FROM THE beginning of next year, Australian gamers will finally be allowed to buy video games rated R18+.
The bipartisan support for extending the classification system for games shows a growing recognition that the make-up of Australia’s gaming community has changed dramatically in recent years.
It has long been perceived that the only people interested in video games, with the exception of children, are socially awkward, geeky young men.
There’s the long-standing stereotype of Gen Y gamers sitting alone in darkness all day, skin paling and neckbeards growing, who use their controller, joystick or keyboard to fill the void left by social, romantic, academic or professional ineptitude.
Those people still exist and probably always will, but a Bond University study last year found that it’s unfair to pigeon-hole all gamers in this way.
The ‘Digital Australia 2012’ study (which, admittedly, was commissioned by an industry association) found that the average gamer in Australia is aged 32. On top of that, almost half of Australian gamers are women.
Since 2005, females have gone from representing 38 per cent of all gamers to 47 per cent.
This is due in part to an increased variety of games.
Fitness, karaoke and multiplayer party games have been pitched to families and young women, increasing the prevalence of gaming as a social activity.
The data also reflects the rise of casual gaming on mobile and tablet devices.
Developers of games like ‘Angry Birds’, ‘Words With Friends’ and ‘Robot Unicorn Attack’ have managed to tap into a market several times the size of what they could have hoped for only a few years ago.
People who wouldn’t be seen dead playing an Xbox will happily pull out their smartphone and while away their lunch breaks launching kamikaze birds at kleptomaniac pigs or guiding a mechanical unicorn across purple fields to the sound of Erasure.
Despite the growing numbers of gamers, a lot of the gaming community still has an image problem.
The abusive conduct of online players, especially in first-person shooters, remains a widespread and widely-reported issue.
Online ‘Call of Duty’ servers are still awash with testosterone-fuelled teenagers and young adults, ready to level a torrent of misogynistic abuse at any female who dares enter their domain.
This behaviour is unacceptable but is not restricted to gaming, being part of a broader internet culture in which teenage boys and young men too terrified to speak to women in person make tired jokes about kitchens, domestic violence and sexual assault.
Another common criticism of gaming culture is the amount of time players ‘waste’ in front of their screens instead of exercising or being social.
But the Digital Australia survey shows most gamers spend between half an hour and an hour a day.
While there are gaming addicts who will dedicate half a day or more to slaying dragons, blowing up terrorists or catching creatures with elemental powers and forcing them to fight other creatures with elemental powers, video games are only a small part of a balanced lifestyle for most players.
As a geeky young man myself, my last summer was split between going to the beach, catching up with friends, attending music festivals, and absorbing dragon souls in the frighteningly addictive fantasy game ‘Skyrim’.
Video games still have a long way to go before they’re accepted on the same level as films or television as a form of entertainment.
But the growth and diversity of Australia’s gaming community shows they’re well on their way.
What are your thoughts on video games?
Are they a childish pastime or an engaging form of entertainment for all ages?
Let me know your thoughts on Twitter @stephenejeffery or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org