This is one of two posts I wrote for Invest Victoria’s gaming blog, reposted here because I think it gives some context to both the ‘social misfits’ post and also to my ongoing question of games & culture.
The gaming community is obsessed with numbers. According to the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, the average age of a gamer in Australia is 30 years old; 68 percent of all Australians play video and computer games; the average adult gamer has been playing for 11 years; and 80 percent of parents in game households play games with their children.
But what do those numbers actually mean?
They mean that more than 14 million people in Australia play video games. They mean that lawyers and doctors and filmmakers and writers and artists and accountants and scientists and teachers and politicians and social workers and any job you can think of contains people who play games. They mean that we’ve had a generation of adults who’ve been playing for most of their life, with no real measurable negative impact on society. They mean that those same adults who’ve grown up with games are, despite broadly sketched stereotypes, having kids and those kids are growing up in a world where games are simply a fact of life. And they mean that Douglas Adam’s prescient comments that “everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal; anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it; anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really” are as true today as they were when he wrote them in 1999.
It’s these kids we need to watch, because they’re being born to gaming parents, into a world that hasn’t been torn apart by this new moral danger, and its inevitable that some of them will find themselves driven by the urge to create, to add their stories and experiences to the world, to illuminate some dark corner of the human condition, and in doing so, they will draw on the influences from their life and the tools at their disposal. For some of them, this will be words, for others music, and for others still it will be games.
Games, and their creation, do not exist in a vacuum. Designers and developers make them, audiences play them, people watch them being played, and in doing so the work becomes a part of the cultural fabric. Just like books, films, paintings, music, poetry, architecture, animation, the chairs we sit in, the food we eat, the streets we walk down – everything has been created by somebody.
And people are influenced by a million different things – by their parents temperament, by whether their house was on a hill, by whether the street they grew up on was straight or winding, by whether they played in forests or on beaches, by the friends they had at school, by the person who first broke their heart, by their walk to work that morning or the pair of shoes they want to buy, by the feeling of clean sheets on a cold night, the sun breaking through autumn leaves, or the smooth rocking of a train Everything we see, and hear, and feel sits there in our subconscious and influences who we are, the choices that we make and how our lives play out.
Games, in an incredibly short period of time, have become not only a dominant part of our culture, but a potent creative medium for expressing those influences – and there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. We already have the first wave of adults who grew up with Spectrums and Commodore 64s and Amigas and PCs. Adults who want to explore the creative space of video games and share the things in their life that have shaped them – relationships, politics, philosophy, family, life and death. As time passes, what was once considered the end of civilization will become normal, and the next generation will create things using games and technology that we can’t even begin to imagine because for many of us, it is simply against the natural order of things.
Freeplay is about plugging into that shift. In a sea of events focusing on the business of making games or on education or on the consumer, Freeplay looks at the creative side of games development and avenues for artistic expression, digging into what the medium allows you to create that no other form can. Our goal is to remind the creators that they are creators, and that we are more than just a business, we are an entertainment medium, a creative form, that we are part of the fabric of people’s lives, and in increasingly significant ways we are an essential part of the broader cultural conversation.
We realise that the conversation might be slightly one-sided at the moment, but through Freeplay, we’re hoping to bring a little bit of balance to the world.