NYT Gives a Fair Article a Bad Tweet

This past week, Nellie Bowles wrote an article published by the New York Times titled “All We Want to Do Is Watch Each Other Play Video Games” but the publication’s Twitter account ran with the tweet:

“America’s 150 million gamers want to gather. They want to sit next to each other, elbow to elbow, controller to controller. They want the lighting to be cool, the snacks to be Hot Pockets, and they want a full bar because they aren’t teenagers anymore.”

As one might expect, gamers began mocking the tweet and, by extension, the article itself. Yet there’s a problem with a lot of the responses I saw: They didn’t read the article. If they had, they might have found that Bowles writes a rather positive description of gaming and its future as a centerpiece of American culture. The article goes so far as to comment on Hollywood’s decline during gaming, streaming, and esports’ continued rise. The article’s message is fairly clear: Gaming is no longer a hobby just for kids and teens and is growing exponentially. Not only is it not going anywhere, but it’s going to become even more of a standard staple in entertainment and may even be the savior of some struggling industries.

Let’s evaluate the article itself:

The headline, “All We Want to Do Is Watch Each Other Play Video Games,” is referring to the meteoric rise and record setting shift witnessed with YouTube and Twitch. No gamer can deny that the old new media – gaming magazines/now gaming sites – has been upended by YouTube reviewers/critics and Let’s Players with streaming on Twitch an even newer factor.

Ninja’s 635,000 consecutive views playing Fortnite with Drake made headlines. Streaming and esports are, essentially, watching others play video games and it’s appeal has proven massive. This is noted further with the sub-headline: “Gamers are the new stars. Esports arenas are the new movie theaters.”

If there was any doubt on the direction this was going, the first sentence should set the stage: “Video games are beginning their takeover of the real world.”

The article describes how malls, movie theaters, stores, parking garages, and more locations are converting to esports arenas and content farms are popping up to generate content with the same level of management as a major studio production.

Football teams are celebrating wins with dances from Fornite, which the article notes has racked up 129 million hours viewed on Twitch in under a year. That calculates out to 2.48 million hours a week. If Fortnite was a weekly television show, that might translate to 2.48 million viewers per week. That’s half of what The Simpsons pulls in. Yet that’s not a valid 1:1 comparison. In February alone, Bowles notes that Fortnite received 2.4 billion views on YouTube.  Billion, with a B.

After establishing all this, the article states a very real fact that ESPN broadcasters were adamantly against just 3 years ago: “Esports are, finally, just like any other sport.”

eSports Saving America! (‘s malls)

 

As the online presence is growing more dominant on the streaming and review side, physical space is being taken up by esports arenas and gaming bars. However, here’s where that tweet quote comes in and even within the article where opinions may diverge.

“Those 150 million gamers in America want to gather. They want to sit next to each other, elbow to elbow, controller to controller. They want the lighting to be cool, the snacks to be Hot Pockets, and they want a full bar because they are not teenagers anymore.”

Commenters are correct – not all gamers are alike and the huge growth of eSports turn outs doesn’t mean all gamers want to squeeze into a room to watch others play games. Some don’t even want to be in a crowded place to play games together.

But I don’t think that’s really the full intent of the article and I think we, as gamers, should be a little more tempered in our reaction. “They want to sit next to each other, elbow to elbow, controller to controller” isn’t necessarily a literal statement. Nobody literally wants to sit with elbows touching and there’s no logical scenario that controllers would be. It’s more of a gaming iteration of “stand shoulder to shoulder.”

Considering the past number of years have primarily had journalists depicting gamers as anti-social goblins living in shadowy rooms despising human contact, I really think it’s reasonable to accept a claim that gamers are, in fact, normal people who want to gather with friends and enjoy a shared hobby. As the article notes, it’s a natural extension of the already sociable aspect of gaming as we chat on headsets while playing even when we’re not together in the same room.

Breaking down this contentious paragraph, simply think of it as such:

150 million gamers aren’t antisocial, they enjoy interacting with fellow gamers.
There’s a demand for public venues where the hobby can be enjoyed alongside fellow gamers.
They want these venues to have a comfortable atmosphere, not the dark basement stereotype.
The average gamer isn’t a kid anymore.

A Live Example

The article then shifts to describing a new esports arena in Oakland and its pre-opening party. 4000 people inside, a line stretched around the block right in the middle of a tourism hot spot. That’s a good turn out by any stretch and the fact that a game related venue is approved for a major tourism traffic area is more important than the gamers present.

