I just got back from the TED Conference. I am not going to try to describe the experience, there are tons of articles and posts all around the web that do it much better than I can. All I can say is that it is mental floss. It is an opportunity to hear and think about things I would otherwise not consider, and in many cases have the opportunity to consider. It also provides a new perspective, frankly a kaleidoscope to use when viewing my own little world. Fixated as I am, it always comes back to games.
To most of the world, games are considered to be well below porn when it comes to cultural contribution. They are only played by kids and they are all violent. This was confirmed at the conference. When I raised the subject of games with people like inventor, Dean Kamen; Jeff Skoll (Participant Media, producer of Charlie Wilson's War, An Inconvenient Truth, Murderball and others), Tony Robbins, and many other of the attendees, the unanimous response was "We don't work with games because they are all violent." The good news is that without exception, every one of them was open minded and surprised by the quality of rating system, the average age of the gamer, the number of non-violent games, and the opportunity to utilize game grammar to meet their objectives. While they are open minded, the industry is so stigmatized, no one would ever take the time to look at games. When I picked up Ian Bogost's new book "Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Video Games" in the TED Bookstore, the counter person told me I was the first to buy it. Ironically, the back cover of the book reads " Videogames lack the cultural stature of 'legitimate' art forms because they are widely perceived to be trivial and meaningless." The statement is absolutely accurate, and that is why no one is reading the book! The issue lies in the media.
For perspective, I am going to write about the TED Conference, as if gamers ruled the world.
"Monterrey, California- The TED Conference commenced today in Monterrey. The 24th meeting of thought leaders brings experts from a multitude of disciplines. David Perry, well known for action games ranging from Earthworm Jim to The Matrix, Louis Castle, who's work extends from the RTS world with the seminal game Command and Conquer to his current project Boom Blox with Steven Spielberg, Bing Gordon, one of the founders of powerhouse publisher, Electronic Arts and Robin Williams whose voice once appeared in a game are all in attendance. The conference also played host to Garrett Lisi who quite possibly discovered the unifying theory of physics and some guy who found the Titanic."
Kind of sucks doesn't it. While it strongly resembles a US news outlet's anemic coverage of world events, no one would stand for it. So why do we accept this from the mainstream press? Our biggest stories of the last year are EA making an offer to buy Take Two for a relatively insignificant amount of money in the world of media. Even there the news points to potential improprieties by Zelnick Media. Vivendi and Activision merging - yawn. Halo 3 made a lot of money - balanced by Halo 3 is really violent and M rated. GTA is bad. Mass Effect has porn - later corrected in a footnote. Bully makes kids beat each other up. As a result, no one bats an eye when a state legislature tries to restrict sales of games or penalize retailers.
I spoke with Chris Anderson, Editor of Wired Magazine, not the guy with the same name who runs TED, about media coverage of games. I am paraphrasing here, but he said they are all gamers are Wired and they cover games well. I suggested Wired was not the foundation for my point - it is not, we get respectful, accurate reporting from the magazine - it is the rest of the world who focus primarily on the bad bits. He feels media coverage is fine, the game industry is growing. Sure politicians try to do bad things, but there are always stupid politicians trying to do stupid things. Wow, I feel much better.
The reality is we are an easy target and sometimes nice plaything. If they media wants something flashy, the can use some of our images to spice up a story. If the media wants to beat on entertainment, we are the easiest target. Music and film lobbies bite back. Music and film buy ads in their publications. We don't, and we can benefit from both. The media will not correct itself. But through efforts of The ESA, the ECA, our interactions with mainstream press, and our marketing spends, we can change the stories. If we work very hard, we may be able to ascend to the status of porn, in our lifetimes.