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Games in Pop Culture


As video games have become more popular and accessible to everyone, they’ve been featured in more tv shows and movies than ever. No longer do people plug away at the Nintendo GameBoy “brick;” now Grandma’s got a Wii in her living room (and has no idea how to use it). Yet the changes in the way games are depicted in popular media have largely been superficial, and often make certain implications about games and the people who play them.

When people play games in movies or on tv, it’s usually a teenaged or young boy with a handheld device that makes the same sounds as old arcade games. Yes, the same stereotype that men are the only ones who game prevails quite often, though sometimes young girls play games too (Gaz from Invader Zim kicks way more gaming ass than her brother). Perhaps the reasoning behind the beeps and pews is because the earliest games for the masses were games like Space Invaders and Mario, and that’s the only exposure many people have had to games. The GameBoy is certainly one of the most recognized symbols for games even after the switch to the PSP and DS, though now it’s more common to see a PSP-like handheld in the media.

Haven’t games moved beyond 8-bit graphics and music? For that matter, most people mute games when playing in public, and to always assign annoying beeps and pews to every game not only assumes games lack finesse in musical qualities, it also assumes that gamers are thoughtless, selfish, and undiscerning. This is not to denigrate Mario, with some of the most often played video game music of all time; this is simply to say that not all games look and sound like Mario. Games now run the gamut from racing and puzzle to FPS and RPG, all with a variety of music, and tv and movies have not changed to reflect this.

Popular media sometimes features people talking about or playing Xbox, or maybe Wii. But the 360 is usually a symbol for the hardcore gamer, or someone who has no life (see Grandma’s Boy). The computer is a more commonly seen console now, although many interface elements are eliminated for the sake of the uninitiated viewer (World of Warcraft is featured in Zombieland and a recent episode in South Park). It’s rare to see people playing racing or shooting games, and when people play DDR in movies they look like “retards trying to hump a doorknob” without regard for actually hitting the buttons (–Dodgeball).

The way people play games on tv is often mindless. It is the same attitude people take when playing Mario Kart; concentrating and competitive. They never seem happy or smile; their eyes are glued to the screen as, emotionless, they go about some noisy task.

Games in commercials are completely different. Players are usually only featured in Wii games, because the focus is on the player and less on the game. Nintendo wants people to see people having fun doing traditional activities in new ways, like cooking or bowling. They have people of all ages, races, and genders enjoying playing trivial games together, or fit women exercising. This is partially because many Wii games are for casual gamers, and it doesn’t really matter to these people if they’re playing Wii Lacrosse or Wii Luge, as long as they perceive that they are “having fun.” Most other game commercials simply feature the game, because they are targeting people who actually know something about games.

Gamefly ran a funny game commercial with people freaking out, screaming, crying, throwing tvs and controllers, and generally carrying on. Their tag was ‘never buy another bad game again.’ This is a pretty accurate depiction of how frustrated gamers can get if they lose their save, die and have to redo everything, or generally are playing a bad game. I think this commercial also reflects how engaged gamers get in the virtual worlds they temporarily inhabit.

Stereotypes are powerful things. The more people are aware of these stereotypes, the more they’ll use them. Sure it’s funny to watch people leaping furiously at a game of DDR, but it may offend the true gamer in its complete inaccuracy. All of these depictions reflect a different kind of genre/gamer. Playing Mario Party with casual gamers can bring the kind of laughter so common in Wii commercials, and playing Bejeweled or Peggle may turn you into a zombie, but I believe it’s more common to see people getting engaged in games for their own sake. Maybe years from now, when the current gamer generation grows up, we will see middle-aged moms on tv  playing Final Fantasy, or old men reminiscing about the Wii’s great retro games. The landscape of gaming is changing, and media has a lot of work to do to catch up.

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