle. In fiscal year 2018 (which ended in the USA on June 30, 2018), Microsoft alone reported earnings of $10 Billion. That’s billion, with a capital B. And that’s Microsoft, whom we are led to believe have spent this console generation gazing wistfully at how well Sony are doing. Which, it must be said, is very nice indeed. Sony’s PS4 store generated $12.5 Billion in the 2018 financial year. For clarity, that’s the PSN store. Alone. Not consoles, not peripherals, not disk based sales. Just PSN. It speaks volumes that Microsoft’s $10 Billion suddenly looks tawdry by comparison.
So, someone is spending lots of cash on games, and I’m willing to bet it isn’t the surly wee sod who steals my daughter’s Play-Doh at nursery. Who has cash to spend? Adults. With jobs. And it seems they’re choosing to spend their spare cash on video games. Some of those are most definitely parents making purchases for their kids, but not necessarily just for their kids. Thanks to Game Sharing on Xbox, my digital library syncs nicely with my daughters. Did I buy Stardew Valley for her? Yup. Did I do so full in the knowledge that I would play it more than her? Also, yup.
But it’s not just about the revenue. Microsoft have internally crunched the numbers on millions of Xbox Live users, and thanks to some sterling work from Windows Central, we got a peek behind the curtain. They found the majority of Xbox Gamers were in the 25-34 age group, and over half were co-habiting with a spouse or partner. Therefore, and I’ll gleefully labour the point here, games are not just played by kids.
So if a little bit of analysis from a tired hack like me can easily debunk the myth that gaming is for juniors only, why does the notion persist? Perhaps it’s the half assed contribution of the mainstream media. Gaming, despite the enormous revenues we’ve discussed, is a million miles away from being featured regularly on TV (except when some absurd politician tries to link it to violence, but let’s save that rant for another day). Every other form of popular entertainment is afforded a certain legitimacy that gaming isn’t. There have been some decent attempts; I grew up with GamesMaster, but it was no Inside the Actor’s Studio. Video Gaiden was great, for anyone who enjoyed watching graveyard shift TV. Executives in TV and print media give much more respect to other, perhaps more established, forms of mass entertainment.
Tell someone your passion is cinema or literature and speak knowledgably about them, and you’ll earn a certain gravitas. But they’re just make believe too, are they not? People pretending to be other people, ideas clumped together on a page to be consumed passively by a receptive audience willing to suspend reality in the pursuit of entertainment. I love them both, but they’re no more grandiose than Red Dead Redemption, The Last of Us or (suppresses sob) the finale of Halo 3. And at least our choices are interactive. We earn those finales, with gnarled thumbs and Dorito stained t-shirts, by God we earn them.
The same dismissive attitude we receive as grown up gamers could easily be applied to every other form of mainstream entertainment. But it isn’t. In cinema, theatre, novels and so on – a lifetime of dedication is rewarded with connoisseur status. As gamers, we are assumed to be somehow trapped in our adolescence, playing Xbox only until we are ready to focus on another, more socially acceptable form of make believe.
So how does the dynamic change? Well, at the risk of contradicting myself, perhaps we should stop looking for TV executives to cover gaming. TV as a medium is dying anyway, at least in the form we grew up with. Mixer and Twitch are where gamers go to see games being played, and the internet is replete with more gaming websites than I could list here (this is the best one though, don’t look at the others). The dinosaur generation of politicians to whom gaming is a niche pursuit for geeks is dying out, and will be replaced with a new generation who grew up with a console in their bedroom. They’ll still be idiots, but they’ll at least have a gamertag.
If we want the hobby we’re so passionate about to be taken seriously, perhaps we should stop looking elsewhere for validation. The art form speaks for itself and there are literally millions of us all over the planet playing, streaming, talking and writing about it every day. Whether the non-gaming world accepts it or not, we’re part of the most diverse, progressive, exciting entertainment medium in the world today. Nothing moves faster, innovates more, or (arguably) makes more money.
In short, I’m not getting old, the cliché is. Gaming is for everyone, regardless of how many candles are on their cake. As I get older, my leisure time is becoming more important to me. I intend to spend a huge chunk of it on Xbox; I hope you’ll jump in with me, regardless of my age, or yours.