Mass Media Effect: Is the Mainstream Media bad for Gaming?

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With the announcement last week by the NPD that the video game industry has vastly surpassed the movie industry in overall revenue growth, rising by 28.4% compared to the movies meager 1.8% in the U.S., the dawn of a new era is upon us. Video games can no longer be considered children’s toys or a passing fad, like the slinky. It seems that the games with which we grew up and still enjoy today are entering the mainstream of American culture. And kicking a little ass in the process.

The financial reports released late last week state that video games are now a 18.85 billion dollar a year industry, which is still expanding year by year with no end in sight. With so much money being raked in, the spotlight was inevitable. It was only a matter of time before video games became a hot topic of discussion.

Around water coolers throughout America, co-workers compare their high-scores in “Wii Sports: Bowling.” In bars everywhere, groups of friends gather to rock out to “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band”. Online players from around the world compete in everything from free-for-all death matches in “Halo 3” to gridiron clashes in “Madden”. Regardless of what you might think, it is not only America’s favorite pastime, it is quickly becoming the world’s favorite way to relax and unwind too.

With the increasing popularity of video games, an unfortunate paradigm has emerged. One in which the mainstream media feels no obligation to handle themselves with integrity, or honesty. One in which gamers are depicted as fat, lazy, violent, uneducated slobs, and in the opinion of many detractors, video games are to blame for an epidemic of listless youth wasting their lives staring at TV’s, inviting their brains to turn to mush.

With the alarmists at a feverish pitch this week over the Microsoft published “Mass Effect” for the Xbox 360, the tactics of a major news organization were laid bare for all of the world to see. And what we saw was an ugly attack on an innocent game that has done nothing but attempt to push the bounds of artistic expression in a blooming medium, which is just now starting to evolve from its primitive roots into a bona fide vehicle for compelling storytelling and narrative delivery. It would seem they have picked the wrong game to attack.

As most of you know, Fox News recently aired a segment attempting to stir controversy over the popular game released in November, claiming that the game was marketed towards kids and included scenes of graphic full frontal nudity and the ability to engage in graphic sexual encounters. The controversy, dubbed “Sexbox”, showed a quote by Microsoft brass stating that they felt they were very responsible in their approach to content control, and that the onus was on the parents to monitor their kids behavior.

A “debate” began between popular games journalist Geoff Keighley and Cooper Lawrence, author of the recently published book, The Cult of Perfection (oh the irony, lol). Lawrence incorrectly cited a Maryland Study, “Boys that play video games cannot tell the difference between what they are seeing in the game and what they see in the real world, if they don’t have a real experience…” and earlier stated that games prompted adolescent boys “to see women as these objects of desire, these hot bodies…” I’m pretty sure puberty does that all by itself, with little to no help from video games. But, whatever.

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