The Myths Of The Videogame Generation

The videogame generation has short attention spans, hates reading, and everything has to be cut together really quickly, right? It’s nonsense, and here’s why…


I was born at a time when videogames were just on the cusp of getting going. By the time I was ten, I was on to my first home computer, by the time I was 20, I’d got through a good number more. When I hit my 20s, I bought my first games console since the Atari 2600 was brought into our house, and I’ve lived with computers, and computer games, for the vast majority of my life.

Some of the writers here are a good deal younger than me, and were born at a time when Sega and Nintendo were duking it out for our time and money. They never got to see the initiation of the home computing and gaming revolution, as it was right there in front from the moment they were born.

Between us all, various facets of the media have thus banded us the “videogame generation”. Trying to define who this encompasses is tricky, but let’s go with a common assumption that it takes those who were brought up with videogames around them. So, mid-30s downwards.

Now before we get too deep into this, let’s check out some of the complimentary things that people have to say about the “videogame generation”. Back in 2005, it was reported in Singapore that $120m was being earmarked to promote the love of reading among the “videogame generation”. We’re regularly told that the “videogame generation” don’t have much of an attention span, that they like loud music, fast cuts of everything, and eat nothing but pizza and drink nothing but Coke (er, I might be guilty of the last one, but moving swiftly on…).

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Even when reporting on something as positive as videogames being linked to better attention spans, the Wall Street Journal back in 2003 has to do it with a sneer. “Maybe there’s hope for the videogame generation after all,” it barked, clearly being produced in an office where nobody has ever fired up a game of Tetris ever.

But can we now have a reality check, please? Because in every generation, surely there are people who ‘disappoint’ those older than them. In every generation, surely there’s a new trend that comes through that allows some snobbery from above to kick in? And in every generation, nonsense gets attached to them, to stop people having to dig out proper reasons for why life is like it is.

So let’s get these off our chest.

Videogamers have short attention spans, and like things cut together really quickly

Nonsense, and would only be written by someone who has never played a videogame in their life. Videogames demand attention, and if you sit through many major titles, you’ll be treated to elaborate, slow building cut scenes that help put together a story as intricate as you’ll find in any other entertainment media. To do well in most videogames, you simply have to pay attention, often for long periods, often having to think, subconsciously strategise and get far more involved than you would is sitting and watching a soap opera or reality TV show.

Videogamers don’t play sports, read books and do other things

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Nonsense, and would only be written by someone who has never played a videogame in their life. Let’s not forget we’re living in a society dominated by so much fear appearing in the pages of our newspapers that parents are reluctant to let their kids go out on their bikes, and are far happier with them sat in the house playing a game. Perhaps the main reason that the young today play such games, rather than heading over to the park for a kickabout, is that they’re not actually allowed to do the latter? Yet to even suggest they don’t play sports and do active things is a nonsense. Granted, if a parent uses a games console as a surrogate babysitter as the norm, rather than spending time with their kids or joining in with their hobby with them, then there will be consequences. But that’s hardly the fault of the games themselves, is it?

And as for the notion that gamers don’t read, and don’t like good stories, I’d argue this: there’s some quite brilliant storytelling to be found in modern day games, and as mentioned before, it can easily rival a film, book or TV show. As for the supposed downturn in reading, did anyone mention this to JK Rowling? Last time we checked, she’d sold a few copies of her books, generally to younger people. Just a thought.

Videogamers like thumping soundtracks to everything

It gets a bit boring after a while, doesn’t it? Again, I’d urge those who think this to look at the videogames themselves and, well, listen to them? It just doesn’t stack up, and it’s not right to pin the cultural music choices of a given generation to one medium that doesn’t even tend to exploit them very much. Plus: isn’t it the responsibility of every generation to have music that their parents don’t like?

Videogames cause the videogame generation to be violent

Nope. That’d be bad parenting, bad role models, and the usual pot pourri of contributory factors that must frustrate a 24-hour news channel looking for something simple to plug a gap with.

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There’s never been a proven link between videogames and crime, and never will be. And this is a lazy, generational thing that comes about every ten years or so anyway. In the 80s, it was video nasties. In the 90s, it was the likes of Natural Born Killers. And now it’s games. Still, having a handy scapegoat does mean society doesn’t have to look for real answers that are likely to be a great deal scarier…

Videogames have turned a generation in anti-social loners

No they haven’t, and stop being silly.

Videogames, if anything, increasingly encourage people to play together, crossing age and gender divides. At Christmas, six or seven people were squeezed into my front room to play Wii games, for instance, ranging from a four year up to a pensioner. And everyone took part. That never used to happen with Scrabble 20 years ago. The kids in the street regularly gather together for a gaming session too.

Again, all this clouds a more sinister, more real reason, that fear in society is at a point where parents are scared to let their kids out. How about dealing with that, rather than wheeling out another Professor or snob to tell us how bad the “videogame generation” is?

Videogames are all aggressive and violent

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Oh shut up. Take a look on the shelves of the game shop, and tell us how many have age restrictions on them. Not many, right? That’s because a small proportion are violent, and the rest take in everything from board games, movie tie-ins, cookbooks, puzzle titles, silly little fun games and even, now, books on a cartridge. While some continue to dismiss the videogame generation, it’s actually said generation – the older of whom are now in their 30s, remember – that are trying to do something about the problems in society.

These are just some of the lazy, common myths perpetrated about a generation that, ultimately, is very technically aware, and always has been. It’s annoying to see how easily the term “videogame generation” gets banded around negatively with little thought of whether there’s any substance to it. Sure, it’s a generation with problems, as all generations have.

But let’s actually talk about the problems, rather than making silly excuses and inventing scapegoats that simply don’t hold much water?

16 January 2009


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