Kotaku vs Gizmodo: Is Gaming Truly Mainstream?

Kotaku vs Gizmodo: Is Gaming Truly Mainstream?

Games are becoming more mainstream – apparently. But if that’s the case, why does mainstream media continue to take potshots at gaming as a medium? We hook up with our counterpart Alex Kidman from Gizmodo to discuss.

MARK: Alright Alex – here’s where my flabby jet-lagged brain is at. Yesterday I was watching Sunrise, which featured a segment on that old chestnut: video game violence. It was exactly the kind of segment you’d expect – two experts on either side duking it out. Who wins? You decide. For some reason I had a bit of an epiphany – singling out the medium of video games for this kind of treatment is completely indicative of the fact that video games are nowhere near a mainstream thing. For all the posturing of publishers and platform holders, we’re still at the tail end of games being the main target of the moral panic.

ALEX: Well, your first mistake there was taking what Sunrise says seriously, but I’ll let that pass on the grounds of jetlag. I can’t say I saw the segment, but the thought strikes me that perhaps Sunrise is aiming a little older than its ideal audience. Gaming — at least casual gaming and a handful of particular series titles — is a mainstream activity — but it makes for some easy television for an older-skewing audience to decry the violence in videogames no matter what. It’s an old and well-hashed tale, after all.

I think there’s a pretty obvious distinction here, though, between folks who’d identify themselves as gamers — that’d be both of us — and folks who play games. Sitting next to me as I type this is a wall of around 600 odd games (I’m either a terrible hoarder or I hate the stupid prices offered at trade-in; take your pick). That’s not mainstream. But on every single train, plane and bus trip I’ve taken over the past few months, I’ve spotted folks playing games, be they on a smartphone or DS or what have you. That’s a huge audience, and as I say, I reckon Sunrise may have underestimated its wider audience in favour of a niche viewpoint.

MARK: You make some interesting points, especially with regards to the distinction between those who identify as gamers and those who simply play games. My argument is that in a world where video games were truly mainstream that distinction would barely exist, or at the very least be a minimal one.

We exist in a world where video games are almost ubiquitous, yet there are still huge groups of people who are ignorant of their purpose, and continue to make senseless assaults on gaming despite the fact they most likely play them in some shape or form.
Take Hip Hop, for example, a previously niche art form which has almost completely crossed over to the mainstream. The US President is a fan of Hip Hop and you have a whole generation of folks who have grown up with that music – to the extent that the moral panic surrounding that music has all but evaporated. For some reason that still hasn’t happened in the video game sphere. We still have these discussions, they still get traction in mainstream media.

As a culture we still haven’t accepted video games.

ALEX: Hip Hop’s a good example of why this kind of moral panic story still gets traction though, and that’s because while I do think gaming is mainstream on the whole, it’s still also something about which a particular segment of the population is passionate about. In Hip Hop’s case, that makes it easy for a moral panic around the supposed lifestyle choices of Hip Hop stars. 50 Cent’s a good example; I know very little about him (aside from the fact that the games were rubbish), but even I know that he’s at least partly famous for surviving being shot at quite a bit. That thing sounds outrageous, so it makes for an easy story.

In gaming’s case, it’s the fact that while the gaming itself is mainstream, it’s still very popular amongst children, and that image sticks. As an example, a week ago I gave a talk at a nearby public school to a group of year 3-6 kids about Journalism in general. They sat in a school hall, mostly looking bored at what I had to say, until it was asked what I write about, and that includes a very small proportion of games writing. As soon as games were mentioned, they lit up, and questions flew thick and fast. What did I know about the Xbox 720? (Nothing). Did I play Minecraft (Yes). Did I hack Minecraft (No.) Would I share my Minecraft world with them (No.) And so on and so forth until I said “No more Minecraft questions!”. At which point the questions shifted to Call Of Duty: Black Ops.

