Images of Computer Gamers

By Gordon Aplin (January, 1995)
If you are '40 something' like me (or at least out of your teens) and happen to mention the fact that you like to play computer games many people will scoff at you for your childish pursuit. Or they will ask how you can play that rubbish! It comes as no surprise then that the people who generally label computer games as childish or even 'evil' have had little contact with them. Quite often their opinions are moulded by the sensationalist nature of reports of violent games on TV or in the press. We frequently see images of children playing computer games (the media rarely distinguishes these from console and arcade games) where the action is fast and the noise is loud and, so, to the uninitiated all games must be like this. Rarely, if ever, do we see an image of an older person quietly trying to solve a puzzle in any one of the hundreds of less frenetic games that are available.

In the fantasy world of home computer advertising, Dad working on his spreadsheet in his study may switch to golf at the click of a mouse button and Mum looks over her child's shoulder to make sure 'he' is doing his homework on the PC. These are acceptable, comfortable and non-threatening images designed to promote the computer as a wonderful, all-purpose family gadget you can't possibly live without. Rather like refrigerator ads in the 1950's.

Yet somewhere between these two extreme images of the computer user - crazed and at the same time, mind-numbed teenager, and perfect family - there are the rest of us. Some may even feel a little guilty at playing and enjoying computer games at our age and many of us may feel isolated from the rest of society which seems to frown upon our passion as if we were smokers lighting up in a restaurant, but the truth is we are not alone. Hidden and isolated we may be but we are many and our numbers are growing all the time.

A survey carried out last year by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that during the two weeks of the survey more adults (18 - 54) played a computer game than went to the cinema! Nor were all of these simply dad's playing Links, for the survey also showed that 26% of women aged 18 - 24, 16% aged 25 - 34 and 12% aged 35 - 44 had played a computer game in the survey period.

A recent American study found that most adults would rather give up cable TV and their VCR before they would part with their computer, and I doubt that they are all emotionally attached to its spreadsheet capabilities.

Clearly, it is games that are driving the home computer market and it is adults who make up a sizeable proportion of that market. Wouldn't it be nice if our contribution was recognised occasionally by a responsible and representative image in the media? Then again, maybe it is the electronic entertainment industry itself that needs to take a long, hard look at the way games are promoted. Perhaps once they acknowledge our existence as consumers in this growing market we will finally gain some recognition as ordinary people who have a legitimate liking for computer games.

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1995. All rights reserved.