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Does the gaming industry work hard enough on its reputation?

Media Special: Analyst Adam Keal on why games still aren't media mainstream

Big budget ad campaigns, PR junkets, celebrity endorsements, and sponsorships. When it comes to selling products, the money and time invested in creating brand noise shows the real scale of ambition in the gaming industry. Yet when it comes to the collective, longer-term reputation of gaming, this ambition fades into the background by comparison.

Predictable and lazy tabloid associations between computer games and serial killings continue. I don't believe for a moment that the writers of these reactionary articles really believe that Medal of Honor is to blame, or whether it was Call of Duty's fault. They are merely delivering an audience to their publisher, and the easy way to do that is by appealing to their need for something or someone to blame.

These are journalists who inevitably play games themselves, or at the very least have seen how it plays a part in family entertainment. They will know about the many other genres that go alongside the first person shooter, they will know about the Wii and Angry Birds, and they may know about the educational benefits of gaming. Sadly, when they write a sensationalist article blaming an atrocity on a game, they are writing to fulfil a brief.

Responding to these articles to refute opinions or provide more balance is not going to change anything. The industry needs to take a more proactive approach in discussion with senior editors and publishers who are responsible for the line their journalists take.

"Sadly, when they write a sensationalist article blaming an atrocity on a game, they are writing to fulfil a brief"

Do these headlines matter? There's no evidence to suggest they hinder sales. And after all, you could argue that eventually, these kinds of reports and associations will disappear. A younger breed of journalists will emerge as editors and they will have grown up with consoles and iPads as children. In the future, most of the Daily Mail's elder readers will reject gaming as a scapegoat as there will be something new to blame by then.

This inevitable shift in perception will take a great deal of time, but reliance on this is turning a blind eye to the issue. It also does a disservice to those who are working so tirelessly to transform the industry's reputation.

After the Sandy Hook shootings, Joe Biden led a Washington task force to investigate the association between gaming and gun crime and leading publishers were invited to submit evidence. This is why those sensationalist headlines need to be addressed: they have an impact, not on sales, but on Government relations.

We need to broaden the media's view of the industry. This is an industry, of course, that creates more in economic value than the film industry, bringing jobs and wealth. It brings pleasure and it brings education. Yet this is where flattering comparisons with Hollywood end, because Tarantino movies are considered art while Black Ops II perceptibly represents an irresponsible industry poisoning our children's minds.

Research that analyses the mass media's portrayal of the industry needs to be used to hold a dialogue at a senior level. This work also needs to understand the true problem in order to be able to help us fix it. However, the industry needs to assert its views not just in the day to day press office exchanges with reporters, but through the prism of a macro-economic editorial debate. This won't deliver immediate change, but it needs to be the start of a longer-term campaign.

"Research that analyses the mass media's portrayal of the industry needs to be used to hold a dialogue at a senior level"

The media are of course, merely a channel. The real audience are those who influence the media and those influenced by it - Government, and parents. These groups need to understand the importance of gaming both in terms of its economic potential and as a viable career option.

The two go hand in hand and need to be addressed in the curriculum. Schools need to understand that it holds the key to attracting kids into science and maths subjects. More than that though, the Government needs to understand that gaming can form part of a modern curriculum that will help the economy and Britain's creative industries. We need to equip our future generations with the tools of the future. It's the only way we will successfully compete on a global stage.

Perceptions of industries and their economic fortunes are always intertwined and for me the industry needs to stand shoulder to shoulder to address it.

Recently, two veteran games developers, David Cage and Warren Spector, suggested that the industry needs more variety in its products and more maturity. They have attracted a lot of industry criticism, but regardless of their opinion, the industry needs to challenge itself, but more importantly it needs to challenge the status quo.

Maturity isn't an issue, but we need to show those outside the industry that it isn't.

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Adam Keal

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