At Tied the Leader, we have invested untold amounts of energy in raising the profile of the gamer. The naysayers of our pastime would describe us as unwashed shut-ins who are one experience point away from being brainwashed into perpetrating a murderous shopping mall rampage on the innocent masses. We have heard those paranoid accusations too many times, made by under-informed pundits during a slow news cycle. They need not be linked here.
The Gunslingers know better, having broken down the barriers of the game to meet one another in real life on many occasions. Gaming has enriched our lives without compromising it. We resist the stereotypes that would have people feeling sorry for us – or even worse, fearing us.
Recently, we gained an ally in that fight. A Gunslinger by the tag of Chae Si passed along a refreshing analysis sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, conducted by the Pew Internet American Life Project. You should check out. The operating theory is that gaming is an interactive experience that can expose eager young minds to the ills of the world. This meditation inspires them to altruism as compassionate citizens who end up making a civic or charitable impact on their society.
The study focuses on younger gamers – teenagers between 12 and 17 years, to be exact. In compiling their data, they interviewed 1,102 of them. Here are their most interesting findings:
97% of American teens ages 12-17 play some kind of video game.
Those statistics are staggering. Essentially, the next generation of Americans is a generation of gamers. All of them. People like your friendly neighborhood gamerblogger grew up alongside video games. Not everyone understood, or even appreciated, that passion. The people who will nail shut his coffin were born into a world where everyone is a gamer. Every single one of them – weighing in at 97% of the new society.
76% play games with others at least some of the time.
Of that controller-wielding populace, more than three quarters are travelers in the realms of multiplayer. This gamer can remember when multiplayer denizens were the 1%ers – the Hell’s Angels of gaming. This is why the really old gamers never complain about lag. In the playing of now-ancient games, they’ve seen far worse lag than a Halo National will ever find in a Big Team Battle. By the same logic, the very first Olympians didn’t worry about losing their shoe deal in doping scandals. No dope. No shoes.
Before Bungie made “Matchmaking” a household name, playing a game against a live-target [over the Internet, or in a live setting] was a bug-ridden novelty. There was a time when LAN Parties were a signpost of the uber-geek. It was an exotic undertaking of which few were capable. Now, they are more common than poker night, it would seem. What are the odds that 76% of junior high school students know the value of a Royal Flush?
76% of youth report helping others while gaming.
Beyond the sheer scope of those statistics, the social implications are even more interesting. Within the tactical scenarios that are present in a multiplayer game comes a demand for teamwork. We can only assume that is what the proctors of this study meant by “helping others while gaming”. In cooperating towards a common goal [i.e. capturing a flag, manning a Warthog team, ranking up to General in something other than Lone Wolves], a sensibility can emerge that helps to shape a gamer into a responsible citizen. Didn’t our gym teachers stress the importance of team sports for the very same reason?
44% play games where they learn about a problem in society.
Many games deliver their own parable:
+ Grand Theft Auto IV carries within its missions a lesson in the deficit of honor inherent to a bid for revenge.
+ Call of Duty 4 depicts a terrifying outcome for unregulated nuclear proliferation on the global stage.
+ Halo 3 paints a stark portrait of holy war brought forth by a theocratic tyranny leading an army of zealots on a mission of genocide.
+ Knights of the Old Republic allowed each Jedi to choose their own path – and once they took their first step towards the dark side, forever would it dominate their destiny.
+ Rock Band… uhmm. Well… Ah, screw it! Rock Band is a waste of your time. Sell that shit on ebay. Sign up for guitar lessons if you want to learn something about your world.
[Disclaimer: this opinion may stem from the fact that I couldn’t get the Chilli Peppers out of my head for two weeks following ChicagoLANd 3]
Beyond any given campaign, the multiplayer application for a game provides a chance to [as the study said] “learn about a problem in society”. Tied the Leader has presided over these problems until we were blue in the faceplate. Racism. Sexism. Homophobia. Honor. Respect. On Xbox Live, the hits keep coming. While it is painfully obvious that the average gamer tends to choose the low road on the Tsavo Highway, it cannot be denied that they are given a choice to be who they want to be…
52% play games where they think about moral and ethical issues.
The most intriguing aspect of this study is the suggestion that gaming can lead to the contemplation of morals and ethics. Think that’s a stretch? It shouldn’t be. While the analysis in the article seems to allude primarily to games like Sim City, there are elements of this study that speak to any gamer – including the citizens of the Halo Nation.
Like any good story, a game that captures our imagination relies on conflict. Good Guys versus Bad Guys, most typically. When conflict is present, any thinking individual is forced to ponder which side for which they fight, making a conscious choice about the identity of the Good Guys. Thus, games require the player to make decisions, be they moral, tactical, or social.
The point is that gaming is an undertaking that engages its audience and stimulates their problem solving intelligence. The mind of a gamer does not atrophy in the playing of these games. We do not become soulless zombies through our investment in this pastime. Such a suggestion would be more appropriate for teenagers who experience victory only vicariously through the accomplishments of some drug-addled sports figure, in which case the only decision they make is whether or not they are influenced by the barrage of advertising for products they don’t need. Yet, there are never any pundits that decry the ills inherent in the amount time our children spend watching professional sports.
Gamers are active participants in their entertainment. They are confronted with decisions that will speak volumes about their identity in this world. While it might be naïve to hope that this experience will shape a gamer into a constructive member of their society, it certainly is refreshing to see someone exhibit an understanding for the potential for virtue among us alleged freak-show geeks and house-bound losers.