The Videogame Comparison
By Stacey Knowles

“Fantasy needs realism and this was all video game without consequences or meaning.”
- Garth Nix (author) via Twitter, January 2012, on The Hobbit movie

Why did this respected and widely-read - at least within his target demographic - author reach for videogames as a benchmark for his view of an opportunity lost by Peter Jackson et al with The Hobbit movie? Semantics and syntax aside, the clear inference in his tweet is that videogames are devoid of consequence or meaning - and that sets alarm bells ringing as a thousand voices clamour in my head, all screaming “But what about...!”

I don’t know Mr Nix, I don’t know if he plays games or not, and I don’t wish to point the finger and say, “This is the man who belittles our hobby! Destroy him!” I don’t wish to single out this single analogy, either; we all reach for comparators to prove our point, however vague or incomplete our knowledge might be, and make clumsy generalisations. And this is never more so than on Twitter, when our freedom to express is only ever free within the confines of a 140-character prison.

But this wasn’t just a single analogy. In the mainstream media games, gaming, and those who play games are all too often dismissed as being without merit; suggestions are made that we should put down our controllers for good and do something else.

People who play games do so for many reasons, and as inconsequential as this hobby might seem to the outsider, to brand games as inconsequential only serves to reinforce the commonly held view that games themselves have less worth than other pastimes. One could argue - and with some vigour - that teen fantasy novels have little literary worth. But should one simply say that reading, as an activity for enjoyment, is without meaning? Let me just pop along to my local library and ask that question.

Unfortunately, playing games is still viewed by the mainstream as the activity of choice for the loner, the geek, the socially inept and - in the view of the Daily Mail - the sociopath. When even those in the industry face some level of bewilderment when conversing with those on the outside, the mere consumer has an even more difficult cross to bear with the stigma attached to gaming. How many job seekers have “video games” on their CVs under Interests? Or on their online dating profile? How many times are we told that games are for kids?

Maybe you read books, watch movies, play sport, and play games too. Congratulations, in the wide, wide world, you’re a well rounded human being... apart from that game thing. But I suppose everyone has a guilty pleasure. But maybe playing games is your major hobby, or your only one. Is that necessarily any worse than someone who passes the time with their nose pressed firmly into a book?

Games can delight our imagination, twist our perceptions, teach, inform, scandalize, and toy with our emotions at least as effectively as art, cinema or literature. Some would argue that the interaction in games actually allows all this to happen more deeply, and over a longer period. Games - far from excluding someone socially - are often always better played together, and a rich, diverse and, regrettably, sometimes shameful community has grown up around this wonderful hobby.

Games are still new; let’s remember that. Video games are still in their infancy, yet growing up rapidly, thanks to ever-better writing and ever more talented writers joining the industry. We can help our industry grow, too, and gain acceptance and recognition in the wider arena. This is important. This is necessary. If something has no room to grow, it will wither and die. We cannot survive indefinitely alone in our cave. The gene pool is just too shallow.

So, silly rabbit, games are most definitely not just for kids. We - those of us who play games and those of us who make a living from them - know that. And I’m sorry if this upsets some of us, but we do really need the non-gaming world to see that games have consequences and meaning and are worthy of wider exposure. This will bring new and fresh talent, free from the stigma of the past.

If we are the ones who like our hobby to be a secret, private walled garden in which we are lords and masters and those outside the wall are naught but muggles, then we are the ones that hurt our hobby. We are the ones making it socially unacceptable, and we are the ones who are hurting all those who play.

Let’s create the space our industry needs by being proud of what we do, and challenging - in socially acceptable and polite ways, of course - those who have preconceived ideas about the worth of our hobby. Let’s create this space through great journalism, through promoting games and gaming whenever we can, and by not being ashamed to say, “I play games. Let’s play together.”

15 January 2013

Originally published circa January 2013