Editorial: The Smartest Gaming Generation Is...?
First of all, I certainly don't mean to insult the current generation of young gamers. This is a matter of comparison, and I'm well aware that my age may cause clouded judgment on this matter, but the logic involved is difficult to deny.
In the early days of gaming, video games began to appeal to children and technologically-minded adults who can be compared to the gadget freaks of today. You know, those who are fascinated by the phone that can make you a sandwich, or something. During the dawn of this new phenomenon, it became clear to the mainstream public that this was another niche hobby, designed specifically to cater to the people who saw "Star Wars" 347 times in 1977 alone. It wasn't long before it was known as the quintessential "geek" hobby, although it may have taken a backseat to Dungeons & Dragons at times. Now, this is very, very simple- who was the "geek?" You all know the answer so I won't bother with painful specifics, but the follow-up question is even more relevant to this piece- have you ever seen a stupid geek? I'm guessing you haven't. I'm thinking that goes against the very definition of the word.
I'm also thinking the biggest geek to ever come out of that generation - arguably Bill Gates - has a whole lot of money and power. I'm thinking that that generation of gamers consisted of extraordinarily intelligent individuals who have now grown into extraordinarily intelligent adults. They may still suffer from some awkwardness, but they're intelligent nonetheless. While your peers might've tortured you and you never dared approach a Halloween party in high school (or God forbid, the prom), your teachers and parents always tried to tell you the geeks would eventually rule the world. ...and they do. Well, kinda. They do in this industry, anyway. But having established this relatively obvious fact, we have to acknowledge the massive changes in the industry; not only in regards to the significant technical advancements, but also in regards to the intended audience.
Hardcore veteran gamers will consistently complain of the "dumbing down" of games. They're easier and shorter than ever before, but that statement is not entirely accurate (just because games like Contra took a thousand years to conquer didn't mean the game itself was "long"), and I only half agree with it. Furthermore, with highly accomplished and intellectually-sufficient gaming scripts out there ('cough' MGS4 'cough'), we can't very well say that's "dumber" than freakin' Bad Dudes. You get my point. But on the other hand, due to the enhanced mainstream appeal; due to the fact that gaming is less and less of a "geek pastime" and more and more of an accepted medium, the changes are clear. The geeks (or the hardcore gamers) probably only constitute about 15-20% of the audience - just a rough estimate, but I'm willing to bet I'm close - which means the mainstream peeps are out there. They're everywhere and, well...they're not too bright.
Look, if there are just as many people playing games as there are watching movies are listening to music, they can't all be smart, successful people. This is also logical. When gaming was limited almost exclusively to the biggest geeks on the planet, the vast majority of the audience, by default, could accurately be classified as "smart." Correct? This leads me to another question: we're all painfully aware of the immaturity and even disgusting hostility found online. But beyond that, these people just sound stupid. All the time. It's like the combined IQ of a Halo 3 room is 17. So I'm asking, if we had this sort of amazing multiplayer competition back in the day, would it sound like this? Sure, we were kids so I'm not saying we'd all be quoting Shakespeare and discussing the Pythagorean theorem while playing Gunstar Heroes online. But I have this sneaking suspicion that it wouldn't be so demeaning and insulting.
So. Is the smartest gaming generation behind us? Logically speaking, and using as much common sense as humanly possible, I'd have to say "yes." The original generation, the one populated almost entirely by the brainy nerds who only had other nerd friends, may hold the eternal edge. Gaming will only get more mainstream as time goes on, and at the very least, everyone knows that the more mainstream something - anything - gets, the dumber it gets. So far, in our case, I think gaming is the exception to the rule in terms of the actual product. Games are still getting better and better. But the gamers...hmm... I'm just a little worried.
Disclaimer: Again, if anybody wants to misinterpret this, I have to remind you all that I'm not saying all current-gen younger gamers are stupid. We have many young and intelligent readers at this site, for example. I'm merely asking a legitimate question at the risk of sounding like the old, pompous, out-of-touch gamer who still wishes it was 1985. ...for the record, I really don't. ;)
10/31/2008 Ben Dutka