That gave me pause for thought; some of these kids are under ten years old, after all, and I wouldn’t let my own kids play Black Ops. But they’re passionate about it and they’ve got a lot more free time than I do as an adult. That makes them a point of concern for the broader populace when it comes to gaming, and that’s why this kind of story still gets to run. It’s not a sign of gaming not being mainstream per se; it’s more to do with a “won’t somebody think of the children” attitude.

MARK: Again – you make another good point! My theory was that gaming’s current position as whipping boy for the moral panic brigade was evidence of the fact that gaming wasn’t truly mainstream, but I guess it is possible that the two can co-exist somehow.

Part of it is most likely due to the fact that gaming as a medium is so broadly splintered – into genres, formats, casual, core, etc. The fact that the definition of what a game is is so difficult to pin down may account for the fact that while most folks are technically gamers, they still lack a broad understanding of the broad spectrum of what gaming is. That accounts for the moral panic that continues to rear its ugly head each and every time gaming is covered in the mainstream media.

Are games mainstream? Or do they continue to hover around the periphery? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.


  • because mainstream media is owned by people who want you to work 9-5 to make them money instead of sitting at home playing games

    • 9 to 5 would be a blessing for some people.

      It also makes great easy fodder for lazy journos to stir up public opinion – baseless opinion but opinion nonetheless.

  • There are levels of gaming that are maintstream – mobile games, DS etc – which do not get attacked. Only thing I ever saw about angry birds was how much of a phenomenon it was.

    But the more “serious” games, like FPS and MMOs, while popular, are probably not so mainstream. I get this feelings its more about people being a lot more… “passionate”… about these games. They often do come across as games for a more serious rather than casual player.

  • “it makes for some easy television for an older-skewing audience to decry the violence in videogames no matter what. It’s an old and well-hashed tale, after all.”


    In a sense I don’t think even the producers at Sunrise et al would believe their own stories – they’d have kids, and buy games for those kids, and weigh up those games like most other parents in terms of their violence, without reference to absurd fearmongering.

    But it makes great scaremongering TV for people of a certain demographic, unfamiliar with video games. Ultimately tabloid news has to scare people in order to get them to watch it; it always has and it always will. In that sense I agree with Alex that the producers are targeting a niche viewpoint – they’re stirring up a question purely for the sake of it.

    In terms of gaming becoming mainstream, it’s a bit of a perennial argument. The media, at least, still tends to approach gaming stories from a ‘niche news’ standpoint. For just one example: Tom Bissell, writing for the respectable US New Yorker magazine, had to basically spend the first quarter of his article on Jennifer Hale defining gaming terms for his audience. Newspapers and TV news shows include a few gaming stories a year, focusing only on blockbuster AAA hits complete with lines of 15-30 year old males dressed up as their favourite character.

    There’s a disjointedness between a prevailing [i]perception[/i] of video games and people who play them – especially in the media – and the reality of the situation, and I think it’s all too easy (and profitable for tabloids) to keep up this false assumption.

    It means games don’t need to be taken seriously as art, for example – if they’re merely the purview of children, there’s no need to regard them as anything more than playthings or mindless entertainment. The capacity to offer something deeper is ignored.

  • I would say that for most of the population that is aged 25 years and up, gaming is still very much at the periphery. While a few of my friends at my age play games, not many of them do. Further to this, I work in the arts, and in that sphere, basically no one plays games (and I include the staff of ACMI in that assessment). But like Alex points out, for the most recent generation of kids, games are ubiquitous. Little kids don’t identify as gamers/non gamers, they just play the games that they like to play.

    But ultimately, I think games are, for most intents and purposes, effectively mainstream. Considering they generate larger revenues than any other entertainment property, I think it is more the culture of gaming that is non-mainstream. For most Australians, games are kids toys, or things stereotypical basement dwelling nerds play.

    The thing to note though, is that despite gaming’s rich history, it’s culture is still very much in it’s infancy when you compare it to things like music and film. One would hope that the public’s view of gaming will evolve and mature with the medium itself. And let’s be real, Black Ops is hardly mature.

