Video Games Disappear From Popular Culture

There are still millions of avid video gamers, but the numbers have now dropped enough that video games have disappeared from popular culture.

As a measure of how far video games have fallen, we are approaching the 10th anniversary of Angry Birds, the last video game to be a household name. It was released on December 11, 2009.

Former gamers are likely to have trouble recognizing the video game world of today. When new games are released in 2019, they come with serious bugs and fatal strategic flaws. A series of near-weekly bug-fix releases follow to reduce the number of crashes, block unexpected player strategies and exploits that get around the intended game challenges, soften obstacles that turn out to be harder than the developers intended, and notch up the rewards to keep players from losing interest. Surfing the wave of game updates requires technical knowledge few people have, but it is a requirement if you want to have a meaningful experience of current high-profile game releases. There is a whole language to describe the types of fixes incorporated into each successive release. Someone whose last serious video game purchase was five years ago will not know the words.

It is hard for video game insiders to recognize how insular the field has become. It was the financial pressure of a shrinking market, along with the inherent security risks of keeping a software product under wraps, that forced video game publishers to release games before they were ready. To avid gamers who had already mastered a thousand game challenges, the difficulties of flawed and untested game software seemed obvious enough — just another challenge to master. To anyone who did not grow into the current video game world as it evolved, though, the current situation is a door with a dozen locks and no keys. Given the challenges a would-be video gamer faces, it is no surprise if there are hardly any new customers in a market that consists of an ever-shrinking pool of highly skilled players.

The presence of video games in popular culture at this point, I am afraid, is founded on anger. When attacks by gamers on each other become so pointed that the victims die or lawsuits are filed, the video game world shows up in the headlines. A person who hears the word “gamer” might think of “gamergate” from a few years ago. That was the name adopted by a group of video game insiders for their bizarre attempt to discredit the involvement of women in software development in general, and the former girlfriend of one of the conspirators in particular. If that is the kind of thing that video games stand for in the public imagination, it is an additional obstacle to drawing new people in.

Another large-scale cultural trend, time pressure, is also working against video games. I know more than one former gamer who bought a hot new game only to find they didn’t have time to learn it, and never bought another game again. I gave up video games myself earlier this year when the advertising in the last two free games I was playing became too intrusive, but time pressure was also a factor in persuading me to delete all the games I had played.

To those who can get past these obstacles, though, the entertainment value of video games is still intact. There is no reason to imagine that video games will disappear. At some point in the future, new technology and a new approach to software development will allow a new generation of games to break through.

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