I Never Saw The Moment Video Games Hit The Mainstream

When something "arrives", in a popular culture sense, it's never to the tune of trumpets and a standing ovation. Nothing can ever be that spontaneous. Instead, you just wake up one day and realise that something which used to exist around the fringes, which people may have been aware of but were never that into, is suddenly there. In your face.

I had that moment with video games over the weekend, when I finally sat down with a copy of Ice-T's rap documentary Something From Nothing. Towards the end, there's a sequence where Ice-T is seen wearing a Gears of War t-shirt. Now, six years ago, when I first started in this job, as stupid as it sounds in 2012, that would probably have ended up on this website as "news".

On the weekend, though, the thought didn't even cross my mind. Which I think, as isolated and insignificant as the incident had been, says a lot about how far video games have come in that time.

When I started working here in late 2006, the first Modern Warfare had yet to be released. People didn't play games on Facebook. The Wii had yet to be released. There was no such thing as a smartphone, you couldn't really play games for free, indie developers weren't getting exposure or money and online multiplayer was still finding its feet.

As I write this in 2012, all those things have come to pass, and have helped transform video games from a hobby indulged by kids and nerds into a global juggernaut, a multi-billion dollar industry that can deliver entertainment experiences to just about anyone on the planet with a half-capable piece of technology in their house (or even their hands).

Almost everyone plays games. You see commercials on TV, in front of movies. Demographics which previously would have been uninterested, or even hostile to the medium, are now being catered for by savvy companies like Nintendo, Activision, Zynga and EA. You see games appear on talk shows like Jimmy Fallon and Conan as though they were the latest Hollywood blockbuster. We've even, somehow, got a good video game movie.

You can look at that list of contributors above and argue that one or more of those things has been more important in video games' rise than others. That may be the case, but I think it's the combination of them all, working together across a single console generation and the re-emergence of the PC as a gaming powerhouse, teaming up with the social gaming revolution and the rise of smartphones, that's created something of a video gaming "golden age".

I mean, what else are you going to call it? World of Warcraft has nothing to do with Farmville. Modern Warfare's rise to prominence is completely unrelated to the explosion of handheld gaming on smartphones. Yet all those things, and more, have all taken off, all secured massive new audiences, and they all did it at the same time.

It's that isolated approach that's caused the whole thing to sneak up on me. The Wii had its audience. Call of Duty has its. There are people who bought a DS, people who play games on Facebook, and people who play $US1 games on their iPhone. Some people may be all of those people at once, but many will be just one. If you only ever look at that one person's market, or you yourself are part of just one market, you might not be seeing the forest for the trees. And it's one hell of a forest.

So, back to Ice-T. The guy is a notorious Xbox 360 shooter fan. But seeing this represented in a movie like Something From Nothing, while it may once have been interesting, something for gamers to point to and say "hey, we're getting there, famous people like this too!" was just something to be expected. It would have been more surprising to see millionaire rap stars who didn't play video games.


    I don't understand the observation about Ice-T. Since when did some famous person wearing a video game shirt mean that games had suddenly passed some invisible line into the mainstream?

      It's more the fact that six years ago, that would have been a Kotaku post. Now it's like that's such a small deal that it's not even newsworthy.

        I actually remember similar types of articles around 5 years ago on various game websites.

        That's true. Although he did get in this post for wearing a gaming shirt. #Inceptionshirt

    I guess because technically something like that would have never occured many years ago.

    Ice T is older than the average gamer, yet we never saw pics of him wearing a Pac-man t-shirt did we?

      not much older. hes in the right generation to be one of the 1st gamers. He probly knows more about games than the entire kotaku staff due to experience of playing each generation from the beginning of home computing.

    I remember seeing a massive billboard of Abe when Oddworld first came out, i couldn't help but think that 90% of the commuters at the train station had no idea who this ugly being was.

    this really saddens me, especially since the audience is getting much more linear and we really are getting less special games, that require thinking. I guess the pc market has that covered (and a handful of console indie's). Also This http://www.kotaku.com.au/2012/11/making-an-open-ended-game-for-a-linear-audience/

    As much as i'm not a fan of it. I think the nintendo WII was the turning point in what bought gaming to the mainstream and no longer seen as a "nerdy" thing to do.

    It was aimed at everyone, not just hardcore gamers. From then on gaming became less of a thing for nerds and more common place.

    People realised there isnt that much different between playing a Call of Duty game and playing farmville on your facebook, it all still games and people neednt be labelled on whether they play them.

    Microsoft took suit after nintendo's success with the WII and from then on Xbox was no longer seen as a "hardcore gamer" only console too.

    Playstation is still fledging success with their "Move" peripheral however i'm sure one day they'll reach the mainstream crowds much like Microsoft and Nintendo have.

    I never really thought about it much, but video games really have just kind of become a normal part of average life, whether the people affected call themselves (dare I bring this up) "gamers" or not.

    There's a massive cod billboard in brisbane city atm and we regularily have giant advertising for games on the side of buses, have seen some halo 4 and ac3 ones over the last few days.

      I've seen those, which aren't surprising, but Saints Row 3 had a huge advertising campaign on busses in Perth, which really surprised me O_o

    Yesterday 3 different totally non-gamer people asked me if I had Black Ops 2 yet. Thats when you know that media saturation has reached 100%.

      Two total non-gamer classmates asked me today. And they've been studying hard the past weekend, so I'm shocked they knew about it. I think it must've been gamer relatives/partners.

    It finally hit me when I starting seeing adds for games on Buses....

    I think that video games have been mainstream for quite a while, most people under thirty have had at least some kind of experience with video games. Since the rise of smart phones and facebook people who weren't gamers in the traditional sense have much higher exposure to games, they might never consider buying a dedicated console but they will buy/play games if they are available cheaply and easily in something that they use everyday. Personally I'm more concerned about the drop in game length i remember when a game having 8 hours worth of story was a complaint not a compliment.

      And yet, a large number of people "just aren't gamers". That isn't how films or music work, though I suppose it is how books work, so... It seems like a bit of a fundamental problem not with the medium but with the market that has grown around it.

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