British tire manufacturer Continental Tires released a new study this week reporting that gamers are twice as likely as their non-gaming peers to be pulled over by the police.
The study of 2,000 gamers and non-gamers between the ages of 17-39 also suggests that gamers are twice as likely to suffer from road rage, take risks, run a red light, make a claim on a crash, scare their passengers, and speed.
The headlines wrote themselves: “Report: gamers make terrible drivers”; “Study Says Video Gamers Are Dangerous Drivers”; “Game players are more reckless drivers – study”; “Gran Turismo 5 Can Wreck Your Car”; “Playing Video Games Makes You a Terrible Driver”; “Videogame Players are More Dangerous Drivers, Says Study”.
These and other such headlines were remarkable for two reasons. Firstly, they contradicted the only pertinent data to come out of the study. It turns out that gamers have had half as many crashes as non-gamers in the last 12 months. They may confess to more risky driving behaviour but according to this study it’s unlikely the idiot who just rear-ended you was a gamer on his way home to play Gran Turismo 5.
Secondly, only one of those headlines was from the mainstream media: “Study Says Video Gamers Are Dangerous Drivers,” wrote the controversy-inclined Fox News (and it attributed the story to its fellow publication, IGN). All the others were from specialist gaming media. In fact, of the 31 news items regarding the study that came across Gameplanet’s newswire, only four were from mainstream publications.
In that regard, the study was an abject failure for Continental Tires. After all, the research topic was never going to uncover actionable intelligence for the tire manufacturing industry. It was conceived as a marketing exercise and undertaken to secure as many editorial mentions for Continental Tires as it could.
But if Continental Tires' study failed to achieve its primary objective, it succeeded in highlighting something far more interesting: The mainstream media’s increasing indifference to the link between videogames and controversy in the public consciousness.
You can’t blame Continental Tires for trying, of course: There was a time not so long ago when even the most tenuous link between videogames and the disturbing crimes of an introverted teen commanded cable news discussion panels.
In turn, gamers, the gaming press and the videogame industry once lined up to howl against the amplifications, half-truths and misconceptions – delivered with furrowed brows by press-starved politicians and self-appointed experts – that constituted these segments.
In 2011, it seems, everyone simply rolls their eyes and gets back to work. Should you sit down with a game developer and bring up the most recent gaming controversy, like as not, they’ll tell you about a study conducted in 1955 that was alarmed at how much time adolescents were spending indoors reading books.
These are their formative physical and mental years, you understand. Lord knows the damage it could be doing to their posture, and that’s to say nothing of the amoral subject matter: Vulgar language, rebellion, socialism, promiscuity.
First published in 1951, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye remains the most censored book in history according to the American Library Association. It has been cited as an influence in the murder of John Lennon and the assassination attempts on former US President Ronald Reagan and actress Rebecca Schaeffer. That’s quite a rap sheet for a book about (to be glib) being a teenager.
But that’s if the subject of gaming controversies comes up at all. Should you find yourself talking with Grand Theft Auto creators Rockstar Games in 2011, the discussion is more likely to be about the technological advances in facial animation than it is to be about killing prostitutes with a baseball bat.
As little as five years ago, a study presenting a link between videogames and reckless behaviour could have built momentum until reporting on the latest opinions and facets of the controversy warranted headlines in themselves. Now newspaper editors are short on resources and “once burned”: Videogames haven’t delivered the promise of anarchy in the streets today and the subversion of tomorrow’s society.
Instead they’ve gone from strength to strength. Now, gaming news only escapes the Entertainment, Technology or Digital Life pen of your local paper to report that another title has grossed more than a Hollywood blockbuster.
The inability of Continental Tires’ study to gain any traction and generate a deluge of alarming headlines in the mainstream press indicates that the high water mark in videogame controversy has well and truly passed.
Apparently the only people unaware of this are specialist gaming publications.