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Gaming and the Lens of the Television

You say you watch the TV...well have you ever wondered if the TV was watching YOU?

I never watched a lot of television as a child.  Growing up in a household where my parents either wanted to watch really old, somewhat boring stuff or simply tried to go without television altogether, I was often vying for time to increase my cultural understanding through the consumption of media (or, as my parents liked to call it "zoning out in front of the boobtube").  As a kid, your ability to be popular was largely contingent on watching the same shows, eating the same sugar-coated cereal and having the pump-up sneakers.  Looking back, I laugh at these things, but back then, it felt like a life-or-death struggle.  It was the difference between being treated nicely (or simply ignored) and having every other kid declare hunting season on you because you didn't memorize last night's episode of "The Simpsons."  Needless to say, in order to survive, I became amazingly good at lying to blend in.

Yeah, that's the most IDEAL childhood model...

I hated the fact that my peers always seemed to bow to the master of television like drones, but at the same time, there was something both hypnotic and engrossing about the bright colors, the flashing screen and the idea of being able to absorb all sorts of media with little to no effort.  Today, just like many other adults, I watch television programs, although truth be told, my ability to watch shows is more under my control than ever before.  I minimize my exposure to commercials, which in my opinion are the bane of any human's existence.  It really frosts my cookies when someone tries to make me buy something that I don't even WANT.

"Trust in meeeeeeee....."

I do have a point here, so stick with me.  You see, TV has a way of framing how we see the world, especially when we are not used to something or are somewhat ignorant about a topic that permeates the general consciousness.  While we may not all be watching TV 24/7, we all generally know the basic memes and characters that are "popular" in the here and now.  However, to some extent, stereotypes as well as popular notions held by the movers and shakers of our society often get in the way of the truth.  While you can see this a lot in "sensationalist journalism," which pretends to have an "unbiased" stance when it's really quite obvious that nothing could be further from the truth, it also seems to be the case that people will take falsehoods and lies away from a show and repeat them as truth.

For example, THIS triangle is a thorn in the sides of FPS gamers everywhere...

The biggest and most pervasive myth perpetrated by television programs and news outlets is the myth of the "kid who shot up a school/did something violent" BECAUSE he played video games that involved shooting guns.  There are many people who do violent things who do NOT play FPS video games, and there are plenty of people who play these games without actually wanting to kill people in real life.


To put it another way, just because you kick butt at Cooking Mama doesn't mean you should be accepted as a master chef.

Luckily for us, there is an antidote to the BS, which is ironically a show by the same name...

(This is just part 1-you can watch the rest of the episode on Youtube)

Ever since the Columbine shooting and the other school shootings that have happened from time to time afterwards, people are quick to blame things like loud angry music or violent video games in the wake of these tragedies, as though it is just a question of getting rid of a video game to stop the horrible tragedy of violence and death.  However, this is just like the average rape argument that seems to focus on the length of a skirt as the main reason why rape happens.  The truth of the matter is that when someone wants to commit a crime, it's not going to matter if you cover the world with Nerf and make us all wear bhurkas, rape and murder is going to still happen because the problems are not externally based-they are due to complicated systematic and biological issues.  Instead of saying "there's yer problem" it's more like untangling a mass of wires and trying to figure out what goes where. 

Which brings me to "Numb3rs"....

So, I've been enjoying the show "Numb3rs" lately (although I think the name of the show is like a middle finger to the English language).  Anything with cute math geeks and Bill Nye (!!!!) as well as the odd gun fight showdown directed by Ridley Scott is going to be good television.  But I am disappointed with their portrayal of video games.  First off, there's an episode about a school shooting.  Of course, there's the obligatory bad-mouthing of the Numb3r's universe version of Dungeons and Dragons clubs.  Then of course, you have the fact that it's all made up of greasy stereotypically dressed/acting nerdy guys.  Then, of course, what drives the nail in the coffin is the fact that it eventually comes out that they had this "school shooting video game" that they loved to play.....*sigh*.....could it get any MORE stereotypical!?  Of course, that's not the worst part.  The worst, most horrifying part is that the school shooting is apparently (TWIST TIME AND TIME TO BLAME THE VICTIM HERE) due to the fact that this girl gets gang raped or something and so she enlists the geek squad to carry out a school shooting and kill the people who did it.

