Geek Chic: Gaming Hits the Mainstream

Laugh all you want at the thousands of gamers who stood in lines for hours to nab a copy of "Halo 3" for its midnight release Monday, but you're in the minority. Earning more money in 24 hours than the "Spiderman" movies and the latest Harry Potter tome -- $170 million, "Halo 3" symbolizes the move of video games -- once the province of socially awkward, pimply faced teenage boys -- into the mainstream.

And everyone, from nursing home residents to Hollywood directors, it seems, wants a piece of the action.

Gamers have long been stereotyped as geeky, anti-social types, but the numbers paint a different picture. According to the market research firm NPD, two-thirds of Americans are involved in some sort of video gaming, whether they're playing solitaire at their desk or hunkered down in the subway with their Sony PSP.

Similarly last year, the sales of video and PC games in the United States totaled $13.5 billion, NPD's research shows. Furthermore, sales across the entire industry are up 43 percent so far in 2007. NPD predicts the industry will take in up to $18 billion by year's end.

It's not just that gaming is more popular than ever before -- it's also a matter of the changing face of the typical gamer.

Hal Halpin, president of the Entertainment Consumers Association, a nonprofit group for gamers, said that for the "Halo 3" release, the association had people at different Game Stop video stores around the country. "The diversity of the people in the line was unbelievable ... [from the] 36 year-old professional dad standing next to the 17-year-old high school student and the soccer moms there," said Halpin.

"I had sort of preconceived notions. I had my own ideas," Halpin said. "Seeing these people firsthand, they're just about every kind of shape and make. There's definitely not the stereotypical gamer anymore -- a much larger cross-section than you would see earlier."

According to Halpin, the audience for video games is expanding for a few reasons: One, kids who grew up playing Pong on Atari or Super Mario Brothers on Nintendo are maturing with the industry and looking to reignite that old nostalgia, and two, the games themselves are becoming more inclusive.

They're not just toys anymore.

"People who grew up in Generation X and certainly the leading part of Generation Y grew up [with video games] as part of their entertainment diet," Halpin said.

But "as the media matured so did the people who played them," he said. Today "video games are seen as a consumer electronics device rather than a toy," Halpein said.

Not only that, Halpin said, the manufacturers of these games are attracting new players with the development of games based on traditional games or sports like football or Scrabble.

"The soccer moms make up such a large version of the casual market," he said. "They ended up playing board games with their friends and are seeing there's a lot more than that" on video games.

Halpin's theories jibe with the Deloitte's State of the Media Democracy Report, which measured Americans' attitudes about technology and how they use it.

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