One of my favorite Pokémon Go related articles I’ve seen yet is Pokémon Go Players Are Waging War Over the White House. Upon seeing that headline, I couldn’t help imagining hundreds of people wielding smartphones and wearing red baseball caps pelting each other with Pokéballs while White House staffers cower in their office. As I continued reading, I saw that there was a rumor that it was Barack Obama’s Blastoise that held the gym. That fantasy seemed much cooler. Whatever your political affiliation is, it would be pretty awesome if the President was a fellow Pokémon trainer.
But this got me thinking. As much fun as it is imagining gamers taking over the White House, I wondered if gamers were really the sort of bunch to care about politics. Of course, politics has an influence over video games, but do gamers and games influence politics?
It’s All in the Numbers
The typical gamer is no longer the stereotype of an overweight white male shooting zombies in his mother’s basement (thank God, because I would have to find a new hobby). Gamers play on mobile, browser, consoles, and computers, meaning that the gamer demographic has got much bigger. And it is estimated that gamers make up a group of about 114 million eligible voters. Of course, it’s people from ages 18 to 29 that are most likely to label themselves as gamers. Which is coincidentally, the age range given to the coveted millennial voter.
Maybe we could collectively take over the White House if we tried.
Gamers for Good
While I’m all for a real life gamer takeover of the White House, provided we take a snack break, gamers have a better shot at getting heard through traditional means like voting. Many are already fighting for their issues offline.
Start Democracy, a group started by the Video Game Voters Network, “recognizes the civic value of gamers and serves as a platform for them to make their voices heard in the democratic process”. Originally founded as a way to stand up against criticism thrown at the gaming community by legislators and the media, the Video Game Voters Network has worked to stand behind the Supreme Rights decision that video games are fully protected speech, advocate for the rights of e-sport athletes, and encourage gamers to go out and vote on the issues that mean the most to them.
The numbers are interesting. I was a little skeptical to think that gamers would constitute as a very political bunch (I certainly am not the most informed citizen of the world). But Start Democracy says that 79% of gamers voted in 2012 and 80% plan to vote in the next election. Gamers are also almost equally divided between party lines and we share the same concerns as other voter groups. While people are split on issues, we are united in our passion for a growing hobby.
Aside from political activism, meaningful games are being used for political education. iCivics, a nonprofit started by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, created a meaningful game called Win the White House to teach students about the electoral process. Students tackle a presidential campaign from start to finish, beginning with picking a candidate and party and crafting their stance on complex issues that they then communicate to voters. Acting as another great example of using games to educate, iCivics targets a generation that’s passionate about the future and helps them learn about their government in a way that doesn’t involve worksheets. Combined with the other great ways that games are teaching and entertaining at the same time, gaming is becoming a go-to method of shaping the world that I am proud to be a part of.
Leveling Up Our Passion
I love the direction that gamers are taking in influencing their political system; education and participation are incredibly important to being good citizens. I also think that gamers can participate more, educate more, and advocate more. But are we mature enough to do this?
There’s great age diversity in our community, but the actions taken by some don’t reflect this. This realization hit me as I did a few research projects at Serenity Forge. I was surprised at all the different types of gamers and the lack of cohesiveness in the community. It seemed to me that while we are fans of RPGs or Farmville or Call of Duty, we have no unity in being fans of video games. Maybe this is what leads to the hurtful and divisive nature of gaming discussion where those who call for change, offer a dissenting opinion, or try something new are ripped apart.
Politics is already a touchy subject and I don’t think that we as a gaming community have proven ourselves to be mature enough to make a big impact on it. Much of that comes from still being defined by that “traditional” gamer stereotype, even though we have a community that closely reflects the diversity of the United States. To be taken seriously, here are the steps we need to take together:
The biggest advantages that this community has are the people that don’t consider themselves as gamers, so we need to better include them into the gaming community. They have unique perspectives that can bring wonderful ideas to the traditional gamer community. Take Terry Crews, the African-American ex-NFL player/actor/Oldspice Dude/wizard of badassery that built a gaming PC. Definitely not the traditional definition of a gamer, but a gamer nonetheless.
If more people proudly wear the title of gamer and act as a good example, then maybe our community will be taken more seriously. However, there’s a reason that these gamers don’t identify themselves as such. Gaming is still seen as niche, so gamers need to represent themselves online and offline as a sum of their parts: as a gamer AND a student, a football player, a retiree, a CEO, a foodie, etc. There’s more to us than our online personas. Showing that will attract similar people that don’t count themselves as gamers but identify with us in other ways.
In my humble opinion, the gaming industry is still young. The film industry has proven to affect politics, but it took decades to grow as a meaningful form of entertainment. Our favorite form of expression needs to grow artistically and our community has to prove that they are mature and diverse. Video games are still seen as an immature, childish form of entertainment and that partly comes with the way that we represent ourselves. As such a large group of voters that can make a substantial difference in the course of politics, we all need to show that we have the same concerns as the rest of the nation.
- ESA – Video Game Prepares Students for Election Season: http://www.theesa.com/article/video-game-prepares-students-for-election-season/
- New York Times – Supreme Court Has Ruled; Now Games Have a Duty: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/29/arts/video-games/what-supreme-court-ruling-on-video-games-means.html
- Kotaku – Pokémon Go Players Are Waging War Over The White House: http://kotaku.com/pokemon-go-players-are-waging-war-over-the-white-house-1783516346
- Pew Research Center – Who Plays Video Games and Identifies as a Gamer: http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/12/15/who-plays-video-games-and-identifies-as-a-gamer/
- Start Democracy: https://videogamevoters.org/start-democracy
- Terry Crews Builds his own Gaming PC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXf8P8FLz9c