Why can’t people just be happy that the video game industry is doing so well?
Last week (Friday, March 19, 2021) The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment, or Ukie for short, revealed that the UK video game market grew to £7bn in 2020, up from £5.7bn in 2019. Seven. Billion. Pounds.
To put that £7bn figure in context, the UK music industry was worth £5.2bn in 2019 (the last year full figures are available; expect that to drop significantly following the pandemic) while the UK film industry was worth £2.84bn in 2020, and the theatre industry just £1.28bn in 2019. The video game industry is now one of the largest players in the UK’s culture sector.
This seems like it would universally be considered good news, right? In a news cycle consumed by Covid and Brexit – where some portions of the government want to sacrifice your nan to “save the economy” and would divorce us from the rest of Europe to preserve a fishing industry worth a comparatively meagre £1.4bn in 2020 – an industry in the UK generating seven billion pounds must surely be positive?
And yet, what we’ll collectively refer to as the “traditional media” here – from broadsheet newspapers to the red-topped toilet paper masquerading as news – still reported on this good news story with a thin veneer of disdain, echoing the pearl-clutching caterwauling we’ve seen since the “Pac-Man will make your kids pop pills!” media panic narrative of the 1980s.
Even our beloved Guardian – we’re unapologetic lefties, we love The Guardian! – with its thoughtful coverage and full-time video games editor still manages to slip so easily into scorn outside of its dedicated gaming section. It led with the headline, “Lockdown boredom drives UK video games market to £7bn record high” which was emblematic of the sentiment generally.
The video game industry couldn’t possibly be booming without the boredom of lockdown! Why, people wouldn’t be playing games if they could only be playing outside! This blip, this anomaly, will surely correct itself when we can go back to the pub!
Here’s a thought: What if – and I know this is a stretch, but just stay with me here – the video game industry might be a force for good?
Quite aside from the massive contribution to the economy, think what a lifeline video games have been during the pandemic when we have all been so isolated. Animal Crossing: New Horizons has seen everything from classes to dates, memorials to Iftars. Fortnite has been the playground where kids hang out after school. Among Us has become the universal, social party game, accessible and enjoyable for all, like a global game of wink murder.
Throughout the pandemic, virtual worlds have endured while crutches for face-to-face interpersonal interactions have fallen by the wayside. When was the last time you did one of those infernal Zoom quizzes that were so regular a year ago? A Joe Wicks home workout? When was the last time you actually enjoyed sitting on a video meeting, rather than it feeling like a drain?
We’re all burned out by it, and rightly so, but we can always find time for a quick round of Among Us or Fall Guys. People are having business meetings in Minecraft and team-building days in PUBG. Far from the forced sociality of Zoom, it’s the very act of doing something else – but still with someone else, that we know, that we’re fond of, who we miss – that makes these virtual spaces, and this time spent together, so enjoyable to inhabit.
We – and many others in and around the industry – were rightfully irritated by the trad media’s out-of-hand dismissal. We’re all used to it, of course, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. So we asked Ukie about the tone the traditional media has used when reporting on the video game industry’s good news story.
“Games are great for beating boredom,” a Ukie spokesperson told us via email, “but they’ve done – and continue to do – so much more for players across the world.
“Whether it has been bringing people together in conversation when they’ve been apart, taking them into glorious worlds to explore when they’ve been stuck indoors or provide much-needed relief from the stresses of pandemic life, games have been a source of comfort for so many.
“We know the power that games have in so many lives and we’re pleased that so many discovered that joy in what has been an extraordinarily difficult time.”
As is so often the case, Ukie is right. We might grow frustrated when the traditional media treats video games poorly, time and time again, but when it comes to engagement and attachment – and the overall health and success of the industry and the medium – how the players get through the door doesn’t matter. It might not be the only reason, but lockdown has certainly contributed to this growth.
Still, it’s seven billion pounds. Seven billion!
If the conservative pearl-clutchers were as concerned with saving the economy at all costs (won’t someone please think of the economy!) as they claim, you’d think the £7bn contribution games industry contribution would dial the condescension down just a smidge.