“TIME” reporter Lev Grossman is a clueless ass about video games.

I knew there was a reason why I tend to prefer Newsweek over TIME magazine. Newsweek just seems to be more in-touch with reality than TIME does and I always thought it was some bias I held more so than any actual fact of the matter, but then I read an article by Lev Grossman on Microsoft’s money-printing franchise known as Halo called The Man in the Mask which is chock full of idiotic passages such as this (emphasis added) one:

There is an invisible subculture in America. Those who belong to it love it with a lonely, alienated, unironic passion. Those who don’t belong to it walk right by, uncaring, just as people walk right by that unmarked building in downtown Kirkland. It is the subculture of hard-core video games, and that oddly shaped building, which houses a company called Bungie, is one of its temples.

We start right off with a couple of absolutely idiotic statements. Does Mr. Grossman seriously expect his audience to believe that video gamers are an invisible subculture? Who the fuck in 2007, outside of Mr. Grossman obviously, doesn’t know that gaming is a hugely popular pastime among a good percentage of the population? Given all the negative attention the news media puts on video games anytime some nutcase who happened to play video games goes on a rampage it’s kind of hard to see how this “subculture” is all that invisible.

According to the Entertainment Software Association surveys show that 69% of American heads of households are gamers, the age of the average gamer is 33 years and they’ve been a gamer for around 12 years, 80% of gamer parents play games with their kids reporting that their families are closer as a result, and 49% play games online for an hour or more weekly. Lonely and alienated? Hardly. Much like my blogging habit, my years as a gamer has provided me with friends I’ve never met face to face but have spent hours gaming with and even a few that I have met face to face for offline non-gaming activities.

Bungie makes a series of video games called Halo that are among the most revered in the gaming canon. It’s doubtful that many people reading this could say exactly, or even approximately, what the Halo games are about.

If that’s true then apparently TIME has a much smaller readership than I thought, probably mostly idiots who don’t read mainstream newspapers or watch the evening news if Mr. Grossman is anything to judge by. Gamers come from all walks of life and more than a few of us take the time to read news magazines such as TIME. Considering the number of gamers out there it’s probably a safe bet that most of the folks reading Mr. Grossman’s article know more about Halo and its plot line than Mr. Grossman himself.

That much becomes clear once Mr. Grossman attempts to explain said plot:

IT’S DIFFICULT TO EXPLAIN THE STORY OF Halo, but that difficulty is in itself worthy of note. This isn’t Donkey Kong. The Master Chief is not an Italian plumber whose girlfriend has been kidnapped by a gorilla. His story is rich and complicated in ways that we’re not used to in video games.

You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. I’d be willing to bet, again, that more of Mr. Grossman’s audience is unfamiliar with the “story” of the original Donkey Kong, in as much as it could be said to have a story in the first place, than is unfamiliar with the plot of Halo. This would seem to indicate that Mr. Grossman may have once played a game or two back in the mid-80’s and probably hasn’t touched any since then. The fact that he claims Master Chief’s story is “rich and complicated” in “ways that we’re not used to” only serves to confirm that suspicion.

Maybe you aren’t used to it, Mr. Grossman, but I’ve played a lot of video games with some amazingly sophisticated story lines not the least of which would include the Splinter Cell series , the Hitman series, Silent Hill series, several of the Final Fantasy series (particularly FFXII), and many many others. Just because you’re ignorant of the current state of video games doesn’t mean everyone else is.

Moving on we come to another couple of stupid statements:

THE CLICHÉ ABOUT GAMERS IS THAT THEY’RE antisocial, if not sociopathic, but Bungie is very much a community.

The Bungies bring a grinding, jeweler’s meticulousness to what most people consider an unhealthy amusement for children.

A small reminder: 69% of American heads of households are gamers. I’d be surprised if “most people” consider video games an “unhealthy amusement for children.” Certainly some people view it that way, Mr. Grossman seemingly among their numbers, but not most nor even a majority.

We’ve got time for a couple more slams from Mr. Grossman before he wraps up his stunning display of idiocy:

This devotion is fueled by a belief, not shared by the world at large, that video games are an art form with genuine emotional meaning and that Halo 3 will be the premier example of that art.

There’s an opportunity beyond video games, too, for Halo to break out of the ghetto and become a mainstream, mass-market, multimedia entertainment property.