"OH IT WASN'T THE VIDEO GAMES, BUT IT IS STILL WRONG THAT THEY WERE SHOOTING PRETEND PEOPLE ONLINE," scoff the FBI agents.

*headdesk*

What?  You just had a crime committed AGAINST you?  Obviously YOU'RE the dangerous criminal!

Next up, let's have an after school special on how all rape victims are going to create an elaborate plot to assassinate their rapists. *rolls eyes*.  Just as I am tired of gamers as a whole getting all the flack and blame for when ONE PERSON goes out and commits a crime, so I am tired of there always being some "creative twist" where it is shown that even more than ever, rape victims are somehow to blame and they're dangerous monsters just waiting to come out and get some unsuspecting guy.

I'm sure that the Columbine guys also used a toilet on a regular basis.  No one is saying that using the potty is the downfall of decent society.

They forgot to include "100 ways to play into tired stereotypes about gamers"....

it's somewhat better that today, the show featured an MMORPG that involved a guy who was killing people so he could win a million dollar prize for finding items in the real world and winning battles online.  This was shown in a more positive light as one of the main female characters actually was a member of the game.  However, I found it frustrating that all the math geeks around her kept treating her like she was "weird" and generally were taken aback by her desire to play a game, while for some reason I guess their weird number theories and advanced cosmological study MAKES TOTAL SENSE?!  So she likes playing a game?  So she likes playing a sexy character in the game?  So she also is a person who has a lot of other stuff going on in her head and her talents/skills than just sitting at home all day like a loser?  What's wrong with that?

I think the best part of the episode was the part where they're interviewing various people who play the game and you get to see the difference between their avatars and the players.  There's an older lady, a bunch of people of color, and various sized/shaped people from all sorts of backgrounds, economic statuses and life experiences.  While the whole episode still had that feeling of being "gaming, lolwut?" about those who enjoy gaming, I had to give it to them that they finally were showing gamers as more than just a bunch of stereotypes and cliches.

Now, this is not the first (and it won't be the last) show to do this.  Law and Order, CSI, and pretty much every other crime drama out there uses gamer tropes and stereotypes to add to the negative hype about what it means to play video games.  Of course, then of course you have comedy, stuff like "The Guild" or "The Big Bang Theory"-both of which are enjoyed by many geeky people themselves because they bill themselves as "comedy."  Still, you will have to admit that they use those very same stereotypes and tropes that we take offense at when they pop up in a "serious" show.  The truth of the matter is that replaying negative stereotypes and then trying to write it off as "well, it's just humor!" is playing right into the hands of those who largely perpetuate these cultural memes.

Come on guys, we're better than this.

Obviously, I'm not saying we shouldn't watch shows that use stereotypes (obviously, we'd never be able to watch anything), but instead of that, I say next time, just LOOK for it. You don't have to write a dissertation or really do anything special beyond being aware of these things and making sure that you don't let them just slip past as a "given".  Because while "we all know" that gamers don't largely play into the stereotypes, even among those of us who consider ourselves gamers, we'll bring up expectations or judge our fellow gamers with these very tropes even if we may scoff at the same stereotype when it's being paraded around like a crippled pony on Fox News.

I guess what I'm trying to say (besides "give peas a chance," lol), is that even if television programs insist on being stupid, that doesn't mean that we have to be.  And it certainly doesn't mean that we should stay silent when someone brings up a harmful stereotype about just about ANYONE!  While being a gamer is not necessarily as socially under siege as, say, certain racial or religious groups, it is true that gaming is part of the public consciousness, and it bothers me when the ongoing TV message is: "What are these newfangled game things and why won't those dang whippersnappers turn down their Brittney Manson music?!"

Seriously, humanity, let's stop pretending that technology doesn't exist.  I don't care if your only definition of a mouse involves a fuzzy rodent that likes cheese, or that a game only counts when it involves a guy in pads running around with a pigskin. Gaming is and has been in the public consciousness for a LONG while, and it's not just for the "hardcore geeks" anymore.  Gaming is multi-faceted and as diverse as the people who play it.  Let's not do it a disservice by pretending that we can sum it all up in a five minute meme montage.

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So, what do you think about TV and their constant quest to make gaming into the scapegoat?

Do you have any "TV Gamer" horror stories you'd like to share?


And finally, what gamer stereotypes have YOU broken today?

I look forward to hearing from you soon! :)

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