The normalisation of video gaming

Today, I'm going to back up my hypothesis on the existence of a growing video game culture crunching some numbers that show how the act of video gaming is becoming a normalised activity.

One of the most notable indications that hints there is more than an incipient video game culture is the increasing numbers of people playing video games. It seems that more and more individuals, of different backgrounds, ages and gender, are becoming players (or at least have played once in their lives). Two examples of groups of population that are not usually linked to the generalised representations of video gamers can help me to introduce the debate.

In the first one, Egenfeldt-Nielsen et al. consider that the number of 'people who have never played a video game, from first graders to retirees, seem to be inexorably dwindling' (2008: 134). They illustrate their affirmation with a New York Times article in which the author (Schiesel, 2007) explains how video games are being regularly played in compounds for retirees. A generation of people who did not grow up in a world where video games existed - not at least as a cultural relevant phenomenon - is entering in the dynamic of playing video games.

The second example emphasises the fact that women play more video games than men. Historically, research done in the 1980s and 1990s have suggested that women have been marginalised as video gamers (Crawford, 2012: 53), but in the last years it seems to have changed dramatically. The Guardian published the main findings of the research conducted by the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) in the UK (Stuart, 2014), where they assert that women account for the 52% of gamers.

These two snapshots of how more people are playing video games regardless of their demographics, convey the idea that video gaming is not a subculture anymore and has become mainstream culture. 

This growing tendency of video game culture sneaking into Western society households seems to be confirmed by more recent surveys. According to the Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry report of 2014 produced by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the most important video game industry association in the United States, the 59% of Americans play video games. In their report they also state that the 51% of American households own a dedicated game console. Other data of interest shows that the average game player is 31 years old, 48% of gamers are women, 39% of video gamers are over the age of 35 and female gamers of the age 50 and older have increased by a 32% from 2012 to 2013.

If we turn now to the data gathered by the UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie), the principal video game industry association in the UK, it shows similar figures for the British households. In their UK Video Games Fact Sheet of 2014, which draws on various research reports from different sources, Ukie estimates that 55% of the United Kingdom population plays video games. Depending on the source cited, the distribution of male players and female players in the UK varies between 55% males-45% females and 48% males-52% females.

All the data points to the same facts: around half of people in Western countries play video games, the number of women who play games is almost the same as men, and even those who were not socialised in a video game culture have started to play video games. That would be the general portrait of video gamers, which quantitatively corroborates the hypothesis of an existing and growing video game culture. 

However, the brush strokes are so vaguely defined that there is still a great deal of detail missed in that data. Not only do they tend to miss information about who plays what video game on what device - although in fairness some of the reports provide partial data on those issues, but there is also a lack of elaboration on critical aspects of their research. For instance, they define a video gamer as someone who has just played at least once in the last year or in the last six months. This approach quickly overlooks what the implications of that assumption in terms of identity and community construction are. This will be a topic which I will come back to in the future, because it directly affects the controversy about what a video gamer is and who belongs to the community of gamers.

In any case, those are not the only concerns that can be raised against this data. The fact that the ‘original sources are often poorly referenced’ (Crawford, 2012: 51) and that they seem to mix the information from different reports without taking into account the methodological differences between them does not help to figure out how to weight their importance and reliability. Being representatives of the video game industry, these organisations are expected to ‘convey a very particular image of video gaming as normal, social and healthy pursuit’ (Crawford, 2012: 51). In contrast, it can be argued that these organisations seek to accurately represent video gamers because they want to provide the best information for marketing reasons.

Even if the information selected is biased to stress the most spectacular figures in order to give a certain impression of the product they are trying to sell, it is still a valid information that tells us how video game culture has burst into our contemporary societies. Whether this is caused by the rise of new kinds of video games and platforms (the so called casual games, to be played on browsers, consoles like Nintendo Wii or Ouya, mobile phones and tablets) as it has been suggested by authors like Jesper Juul (2010) or by any other factors, the fact is the normalisation of video games and video gaming in our society is now an unavoidable reality:
Video games are becoming normal (...). The rise of casual games is the end of that small historical anomaly of the 1980s and 1990s when video games were played only by only a small part of the population (Juul, 2010: 20).
This is what Juul considers a casual revolution among the world of video games, which in the last years have reached - and keep reaching - a broader audience. The definitions of hardcore gamers and casual gamers will be deal with in other blog entries in order to explain how identities of video gamers are constructed, but it is important to recognise that the expansion of the universe of video games and video gamers is fundamental to understanding the constitution of video game culture: ‘Video games are fast becoming games for everyone’ (Juul, 2010: 152). And if video games are for everyone, that means they are an essential part of our society and not just a subset of it: 
Certainly some gamers do seem to belong to a culture distinct from mainstream society. The term subculture, however, is too limited to adequately explain the broader world of games and game players that currently exists (Consalvo, 2007: 3).
All in all, the emergence and consolidation of video game culture in contemporary societies may be best reflected, though not solely, by the inexorable growth of different people playing video games regardless of their age, gender or social status. It is one of the most notable characteristics of this video game culture and is an important evidence of its normalisation in today’s world.



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