  • there are plenty of things that are mainstream that are still attacked in the media. what’s the problem here?

    Although the word “gaming” itself tends towards something that is done for enjoyment and is seen as inherently trivial in the overall scheme of things. The cultural opinion of the word is part of the problem.

    It is no more pointless than any other activity done for enjoyment, such as creating art or listening to music.

  • Sunrise is targeted at the generation that didn’t grow up playing games, so it’s seen as something alien that the young’uns do.

    Gaming is mainstream within Generation Y, where it’s just accepted that everyone plays some video game of some form at some point in time. Once you deal with the older generations, you’re more likely to run into people who simply never became interested.

    I imagine there was similar divide with the release of the television, where older people simply didn’t bother so much because they already had their wireless.

  • I think we see a similar thing with other media – take music, for example. If you listen to the radio, know the words or at least the tune to the most recent Lady Gaga song, you’re “normal”, but if you’ve got a collection of, say, every album Led Zeppelin ever released, in every format (including, I don’t know, cassettes and foreign version), you’re a bit weird.

    We’re still at a stage for most things were having a collection, or obsessing, isn’t mainstream. I think people have accepted gaming as a mainstream pastime, though – the first app my mum downloaded for her phone was Words With Friends.

  • People need to get educated. And I’m actually not referring to the whole “Moral Panic” thing this time. A room full of 10-year-olds wanting to talk about CoD? That’s not right.
    Parents: It’s rated M15+. For a reason. It means 10-year-olds aren’t supposed to play it.
    No wonder people keep piping up about the whole children-and-violent-videogames debate… The answer’s surprisingly simple: Take responsibility and don’t let your kids play them.

    • Parents? Taking responsibility for their children? When there’s a perfectly good government sitting around to do it for them? What madness! Desist with your heretical hogwash! =O

    • How right you are, i hate it when the media bad mouth games and blame all of the worlds evils on them but if i had a 8 year old son i would not be happy with him playing COD or BF or any other realistic shooter, kids are not adults and the parents need to do some proper parenting and control what their kids do and see at least in their own households. Having kids talk about how cool it is to shoot people is not really cool at all.

    • Exactly. This is what always gets my blood boiling. No blame is ever attached to the parents who buy these games for their children, after all what 10 year old has $100+ for an FPS. You can’t ignore the bright red MA15+ sticker then claim moral outrage.

    • See I dunno.
      On one hand we say games in no way make people violent but we also say that kids should not play some games lest they be influenced by the violence.
      That’s a bit of a contradiction.

      Should a 10 year old be playing Black Ops? Probably not. But I don’t associate what happens in a game with reality and I doubt those kids do either.

      • Not really. Children don’t have the same capacity to distinguish between reality and fantasy that adults do, so something that might warp a childs mind can be harmless for an adult. They also trend to copy behaviours they observe. Look up the Bobo the clown studies.

        • Media studies 101 is to dismiss Bobo as an outdated experiment whose conditions have no real-life application. If you present a child with a completely blank room with ONLY the stimulus available, of course they’re going to interact with it.

    • Blame partly falls on the publisher. Activision KNOWS a huge chunk of their market lies in a demographic that is arguably too young (don’t mean that as a slight against Call of Duty fans) to be playing such violent video games, and they capitalise on it.

  • I think I have to agree with Alex that gaming as a hobby is mainstream. I think, however, that self-identified “gamers” are concerned that gaming will never be mainstream enough for them and this is a throwback to the ‘gamer’ vs ‘non-gamer’ debate.

    I think realistically anyone who plays games as their preferred hobby should be able to consider themselves a ‘gamer’, but the issue is that people who’ve been gamers long term still seperate themselves from the new flock of gamers because we/they have endured the years of crappy non-mainstream gaming, and supported the industry as it grew into what it is.

    I think the old school of gamers are still looking for a day where everyone accepts gaming as their thing and it universally dominates entertainment, so they can turn around and say “Ha! Suck it everyone who dislikes games! We were right and you were wrong!”. That may never happen.

