There is a recent trend towards the alienation of those who adopt technology. iPhone users have been described as capitalist snobs, twitterers as inane attention deficit narcissists, and gamers as unintelligent, impressionable adolescents (whatever their age.) It seems that the use of technology introduced to make our lives easier is now reason enough to deem someone a social outcast. While there is merit to the argument that having a thousand Facebook friends does not equate to real-life interactions, it cannot be immediately assumed that interactive media is anti-social purely because of the digital interface which sits between. Twitter may well have become the technological scapegoat of 2009, constantly belittled as a tool for boring narcissists. However, although its users may see their reflection momentarily in the medium, my own interaction has shown that information is quickly taken up by a competing current of constantly streaming knowledge, communally contemplated and then digested into the collective consciousness. Of course, such analogies and technological reasoning may well be lost in another whirlpool of confusion; one overrun by stereotypes of immaturity. This theory, that an active engagement with a technological medium is a clear sign of social imbalance, needs to be solidly addressed.
In her February 11th instalment of The Wry Side, Caroline Overington released a light-hearted diatribe about gamers, asserting that “anyone over the age of 30 who spends any time deep in some sagging sofa, console in one hand, the other down the front of their pants, imagining themselves to be a combatant in some pretend city, is lame…anyone who has an avatar…bearing a physique that is in every way discordant with the physique of an actual gamer – is major-league lame.” Though Overington’s piece is designed to be wry and satiric (and the fact that I am writing this response shows how effective her piece is), the stereotype is one which has become all too prevalent within the recent censorship debate.
Gamers are lazy, masturbatory, fat fantasists. It’s a description which prompts me to ask: why not also attack accountants staring at a computer screen all day? Why not attack me as I sit in an Albury cafe, leisurely chain-sipping my Mocha Latte, typing this article? It seems that it is because those things are considered professions, yet gaming is deemed leisure activity. The clear assertion is that people are less successful because of what they do in their leisure time. Overington’s opinion is that a legal eagle who, on his off time, likes role-playing as a real eagle, must be a failure in his profession. (“I know what I’d think [when I found out], I’d think: ‘I’m going to jail’.”) However, I can’t imagine we should consider our local GP, a weekend golfer, as a man who can only count to 18, and chooses his medical tools based on how long he wants his patients to survive. No, gaming is apparently insidious because it is fantastic, and role-playing is obviously a sign of some sort of social disorder. I hope my readers do not empathise with the characters in Stephen King’s Misery in their time off, or I may soon find myself, like King’s writer protagonist, hobbled in the master bedroom.
Michael Atkinson supports Overington’s theory that games greatly alter everyday activity, saying that “one can go to the cinema and see someone beheaded and…we permit it within certain restrictions…Interactive games are different…the person playing is doing the actions and therefore it has a higher impact.” (ABC’s Good Game, January 15th) Surely, if one can see the difference between interaction and passivity, one could also see the difference between interaction and real life. While I may have seen someone maimed in countless movies and games, when the footage of a civilian being beheaded by terrorists first made its rounds online a few years back, I couldn’t bear to watch a moment. If an intelligent man like Michael Atkinson can tell the difference between viewing and interacting, should we not also assume that gamers are intelligent enough to perceive (and control) the difference between interaction and real life? Atkinson says that he feels “more at risk from gamers than the outlaw motorcycle gangs” but while his concerns for censorship are well intentioned, they remain clearly limited by the idea that gamers are somehow unable to think clearly enough to differentiate fantasy from reality.
With the increasing popularity of modern technology, it is a wonder that these stereotypes still exist, unevolved, as a part of political rhetoric. Given that the video game industry raked in US$11.7 billion in 2008, it seems foolishly tunnel-visioned to perpetuate the myth that gaming is a niche market for the socially inept. It seems backward to imply that mere fascination with the fantastic is duplicitous enough to destroy the otherwise respectable patterns of daily life. The stigma surrounding empathetic interaction seems to direct that, as a writer, I should not engage in any kind of literary endeavour which might allow me to intellectually take on a fictional persona, for fear of leaving the everyday responsibilities of the workforce behind. After all, who can focus on a deadline if Anna Karenina is still without conclusion? Such a thing would be ridiculous!
*** Images by moggs oceanlane and David GoehringTagged: caroline overington, censorship, feature article, michael atkinson, op ed, opinion editorial, r18+, sam webster, samuel webster