Now days when I catch the train I see more people playing videogames than reading books. There are yuppies tapping away at iPhones, young boys catching them all on their DSs and punk rock grrls with purple hair and PSPs. Certainly a lot of the games they’re playing are trashy time wasters but then most of the people I see reading are not exactly boning up on the classics either.
A 2008 Pew survey says that 53% of American adults over the age 18 play videogames. In comparison during the same year only 50.2% of American adults read a “novel, short story, poem or play”. That figure is an actually an increase on previous years. That videogames are now a more popular past time than reading literary fiction for adults is fairly interesting, if shocking stuff.
Perhaps even a little worrying.
Most people would agree that a novel is a more worthwhile way to spend your time than playing a game. I think for a lot of people merely finishing a book is an achievement. How many people would rather wait for the movie version of a popular novel because it’s easier? Equally how many people are so snobbish that they absolutely have to read the book? I know I’m a little like that.
And I’m not just picking on the Yanks. 65% of British people have lied about reading great works of literature just to impress people. The point is that while the majority of people value being well read not many can actually be bothered with it. Even then a lot of the fiction adults do read is written for children anyway.
There seems to be this attitude that games will become respected once enough people play them. I believe this is far too optimistic. The sad truth is that a lot of the people who regularly play videogames don’t see any great value in them. At this point we should probably just accept two facts a.) The majority of the population are philistines and b.) Philistines are unlikely to recognise great art. Therefore there really isn’t much point trying to convince them of anything.
Now I understand that’s an elitist position to take and I’m only really half serious when I suggest it but it’s worth keeping in mind the next time you show a non-gamer Braid. We can make games approachable and friendly as much as we want but at the end of the day the really important games are probably going to alienate people. The trick is to recognise when it’s the fault of the player and not the game.
But if nothing else this was the decade that gaming became a mainstream form of entertainment. In the next decade game creators will have an audience at their disposal larger than Shakespeare’s. Here’s hoping they can say something worthwhile to them. I think they may even have a responsibility to do so.
And if it goes over the heads of some folks then so be it.