    Just because gaming isn’t THE thing, doesn’t mean it’s not A thing.

    Gaming is mainstream – there’s still a lot of room for growth and development, but I think it’s recognised by most people as a legitimate hobby.

  • I think it’s a matter of people dying (stay with me, it’s not as horrible as you think) The people apposed to gaming, or who are taking potshots at it seem to be in a certain age bracket that didn’t grow up with or haven’t really experienced gaming as a hobby/mainstream activity but more as a waste of time or something only “nerds/geeks” would do. Once those people start kicking the bucket (again it’ll make sense…probably) then people who grew up with/ enjoy gaming will enter that age bracket and gaming will become more mainstream (more so than it is now). I don’t have any sources on whether that is the case but a good example would be music. As generations have grown and faded so have acceptable morals and tastes. 50 years ago do you think bands like Lamb of God or The Prodigy (granted the technology was not there) would have been as “easily accepted” as they have now. Now you listen to a song of that nature and you don’t flinch or swoon or pass out with your hand over your forehead, you’re more open to new experiences. There will always be people that will hate something that is new, such as facespace and gaming, the good news is they’ll die, and then new people will be born and as they grow up with the afformentioned technology it will become more accepted by society, until something new comes out that eventually, when our minds are old and feeble, will be foriegn and confusing, and we’ll take potshots at it. And then we die and so on and so forth (yeah that totally didn’t get better as I wrote it). More importantly how mainstream do we wont gaming to become? and why?

  • Am I the only person concerned about a room full of kids playing a game that they’re not supposed to be playing? A game where you can hack open the throats of a few Vietcongs?

  • Look at the sales figures, gaming should of been mainstream awhile ago in the public eye, but we’re holding onto the stigma of “games are for geeks/nerds”

    We just need more sexy people playing games

  • I think you missed a crucial point…
    What exactly is “mainstream”?
    Have a bit of a think about it because there are quite a lot of possible points of view.

    I think music is a great comparison.
    Just like every heavy metal fan is considered goth/loud/anrgy/whatever – every COD player is considered nerdy/violent/loud/impolite etc.
    Obviously these “seterotypes” are just that – stereotypes but on the other hand they exist because some people fit into that description.
    It’s a matter of where you draw the line.
    Is gaming as mainstream as the footy? Maybe, maybe not but considering most households in Australia own 1.5 consoles and the average age of a “gamer” in Australia is something like 28 it makes for an interesting question.
    You can get maybe 50% of the population watching the grand final and maybe 40% will go and buy MW3 or BF3. And thats not even considering protable games.

    I think it will always be impossible to to clarify “mainstream” since it depends too much on your point of view. It’s relative.

    Just like footy might be considered mainstream, but if you go to QLD it’s not.

  • Oh Alex, there’s nothing wrong with not trading in games. They should be kept forever instead of sold off to the next guy when you get bored of them.

    That’s what bad pet owners/parents do.

  • (comment from Giz post):

    Games became mainstream as soon as Nokia included “Snake” on the 5110.

    However, “gaming” as a hobby is not mainstream. Someone who likes to listen to commercial radio and go “dancing” at nightclubs doesn’t think of themselves as a dancer, the way someone who takes lessons and attends specific social (or even competitive) dance events might. Singing in the shower vs. practicing for your regular karaoke night. Hosting a casual poker night vs. making an income at an online casino. Buying a ticket to the game on one of those discount sites vs. buying a season pass for your team. Doing the occasional jigsaw puzzle vs. dedicating a room to it and framing your latest 10,000-piece achievement.

    Like other hobbies, gaming as a hobby is never going to be absolutely ubiquitous. But games as a minor diversion or temporary time-waster are definitely mainstream by now.

  • I have never really connected the dots but the last point in that article is probably the most relevant.

    Those kids shouldn’t have been asking questions about black ops as they shouldn’t have been exposed to it. In the same way that if you were talking about movies they shouldn’t have been asking about the saw series.

