Video games, similar to films, books and TV shows; are a form of media. All they are is a way to fill one’s spare time with entertainment. But at the same time, video games are inherently different to any other form of media. Something like a film for instance could be considered a one way street in which the recipient has no way of interacting with the action, a video game on the other has the capabilities of a two way street, for the most part in fact it wholeheartedly relies on the actions of the player in order to progress.
Fundamentally that is the only difference, but there is still the question as to why video games are viewed as being so radically different to other forms of media. Why are people who enjoy this specific form of entertainment, all encompassed under the label “gamer”? People who go to see movies aren’t referred to as “movie-ers”, people who watch TV shows don’t identify as “TV-ers”. There just seems to be a social stigma associated exclusively with gaming. In this society, a child who sits alone in his/her bedroom for a whole afternoon, doing nothing but reading a classic work of fiction is generally viewed in a positive light. On the flipside, a kid who sits alone in a room for an afternoon playing “mind rotting” video games, is frowned upon. Obviously, there is a difference here, but why is one acceptable and the other not? Even when games are used a social tool through local multiplayer or connecting to friends over the internet, there is always the hope in every parent that their kid will just grow out of it and take up a real pastime like reading, despite the fact that reading actually does have far less social capabilities as a form of media.
Why are people who enjoy this specific form of entertainment, all encompassed under the label “gamer”? People who go to see movies aren’t referred to as “movie-ers”, people who watch TV shows don’t identify as “TV-ers”. There just seems to be a social stigma associated exclusively with gaming.
It may well come down to the fact that gaming as a pastime is still incredibly new and hasn’t yet got to the point where it is widely recognized as anything other than a niche form of entertainment. The very early films of the late 19th and early 20th centuries for instance were critically panned just because the potential of the medium had not yet been fully explored. The evolution of films over the course of the last 100 years though shows the cinema moving from a novelty to an established large-scale entertainment industry. Maybe this will be the case with video games; they have only really been commercially available since the 1970s, and whilst the video games from this era could still be considered a fun way to kill some time, there is a reason why nobody is comparing the narrative styles of Atari’s Pong, with Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations. In fact, only recently with titles such as LA Noire or The Last of Us, has the medium excelled as a tool of storytelling.
However even as the narrative potential for video games continues to grow as the hardware gets more powerful and developers get more skilled, there will always be barriers with gaming. To get into video games not only do you have to make a substantial investment in a platform to play the games on, but then there will always be a learning curve as you get used to the controller or adapt to the new controls and that is perhaps the main reason why gaming is so different. Virtually anyone can pick up a book and start reading or go the local cinema and see the latest blockbuster, but with gaming it’s just that little bit harder and not everyone is interested in putting in the effort.