I’ve been talking a lot about the gaming industry lately but as with most of my greatly enlightened theories and ideas, few are making it to me blog lately.
My first recentish thought about it was along the lines of the general ignorance of the public with regards to what the industry stands for. So many people assume that gaming is still very much an activity for kids or those with more childish mindsets and maturity. Truth is, while there are a lot of games aimed at the younger market, there’s plenty for older demographics. I’d love to see a three year old deal with the complexities of Football Manager. While the game has a low age rating, it doesn’t mean that someone that age will be able to comprehend the game mechanics. It’s rare for kids to even be able to complete something like a film licenced game (Shark Tale/Madagascar/Shrek etc). The truth of the matter is that few young kids have either the mental capacity, attention span or hand-eye co-ordination to really sit down and complete games.
I see the main problem as people not really understanding how game classification works. So many consider age ratings to be difficulty ratings. Fact is, game ratings are moe akin to film classifications. Problem lies with peple being used to seeing BBFC rtings on films whereas games not only have BBFC ratings but also PEGI and ELSPA. While these ratings look different visibly, they are essentially the same thing. I know during my employment of selling licenced products that the punishment for selling a PEGI classified game to a minor was the same as selling a BBFC rated game, despite the latter being the only legally recognised classification at the time. Changes to legislation this year now mean that PEGI ratings are legally recognised. The true question is how the public will react to this change and whether they will actually pay attention to this change in the law. My personal opinion is that they will stay as ignorant as ever.
There is a great deal of passing the buck going on with people commonly assuming that children get their hands on “inappropriate” games due to the sellers being focused on profits rather than checking the age of the buyer. GTA is a prime example of this. I came across an article in Take A Break last month regarding their ‘war’ against the companies that are corrupting the youth of today. Thing is, Rockstar don’t MAKE 18+ games for kids. The responsibility for who plays them lies with the consumer, which is THE PARENTS. Most parents will buy their kids anything they want without considering what they’re actually buying or doing any product research before they part with their cash or say yes. Even when I’ve tried to inform them, most of the time they didn’t care. One woman with a 5 year old wanted to buy GTA:San Andreas for her kid. As she initially sent the kid up to the counter with the money, I naturally refused the sale. She came over herself and asked why I refused the sale. I pointed out that the game was an 18 rating and I didn’t want to lose my job by selling to a minor. I went into detail about the content of the game, explaining there’s extreme violence, drug references, explicit sex scenes… Despite all this, she still felt that this game was fine for her five year old.
I’ll be honest, I fucking love San Andreas and believe it’s a gaming masterpiece although not as classic as Vice City (which never gets old because of the 80s soundtrack as you’re mowing down hundreds of Cubans), so I can’t completely judge her for wanting to buy a game that got rave reviews, but buying it for a five year old?! I REALLY don’t see that as a smart parenting move. Although Croydon is full of pimps and hos and the game would have been a valuable tool for preparing life skills, there’s somethings that a five year old doesn’t need to see, such as a tall black guy in a pimp suit beating up old ladies with a giant purple dildo. Mind you… could happen in Croydon…
So yeah, my point is that parents rarely restrict their kids with what they want or actually pay attention to what they’re interested in. The fault lies with the parents and they simply want to pass on responsibility to anyone other than themselves.
I worked during one of the biggest gaming related incidents; the Manhunt killing. It was amazing how the media was so quick to point the finger at the retailers for being irresponsible in selling to underage kids. As I recall, the boy in question had had the game bought for him. Fact is, when you know you could lose your job, go to prison as well as getting a hefty £5k fine, you tend to value your job as more important than giving in to a stroppy kid or selling to someone who doesn’t quite look old enough. Few people would want to go to prision as a result of retail, unless it involves blowing the place up and taking as many people with you as possible. Sometimes I’m honestly shocked that this hasn’t happened. In any case, as a counter jockey you perceive your job as more important than an acned thirteen year old’s desire to asphyxiate some butch guy with a sandwich bag.
When the fault lies with the irresponsible parents of a child’s friend, it’s again easier to point the finger at the nameless people behind the counter than to believe that someone you know is at fault. What Take A Break readers and general populace forget is that today’s adult gamers are by no means kids trying to stay young. At the current age of 24, I can proudly state that I’ve been gaming for 18 years, starting at the age of 6 with my Mega Drive. I know quite a few people my age who are of the same frame of mind. Some may have been consistent gamers, sme may have started up again after a break of many years, some may have been introduced through a gaming friend. Fact is that games are getting to be just as popular as DVDs with certain age groups for entertainment. The female market is quite difficult to break into as even if a virtual shopping game came out, I doubt the majority of females could be persuaded to swap their compacts for controllers.