The Co-founder is cited as saying he had to speak at four community meetings to convince the community it would like having the arena present. That means it took effort to get gaming in this location, to have it be present in the community. It also means it was successful. For all the complaints that gamers voice about how politicians, business executives, and everyone calling shots don’t get it, here you have a community that was convinced it was just as beneficial as a grocery store (the cited alternative that was initially desired). That’s a big deal.

Regarding that poorly chosen tweet, some also complained that it suggested gamers were stunted to associate “I’m grown up” exclusively with “I can drink alcohol.” That’s not accurate either, as the article notes the Oakland eSports arena faced challenges with getting a liquor license as the misconception was present that teenagers were the majority demographic when in actuality is cited with 25 being the average age. It’s a fact that most adults want alcoholic beverages as an option in public venues where they congregate.

The article has quotes from gamers in attendance, appreciating a larger venue than the typical back room in a gaming store or commenting on the layout. What caught my interest was that Bowles interviewed 77 year old designer Herb Press who may offer the most positive comment in the article:

”This is an audience involved in this particular time in the computer age, but I’m amazed how critical they are,” he said. “They do have serious concepts and tastes. I heard one come out of the bathroom and say it looked cool in there.”

Actual importance of bathroom ambiance aside, it’s worthwhile to note that it’s a tangible realization that gamers have “serious concepts and tastes” in a major publication like the New York Times. That’s a far cry from the Dorito gremlins we’re frequently written to be in clickbait articles. It suggests that despite the best efforts of certain groups, gaming is growing too big and all-encompassing as a cultural past time to be ignore and dismissed as nonsense that the kids do.

Dorito Gremlin

Even if we still find this amusingly valid in our hearts.

E-Celeb Dread

The next portion of the article is where the real concern should settle. Discussing eSports organizations and the industry that’s growing. As Bowles writes, “Their job is to be cool gamers.” The very notion sounds less like a gamer growing popular for their natural personality and connecting with an audience and more like manufactured gaming celebrities akin to the latest pop idol churned out by American Idol year after year.

It’s noted there are numerous growing eSports teams (perfectly reasonable) and content mills (possibly concerning). That’s where we’re getting into the idea of manufactured gaming. When gaming it about churning out content to mine for something that might go viral, that’s not really gaming so much as it’s trying to find something that will become popular and presenting it for the sole purpose of increasing popularity so that popularity can be translated to followers & subscribers to generate more revenue for corporations that are funding the celebrity in question.

However, it’s noted many have broken away from the entertainment company they were partnered with to pursue their own media companies. That ironically brings them full circle – back to where a content creator on YouTube has replaced the big media conglomerations and has more reach. If gaming can hope to stave off the typical corporate corruption that seems to seep into everything, an ongoing system of direct connection between creators and fans is the way to do it.

Hollywood vs Gaming

Bowles wraps up the article discussing the decline of movie going. Talking to a former Capital Records president who has turned to gamer management (again, think manufactured e-celebs), he says the future is in eSports and gaming, which he believes will surpass movies as an entertainment industry and he acknowledges that a lot of people his age still think gamers must be ‘nerds in their basement’ and says that puts the entertainment industry behind the curve, or “asleep at the switch.”

This entire article is example after example that gaming is, if not THE future of entertainment, at least a major part of it. It’s a shame that so many gamers won’t realize this article is actually in support of their hobby, proclaiming its prominence in the future of culture, based entirely on a poorly chosen tweet.

That’s not entirely at the gamers’ feet, either. They’ve gotten so used to clickbait and disparaging headlines that they do what any gamer would – they don’t play. They don’t click the article, they don’t give the publication click-money. They do what they can to deny the “enemy” points on the board. And while the context of that paragraph in the article isn’t entirely bad by my interpretation, it’s still oddly out of place in the context of the article as a whole.

After all, there’s no mention of Hot Pockets at a single esports arena, gamer bar, or gaming center in the article, nor requested by anyone interviewed, so why suggest gamers want the snacks to be Hot Pockets? That runs contrary to the paragraph’s depiction of gamers as having serious concepts and tastes as well as contrary to the push that the average gamer is an adult, not a teen or kid.

Besides, tendies are the superior choice these days, anyway. At least give a gamer some nugs.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s