Videogames and Sociology: Twitter's pic of the day summary (41-45)

This is the ninth round of Pic of the day RECAP (41-45). To understand what all of this is about, check out the original entry.

41 - Max Payne 3:  There was always something rotten in the air
In one of the most wonderfully unsettling scenes in the history of TV series, an aged agent Cooper sits in the centre of the Red Room accompanied by The Man from Another Place (a dwarf in a red suit) and a ghostly Laura Palmer. Actually, it's not the most unnerving sequence of Twin Peaks, but in that weird dream-like state takes place a very chilling short conversation: "Where we're from, the birds sing a pretty song and there's always music in the air". Is this a metaphor of the fact that Laura Palmer lies in her grave? Are the birds the ones singing in the cemetery? Is the music in the air the cracking sound of the casket slowly collapsing under the weight of soil? When an also aged Max Payne pronounced those similar words, "there is always something rotten in the air", everything became crystalline. "Of course," I thought, "there are always music and something rotten in the air because we all are living in our own grave". And that grave is society.

42 - Moebius: Empire Rising:  What exactly is my destiny?

Destiny is about the future. What will I be doing? With whom?  Where? In sum, who I will be? Destiny is fate, ergo, it belongs to the realm of what remains uncertain. And uncertainty is a powerful emotion. It makes us anxious, restless, frightened. That's the reason why we keep asking the question to ourselves, even if we do it out loud in front of one of our peers. The question is aimed at us and we already know we can't answer it. But we keep trying, in the fond hope that its reverberation echoes through our daily life anxieties and helps us to overcome the deep feel of uncertainty that once was shallow but now is almost unbearable. What has this to do with sociology? Almost everything. A sociologist is, among other things but mainly, a tracker of destinies. The problem is we are better tracking actors' past and present destinies than the future ones. The real destinies are for fortune-tellers, prophets, groundhogs, meteorologists, peasants and, sometimes, for deputy directors and ministers for pensions.   

43 - Arma III:  Keep landing zone clear at all times

There are several reasons why we should keep a landing zone clear at all times. The main reason, though, seems to be pretty obvious: to avoid uncomfortable encounters between aircraft and whatever might be on the landing zone. However, the command falls into a paradox. If the landing zone must be clear at all times, how are aeroplanes and helicopters supposed to land on the designated area? In case they touched down, they would be occupying the landing zone and, here's the paradox, it wouldn't be clear anymore. Therefore, the landing zone is both a physical space where aircraft land and a symbolic one where there is the possibility of aircraft landing. When an actual plane lands, it uses the physical space, fulfilling (and destroying temporarily) the potentiality of the symbolic space. The social is quite similar, physical and symbolic at the same time, and full of paradoxes that sustain the fundamental fabric of what we call society, identity, meaning or individuality. Hence, keep the ground of the social clear at all times but don't forget to always occupy it as well.

44 - Catachresis: If only you were not under that veil

If only you were not under that veil. If only you were not so far away. In only you were not underground. If only you were not on the other side. If only you were not occupied. If only you were not afraid. If only you were not married. If only you were not a policeman. If only you were not dead. If only you were not saying if only at all times. All these are wishes that yearn for a particular reality to be different. They all have in common that are enunciated using a negative structure, wishing that things were not as they are right now. This reminds me of all those sociologists who are always projecting their wishes over reality, trying to get rid of those aspects they interpret as being a nuisance for their work. The most common metaphor used is that of the veil. These sociologists insist on unveiling what is behind the mask, erasing the layer that distorts the truth hidden by reality. It is surprising how these scholars haven't found yet that there is nothing beneath the veil; that reality is wide open and available to whomever wants to have a look.

45 - Injustice: God Among Us:  But Let's think bigger
There is a global tendency in the circles of self-help gurus that encourage us to think always bigger. We live our meaningless and aimless lives without knowing that we could (and should) think bigger. Escape from one of Weber's worst fears, the iron cage in which we are confined nowadays. It might not be the Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare that he envisaged in his The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (2003), too far to foresee the havoc created by financial capitalism and its neoliberal political rationalities, but it is still a symbolic prison, in the end, the worst kind of jail for an individual. Then, we think bigger, but after doing so, we are still inside the cage. What did we do wrong? Well, just focusing on the bigger picture is not enough. Sometimes it's good to think bigger; we must know the things that surround us can only be explained by other things that are somewhere else both in space and time. However, we should also think smaller: the iron cage exit is not beyond its bars, it's closer than we think, in the details. Those details that explain and make possible those big ideas. Once you master how to think bigger and smaller at the same time, only then, you will be free.

Previous entries:

The normalisation of video gaming

Edited June 2019: as the 2014 ESA report has been removed from their website, I included the closest report available (2015) and changed the data accordingly. Thanks to Anna Gryshko for making me aware of this.

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 2015 produced by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the most important video game industry association in the United States, the 42% 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 35 years old, 44% of gamers are women, and 44% of video gamers are over the age of 35.

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.