    But the ‘parents’ generation who still think games are for kids and don’t follow any gaming news don’t know enough about the games to be able to tell what is acceptable. They also have no interest in learning or at the other extreme just think that games are for kids.
    They watch movies and understand them so are in a position to comment and censor what the kids see but they don’t have the same knowledge, ability, understanding of need or desire to do so with games

  • I think there is definitely a line in the sand between ‘gamers’ and ‘people who play games’. I believe that the distinction is more about perceptions of identity than gaming habits. I want to be associated as a gamer because I like talking about games to other gamers. Conversely, some people like playing games, but are embarrassed by them, or don’t consider them anything more than mindless entertainment, and therefore don’t feel the need to identify as a gamer. As an example, here’s a short anecdote:

    My girlfriend dislikes my gaming. She tolerates it because she knows it makes me happy. Occasionally she gets sucked in to a compelling narrative experience like Red Dead or Alan Wake, but the hate usually returns the next day when she catches me playing Mortal Kombat. Anyway, we went on holiday for a week, in which time I spent precisely no time playing games, whereas she played games on her iphone for a little while every single day. I pointed this out to her and she continued to deny that she was a ‘gamer’, before telling me that I was distracting her from Flight Control.

    Playing games isn’t enough to make someone a gamer. We choose to be one, or we don’t, based on the type of person we wish to project to the outside world. Each to their own I guess.

  • Gaming as a serious hobby is not mainstream.

    Casual games, and the AAA Blockbuster Shooters/Sports Games (which arguably are casual games), are mainstream.

    The former is plagued with subcultural stereotypes (like we’re all basement dwellers), but then again so are all niche hobbies really. Comic book collecting, tabletop games (RPGs and/or wargaming), serious enthusiasm over specific media franchises, all of these are the domain of “nerds” or “geeks” etc.

    One thing that might be noticed is that the “normal” games tend NOT to be deep and immersive works… they tend to resemble electronic sports in many respects (esp. through online play).

    The non-mainstream games as well as the other non-mainstream hobbies will tend to be examples of elaborate plotting and/or fictional worldbuilding (whether or not they are good or bad is irrelevant here, I’m talking simply in terms of internal complexity).

    Perhaps there’s some level of anti-Escapist bias being displayed here. COD with a bunch of teenagers shrieking in your ear, or FIFA with the same, or real life sports, aren’t conducive to escapism.

    But games like Deus Ex? Bioshock? Silent Hill? Metal Gear Solid? Alan Wake? Mass Effect? Tabletop games like Warhammer 40k, Dungeons & Dragons? The White Wolf games? Serial fiction media franchises like Star Trek, Star Wars, X-Men? Comic collecting?

    These are all significantly more escapist forms of entertainment. And all of them are considered very nerdy. Even in established forms of media like literature, any form of speculative fiction is considered “nerdy.”

    I’m tempted to suggest that perhaps the “mainstream” subconsciously believes that escapism is symptomatic of someone being a loser in real life who retreats into fiction (of any kind) as a way to escape from their dissatisfaction with their existence. Hence escapist entertainment tends to carry this stigma with it, that “you LIKE this? Isn’t mundane reality enough for you?!? You must be a total failure! NEEERRRRDDDD!!!!!”

    Of course, I’d then invite the mainstream to look at their own entertainment, because its basically the same desires being fulfilled in more mundane clothing (say, BDU’s instead of bulky futuristic armor).

    But yeah, there is that bias against escapism. And there’s also (intuitively plausible, but empirically very tentative) fears that excessive escapism may dissociate one from reality.

    Still, apart from the AAA Blockbuster Shooters/Sports games, and the casual games, gaming isn’t mainstream.

  • What you sayin sonny? what? oh computerlators are causing our Kiddies to rampage in the streets? Oh no!

    Seriously I suggest that if some of these perps of violence had a violent game and a computer to play it on there would be LESS “rampaging” Kiddies in the streets. Most of the crap they were talking about is caused by boredom and poverty and insanity. so easy to just blame the game!

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