Gaming for some females will forever be seen on the same terms as say, football. Few woment have a genuine and prolonged interest in football. Even those who claim the opposite have any in depth knowledge. Again, there are some exceptions. Female gamers are the same. They generally assume that FIFA or any largely promoted game is good. This sadly includes most of EA’s repertoire. A true female gamer will know her genres, accurately name titles that fall into these, give at least ten full names of game protagonists (not including Sonic and Mario), will have owned more than three consoles in her life and will be able to accurately give synopses of at least 5 games as well as identifying the difference between a developer and a publisher. But again, there’s the of too familiar female desire to impress by feigning interest to curry favour. This is why Topshop mannequin tarts will deign to turn up at a football stadium if you happen to mention that you’re a supporter and they want to bang you enough. I’ve personally never understood it.
Female gamers are often perceived as ‘cool girls’ who play things like Dancing Stage or other games deemed ‘suitable’ for women to play. For me, the real proof of a true female gamer is experience of multiple genres. I’ve played MMORPGs, FPSes, TPSes, Strategy, Sports sim, Driving, RPGs, Survival Horrors and Beat Em Ups. The Sims is fun while you mock torture your work colleagues or the guy who eyes you up at the bus stop every morning, but other than sadistic reasons, there’s very little to keep you going in terms of actual gameplay. You get to a point where you realise that you could have actually have DONE this stuff in real life and achieved something. There’s only so long you can spend virtually cleaning before you realise there’s a mounting pile of it in the sink that actually needs dealing with. There’s very little realistic correlation between The Sims and real life. Correct me when the Economic Recession and Political Revolution expansions come out.
With so few knoeldgeable females around, the general ignorance of the gaming industry will carry on, meaning that the gaming industry is stuck with it’s current image until through enough generations, enough females are clued up enough about games, or until a game is brought out to appeal to enough females to mean that they take an interest in ‘proper’ games.
In all fairness, there are the games. While the Buffy games were pretty poor mechanically, it was still something that could have been really appealing to the female market. The same could be said of the Charlie’s Angels game, Bloodrayne or pretty much any film licence that appealed to the female market.
While films have been around for so many years, games are relatively new in a widespread way. Certain recent trends that involve popularity spikes in gaming include Space Invaders, Sonic, Dancing Stage and the Wii.
A lot of peple slate the Wii off and I’m usually somewhere near the head of the queue to do so, but I will concede that it has done a large part in encouraging casual gamers. I personally detest casual gamers, although admittedly they can be educated and converted much easily than a complete non-gamer. They at least own a console which is half the battle won. Where I usually go from here is suggesting a variety of games that correspond to their other hobby choices and film likes, then judge from there what would suit them the most. In time they can be introduced to retro greats such as Perfect Dark, Goldeneye or Final Fantasy VII, and in time their attitudes change. Sadly this method takes a lot of time and effort, which means that a more effcient way needs to be found.
The future of gaming, I assume, will be pretty secure. People are more responsive to multimedia entertainment now. With the increase in internet useage, there is also an increase in the amount of people accessing one source for multiple services. The PS3 is an excellent example of one box to play music, view photos, browse the internet, chat and socialise, shop, watch films, watch TV shows AND play games. The only things lacking are intergration with other services such as MSN (Xbox 360 does this already), Facebook (could be done through browser), Skype, ability to take and edit pictures/record and edit videos, receive live TV/radio. Microsoft seem to be taking quite a few steps in those directions already.
It’s my honest opinion that with enough of this sort of integration, viewpoints will relax to the point where gaming is accepted as a mainstream activity as much as watching films and listening to music. My only fear is where the game market will go as a result. There’s a danger that games will become too simplistic (along the whole Wii Sports road) and alienate the loyal, veteran gamers at the expense of encouraging more casual gamers. Many people feel this is already the case with Nintendo and their almost constant promotion of the Wii as an electronic home gym. A lot of people have realised that the standard of the games has decreased a lot in the current generation, and I would say for the most part this is true. It’s hard to not look at the pre-owned PS2 section in Game without a somewhat misty-eyed gaze.
The current console generation still has plenty of life left in it yet and I’m fully expecting some good to come out of it, providing the companies don’t lose sight of the people who bought their consoles and games, putting them where they are now.