A fascinating phenomenon associated with modern gaming has manifested itself in recent years. The advent of on-line multiplayer games (and their social networking structure) has for the first time in human history, and for all practical purposes, blurred the once distinctive age barriers between generations.
With the creation of the internet and its associated applications like on-line gaming, the primary way people are relating to each other is through faceless audio voices. The ever increasing sophistication of gaming in general has helped to lure not just kids, but also adults of all ages, gender, and nationalities to partake in the special effects experience that is the fun world of modern gaming.
Brothers playing videosgames by Sean_Dreilinger on Flickr (CC Licence)
In the case of simulation games and the steeper learning curve to master them, kids below the age of 18 are easily the minority. It may surprise you to learn that according to, “Biz Report” a demographic tracking company, the average age of todays gamer is 35. People over the age of 50 comprise 26% of all gamers.
However the demographics break down, the fact is everyone is mentally pictured by everyone else, at about the same vague age when interacting with other on-line gamers. Doesn’t matter if you are 21 like Forza oval aces, “WStewart1206”, or 71 years young like, “EZT TomCat7,” the nature of the technology and the majority average age of user’s, means that everyone is treated as though they are about 35 years old. Easy to do when you can’t see who you are talking to. The sound of ones voice is just not enough to tell the difference between a 21 year old and a 31 year old for example.
Question is, is this a good thing? Is it good to treat someone under the age of say 16, with the same respect as someone twice his age? Is their a problem with granting equal adult consideration and social status to a youngster who has not yet moved into that more mature arena? Is society being more harmed than enhanced by this, “social evolution” that creates a virtual community of one adult age group, whether you are an actual adult or not? In the future will this lead to a further desensitizing of the differences between a legal adult, and a minor? Does such a blurry condition where the traditional hierarchies of a structured society break down, naturally cause that society to eventually fail?
These questions may sound a bit too rhetorical and alarmist for the topic of gaming, but the fact that they can be asked at all tells you at the very least that things are more socially different now than at any other time in the past, and we should take note of it. Considering that 60% or more of all American households have video game equipment, and that social networking itself is on an exponential rise world wide, cultural change may be occurring so fast that we can track it almost month to month. In the past it took an entire length of a generation for cultural changes to take place and grip a society, now it may only take a couple of years.
In simulation racing as with real racing there has always been a blurring of the lines of age (and gender), because on the race track, you are just another competitor, and age or gender is never considered, (unless you are the ageless NASCAR star Mark Martin of course). Games or sports that are not entirely dependant on youth as a main advantage, as in automotive racing, have seen a wide mix of ages competing head to head.
The difference in simulation racing is greater casual social interactivity above and beyond the game at hand. You won’t see real racers pal around and have a beer together after a race, when one is 17, and the other is 35, married, with two kids and a mortgage. This does in its own way happen in on-line gaming however. Not that you can have a literal beer together, but more of a virtual drink together, and time for talk about other things outside of simulation racing. The down time between races or events provides the time for this kind of social interaction on an equal level, because remember, the perception is all participants think the person they are listening to is about 30 something years old, even if they are not.
Maybe the more interesting question becomes which generation will people be more persuaded by when all generations are for the first time in human history given equal status via the anonymity of on-line gaming? In the absence of age identification which culture will influence all the others the most? Will the younger trendy under 20 something generation become the dominant group to advise and lead everyone else? Or will the older more creative baby boomers dominate the scene as they are apt to do?
My guess is that the two will leach off of each other establishing a blended middle ground never seen before. Because of this new kind of socializing the authoritarians will lose some authority, and those light on esteem will gain more esteem.
In the end it looks like gaming will be the domain of the more mature open minded generation, be they young or old. How this affects society in general is hard to predict. There are some parallels you can point to in the case of the internet itself, which suggests that the more information made available the more free thinking societies become, and the greater chance for improved mutual understanding lives to see another day.
The flip side paints a gloomier picture, one of societal break down, the idea that certain natural barriers of age and gender are essential for a healthy community and should not be crossed, and that dismantling these support structures brings about the decline and chaos of a society where leadership is lost and moral direction is abandoned. But hey, don’t worry too much; it’s only a video game, right?