Not that the Bungies care. They don’t need to legitimize Halo by associating it with other, more respectable media. They sell enough units and make enough money. They’re happy in their invisible geek ghetto. But that’s the logic of the marketplace: it can’t leave subcultures alone; it has to turn them into cultures. It may be time for the Master Chief to come in from the cold and join the party, with the popular kids. Just don’t expect him to take off his helmet.

About the only way TIME could have come up with a more offensive column on video gamers would’ve been to invite Jack “Douchebag” Thompson to write it. As it is they should try to find someone who’s more familiar with video games beyond the likes of Donkey Kong for any future articles they decide to undertake. It’d be nice if he’d at least played something from this century before sitting down to bang out this tripe.

16 thoughts on ““TIME” reporter Lev Grossman is a clueless ass about video games.

  1. Why do they seek to make parents dislike video games? Either they have a vested interest in other amusement business (ie cinema) or they fear it themselves and won’t try it out or deal with their fears because the inhibitions they have.

    Note fearful/hateful people have an adversity to analysing themselves or a situation, when I’ve pressured people into analysing things outside I’ve met stiff psychological resistence, ultimately if they’re determined I have no means of preventing their success (of avoiding). However determination is a finite resource…

  2. I don’t understand why people like attacking the gaming community.  I ask what the fuck are wrong with those people?  Do they hate their lives so much that the only way they can feel good is to attack a subculture of their own?  WTF people!  Grow up! 

    Until you show me some fucking evidence as to the damage gaming does, shut the fuck up and live your own life.  Go read a book or get laid.  Just get off my ass.

  3. I would tend to doubt the 69% of head of households figure.  It seems completely unrealistic, seeing as just over 70% of U.S homes have computers at all, that virtually all of them are gamers. I’m just a bit older than you I think (46) have worked in the computer field my entire adult life, and don’t know anything about the HALO plot line.  Nor, in an informal poll, do most of my peers.  I suspect that this article rather accurately describes the situation, all added emphasis aside.

  4. Routerguy, I would ask you where you got your statistic that only 70% of households have computers?  That to me seems quite low considering anyone can get a computer for under $400 and it only costs $20 a month for Yahoo DSL, which is now making itself available in very remote cities.

    The other thing you have to remember with the 69% figure Les quoted, is that it likely includes console gaming as well as computer gaming.

  5. Per a Neisen study this year:
    “- Computers—73.4% of U.S. homes currently have a computer in the household, and homes with children and teens are more likely to have a home computer. There is a large difference in the percentage of lower income homes vs. higher income homes that own a home computer. Homes with an income over $60K are 50% more likely to own a home computer than homes with an income below $60K.”

    Per a Pew study in 2005:
    “According to a report released in October 2005 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 22 percent of American adults has never used the internet or email and does not live in a wired household; yet, 53 percent of home internet users has broadband access. The distinction usage through broadband and lower-technology dial-up service is significant.”

    Microsoft reports 8 million copies of Halo were sold worldwide(all versions combined) so even assuming 100% computer and/or console penetration, rampant piracy, and lots of sharing inside of households, there would appear to be an EXTREMELY large percentage of people that have never played the game. In fact, adding up the sales numbers of the top 50 best selling game titles wouldn’t come close to the 69%.  Perhaps that number includes anyone who’s ever played windows solitaire???

  6. Thanks for the clarification routerguy.  Do you have the link to the studies above.  Technology is a subject that interests me greatly, so I would appreciate it.  If you don’t no biggie.

    From above post:

    69% of American heads of households are gamers

    General definition of a gamer:

    Any person that plays ANY GAME or number of games consistently

    You don’t have to play just Halo to be a gamer.  I consider myself a gamer and I only play Halo when I go over to my friends place.  I would say there are probably close to 100,000 computer games out there that if you played consistently, people would consider you a gamer.  Maybe more. 

    Plus there are about 5 different popular consoles.  Some with there own titles, some with shared titles.  Etc…

    To me 69% doesn’t seem unreasonable at all.

  7. Of course the 69% number includes people who play Solitaire. It may not be Halo, but a game is a game and my father-in-law puts in as much time on his computer based card games as I do in World of Warcraft.

    You need to keep in mind that not all games are played on personal computers. There’s plenty of console and portable game systems out there as well, and if we include cell phones and PDAs, the 69% number is quite reasonable.

    Perhaps it’s the group of people I work with, but out of the 10 people in my department only one of them hasn’t a clue what the basic storyline to Halo is, but even she’s heard of it.

