"You want a reason to get angry?"
That's what one of my colleagues said to me this morning.
He showed me the image above, from Mornings on Channel 9. The header — VIRTUAL WORLD OF MINECRAFT: HARMLESS FUN OR SINISTER GAME?
Great. Here we go. Mood setting: 'enraged'.
Primed for anger. How dare they? Go after our Grand Theft Autos. Go after our Duke Nukems if you must — but Minecraft? The video game that normally makes headlines for the positive things it does for children? A video game that encourages creativity, the video game recently put in place in every single school in Northern Ireland?
Give me a break.
Once upon a time I felt the need to rush in swinging every time mainstream media took potshots at video games. Nowadays I'm far more reserved. I tend to ignore moral panics because — one — they tend to come and go and — two — the truth is they've lost their sting. The secret is out: video games aren't terrible for children. What we're seeing on shows like The Project — who recently attempted yet another story on video game addiction — is the last vestige of a once reliable source of outrage traffic: the video games that once terrified and confused adults.
TL;DR: best to ignore the impotent screams of dinosaurs howling at the moon.
But I couldn't let this one slide. Minecraft?
So, pearls firmly clutched, I watched the segment. The header appeared: HARMLESS FUN OR SINISTER GAME. I grimaced. I prepared for the worst and — weirdly — got quite giddy about the rage I was expecting to feel. Consciously I prepared to harness that self-righteous rage and write the editorial to end all editorials. But then, shock. Horror.
The story was kinda reasonable.
Yep, there were clumsy moments as the hosts began talking about something they clearly didn't understand. Sure, there were a couple of moments where I thought "hey, that's a little unjustified". But you know what? This was a short, basic, informative segment designed to help uninformed parents make sense of a phenomenon that possibly confused or terrified them. Best of all? At the end there was a nice little segment where a Behavioral Expert gave those confused parents some useful advice focused on managing the screen time of children and making sure they were well-educated on how best to play games online.
Weird. I wasn't angry. The "HARMLESS FUN OR SINISTER GAME" header was utterly misguided (and misleading I might add) but the content itself? Completely appropriate for the audience, fair and — gasp — most likely quite helpful for some people. This was not a story attempting to demonise video games, it was a story about trying t de-mystify one particular video game.
Are we living in opposite land?
Have I simply crossed over some invisible age-barrier? Is mainstream media now catering directly to me — a parent in his early 30s. Am I now that person? Am I the target market?
No, I don't think so. I hope not.
Is it possible that mainstream audiences are no longer afraid of video games? Is it possible that inciting moral panics focused on video games and video game culture no longer works on a generation of parents who grew up loving video games; a generation who realises games — in moderation — are relatively harmless?
At the very least we're starting to see a shift.
Don't get me wrong, I have no doubt I'll live to see a hundred more misleading, flat-out wrong stories about video games in mainstream media. But is it possible we'll also start to see positive stories too? Do we dare to dream?
Minecraft has a lot to answer for. It's become the go-to game. It registers in that unique iconic space, it has become that video game 'noun' people use when they don't know which noun to use. Once upon a time that word was Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty or Mario. Now it's Minecraft: as harmless as LEGO. As harmless as a Barbie Doll or a Action Man. It represents, I think, a transformative shift. A video game that toys with our nostalgia. A video game that resonates with the collective childhood of a generation of parents, yet somehow manages to feel dazzlingly futuristic for a new generation of children. It's changing games. It's changing the way everyone looks at video games. It's changing the way mainstream media talks about games.
And that's a good thing.
You can watching the Mornings piece on Minecraft here.