Swimming Against the Mainstream

Every year around this time, the mainstream media gets in the holiday spirit by doing some features the year’s hottest gifts. This year, the collective wisdom is that video games are the gift to beat, which has led to some interesting high-profile pieces in prominent national media outlets. Here’s a few I’ve noticed, and some thoughts on each:

  • Last Sunday, The Washington Post featured thoughts on games from a high school English teacher, of all people. The editorial mainly bemoans the quick-action and visceral thrills of video games as addictive distractions from more important matters (particularly his assigned novel, “All the Pretty Horses”). Even though I disagree with most of the editorial’s conclusions, I admire the way it at least acknowledges the other side of the issue. The author points out an avid gamer in his class that finished the book a week early and even mentions his own youthful distractions from required reading, two examples that go against his case yet paradoxically make his main argument stronger. Too many editorials about games (especially in the mainstream press) shrilly advocate for one side while completely ignoring any contradictory fact. By at least mentioning and addressing some of the arguments for playing games, this editorial comes off as more thoughtful and well-reasoned.
  • The New York Times focused on the retail side of the equation this Sunday in an interview with Jeffrey Griffiths, president and chief executive of Electronics Boutique Holdings. Despite some decent questions, the interview is kind of short (even the “extended” online version only has 10 questions) and Griffiths doesn’t have much that revolutionary, or even interesting, to say. Then there’s the whopper of a statement at the end of the article that the PSP “will play DVDs,” a subtle but important mischaracterization of the system’s ability to play movies on proprietary mini-discs. The fact that the president of EB mis-spoke is perhaps forgivable, the fact that The New York Times didn’t correct it perhaps less so.
  • While a whole lot of outlets tried in vain to pin down the “new” phenomenon of “older gamers” the NBC Nightly News went the other direction altogether and focused on the ever-younger market for specially designed educational games. The piece is clearly aimed at parents and grandparents with little to no knowledge of the current games market — not that surprising given the demographics of the NBC News audience. Perhaps for that reason, though, the piece takes what I feel is an overly cautious tone in considering that time spent in front of a screen can be anything but harmful to young children. While both sides do get air time, the balance clearly tips towards the “no redeeming value” side of the argument.
  • CBS’ The Early Show began their piece on holiday games with the shocking revelation that “there are literally hundreds out there and many are not even made for children.” Really, Early Show? There are games that are made for adults? Tell us more! The piece features Gamespot’s director Ankarino Lara patiently explaining that not all games are rated M and the the Nintendo DS and EyeToy are some of the hot items this season. The online summary goes on to say that games that require movement can be “a saving grace for parents who are sick of kids sitting on a couch all day…” notice how quickly the idea of games for adults flies away after the introduction.

Those are the highlights that I managed to pull out of the whirlwind, but I know there have been a lot more recently. How do you think the mainstream media is handling the growing idea that video games are a serious business this holiday season?

5 thoughts on “Swimming Against the Mainstream

  1. I don’t think I’ve been taking in enough of the mainstream media’s coverage to comment on its quality, but I do wonder about the person who wrote up the summary for that “The Early Show” piece. Had the author seen the segment, or even googled Mr. Lara’s name, the piece probably would not have quoted Ankarino as a she. Perhaps this is a more grevious error than that made by the New York Times?

  2. There was also an article in last week’s Time about the rise of the video game as the “hot toy of the season”. It basically blasted the game industry for taking sales away from the traditional toy industry (board games in particular) and then went on to blame video games for childhood obesity. The whole “they’re always on the couch” argument.

    A really negative piece if you ask me.

    John @ GamingTarget.com

  3. The “PSP plays DVDs” stuff is not new. A lot of Gamestop and EBGames employees are saying the same thing and unless the PSP can be used as a DVD chainsaw to cut pieces of wood, then they are really uninformed. Which is shame because I though they will be more informed about it. I also heared some mis-information in Japan as well. I think that the PSP is becoming the next PSX instead of the next big portable. Kyle you should check that out.

  4. I’ve seen a lot more mainstream attempts at creating a “war” between consoles; even Wired has < HREF="http://www.blogger.com/r?http%3A%2F%2Fwired.com%2Fnews%2Fgames%2F0%2C2101%2C63201%2C00.html%3Ftw%3Dwn_story_related">weighed in<> on the PSP vs. DS issue despite the fact they both target completely different audiences.

    I guess nothing’s better for the game magazine business than a good ol’ fashioned console war.

  5. Yup. The toy biz hates games. Mainstream media hates games. (that’s why we got treated to the Spike VGA)

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