    The point remains that gaming has been mainstream for quite some time now and it’s pretty ludicrous to paint it as still being some fringe subculture at this point.

  8. http://sev.prnewswire.com/computer-electronics/20061219/NYTU00719122006-1.html and
    http://www.pewinternet.org/press_release.asp?r=112
    are the references I cited. 
    For fun, I just did a poll of all the users in my company (medical management and billing, typical employee is female, age 25-35) I polled 92 people and got 84 responses.  Asked what game-capable devices they have at home, 63% (54) have computers, 42% have a game console or portable game device, and 14% have neither.  There are no games installed on work PC’s, nor is there internet access, and only 26% have ever heard of HALO. None of them could recall any information as to the plot of HALO. FWIW, informal survey done via email form. YMMV.

  9. I don’t do multiplayer (i play for storyline as and whe I feel the impulse)

    several of the Final Fantasy series (particularly FFXII)

    FF10 and 7 were quite thought inspiring, I thought 12 was just a glamouous re-hash of 9 and for the most part I didn’t know who the hell they were talking about (esp the judge magisters who looked the same when they didn’t take their armour off, and often there was only 1 refrence to an individual) – that said on the second play when you know what’s going on it’s interesting.

    Who is red-ass anyway?

  10. Thanks. It’s from the bonus CD they included with their new release The Else. Probably the only song I like on the bonus CD.

  11. I mostly play D&D and other pen and paper role-playing games.  I have to say, having the crazy focus shifted from my demon summoning rituals to your psychotic rampage inducing pastime makes me feel much, much better.

  12. It’s simply fucking amazing that TIME would publish something so incredibly stupid, but it is TIME, after all.  In this, we are agreed, Lev Grossman is an idiot.  Lev must be thankful for the good fortune of Global Warming, which apparently thawed him from a deep cryogenic slumber since he was obviously frozen somewhere around 1981 and missed the intervening years.

    Video gaming is huge and it’s pervasive.  It’s on your TV, your computer, your phone, your notebook, your PDA, your hotel room, your coffee shop, and it’s getting even bigger [ref]:

    A new study by ABI Research predicts a doubling in size of the videogames market by 2011, estimating revenues of USD 65.9 billion and highlighting a rapid increase in online and mobile gaming.

    ABI projects 95 per cent year-on-year growth for the online market, including PC online casual gaming, which continues to show positive growth worldwide. Causal games provider PopCap Games and rival RealNetworks have both recently announced European expansion plans to meet the growing desire for quality web-based and connected casual games, and both companies have also expressed ambitions to more comprehensively capture the wireless gaming market – a segment which ABI believes will see substantial worldwide growth over the coming years.

    Of course, I can’t wait for Halo 3.  Maybe Lev will be online so I can teabag him as he so richly deserves.  Ha!

    Now, as I wave my hands, I’m back to my invisible subculture!

  13. Where the fuck are these polls? They can’t be very accurate, I didn’t participate in or even know of the existence of said polls.

  14. Nielsen Poll Ratings are about as accurate in their final tally as trying to count the maggots on a carcass during full daylight in mid-July and tallying them too. That is to say, not very. They extrapolate their findings from 2000 homes to the rest of the population. What they don’t seem to take into account, is any sort of margin for error. Like for instance, what if NONE of those 2000 homes had a computer? What, the entire country has no computers? 

    Waste. Of. Time.

  15. My problem was that no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t find their margin of error, descriptive statistics, and just a well written methodology for their study.  It seems they keep that information private.  Which means you can only trust what they say, just so much.

    A note on the type of study they are doing… it is essentially polling.  Normally in statistics, the higher your sample in relation to the size of the population, the less accurate your data is.  This is because as you keep drawing out specific people for your sample, you find that the results will be closer to the mean.  This site has a great explanation of basic stats.

    I would have learned just as much in graduate level stats if I was taught the same way Mixing Memory teaches it.  Anyways, so in polling they are usually looking for a really high sample size.  They basically have their system down packed.  They know exactly how many people they need and from what demographics.  And sure enough you find they are amazingly accurate when you check their numbers.

    However, as I said above, all the numbers both references throw at you is worthless without the descriptive stats from your study, and your confidence interval.  Without reporting this data, you cannot extrapolate your data to the population because you haven’t shown if your data is statistically significant.  Which is why the informal e-mail poll cannot also be extrapolated to the population.

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