Gamer Bias: Social Responsibility in the Gaming Industry

Growing up during the era when video games were introduced to the public, our generation’s teenagers spent hours playing two-dimensional games like Pong, Astroids, and Defender on Atari systems.  Gender and race representation was not on the forefront of game developer’s minds in 1975.  James Portnow’s lecture at Pierce College today brought awareness to some social concerns with the gaming industry’s character representation.  With current technology, gaming has transformed tremendously and it is time for the community to discuss important topics that can have a tremendous impact in shaping the mind of today’s youth.  Is it possible to shift gaming for positive social change?

In her publication “From Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work”, Jean Anyon discusses the difference social class can make in public education (Anyon 163-179).  During Portnow’s lecture, I was shocked to hear them mention “privilege”.  They clarified that everyone is privileged.  However, how does privilege apply in gaming when every household with children has a gaming console and it is their favorite family past time?  From Portnow and company’s experience, the marketers tend to target specifically, white males in middle-class families on up.  In retrospect, while working in the telecommunications industry—a male dominated industry– the most common games I heard about were Halo and World of War Craft (WOW).  My fellow co-workers were spending a lot of money on the latest gaming consoles, servers, accessories, and internet access bandwidth.  Xbox Live was all the rage and my co-workers emphatically expressed to me that it is a “must have”.

The Xbox Live interaction was interesting.  Instead of participating, I would listen to the conversations.  The language and posturing was undesirable and extremely negative.  Then I attempted to play Halo and the graphics were so realistic that it triggered my PTSD and caused an overwhelming anxiety attack as blood splattered throughout the screen.  I was mortified.  I never played the game again and the Xbox was left for the male gender to play.  When Grand Theft Auto was released I was further aghast that America was playing a video game that promoted stealing vehicles and evading police.

Wes Moore explains that the other Wes Moore would waste time playing video games before he would check on his drug operation, avoiding the task of finding a job (Moore 104).  Could video games be the beastly contributor to the fading male interest in school?  Hanna Rosin maintains in her article “The End of Men” that, “Guys high-five each other when they get a C, while girls beat themselves up over a B-minus.  Guys play video games in each other’s rooms, while girls crowd the study hall.” (Rosin 483)

As some have already have asked, who is this James Portnow and what is he really about?  As he publicly stated during an effort to raise funds for “Games for Good” in reference to the gaming culture defending their games, “It’s time we talk about all the things games can do for us as a scientific, cultural, artistic and educational medium instead.  It’s better for society, it’s better for creators and it’s better for players.” (Portnow)  As commendable as his effort is, I am an ambivalent cynic as I wonder, is it really possible to hope for social responsibility in video games when sex and violence sells?  I am not confident enough in humanity to believe that big business, Wall Street, nor the consumer are willing to relinquish their personal preference for video games that educate and resonate values, morality, and a belief to embrace a sense of stewardship.  The effort is commendable, the discussions should take place because this is an important topic and if anything, Portnow is inspirational with his dream to make a difference.

Works Cited

Anyon, Jean. “From Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work.” Ed. Colombo, Gary, Robert Cullen and Bonnie and Lisle. Rereading America: cultural contexts for critical thinking and writing. 9th ed. Boston, MA: Bedford: St. Martin’s, 2013. 239. Print.

Moore, Wes. The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2010. Print.

Portnow, James. RocketHub: Games for Good. 10 09 2013. Web. 07 05 2014.

Rosin, Hanna. “True Women and Real Men: The End of Men.” Ed. Colombo, Gary, Robert Cullen and Bonnie and Lisle. Rereading America: cultural contexts for critical thinking and writing. 9th ed. Boston, MA: Bedford: St. Martin’s, 2013. 239. Print.

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