What subculture do you identify with and is it worth fighting for? Cecilia D’Anastasio remarks that cultures often must advocate for themselves in order to keep and maintain their own identity and rights, whereas industries call upon the help of others (and even demand them) for support in the June 1, 2017 episode of Kotaku Splitscreen.
When does culture end and industry begin? Is there a line or is there a spectrum? Why does society, as a whole, view industry as something worth its time fighting for, and culture as something that someone else must fight for?
Subcultures form out of a shared hobby and serve as a cornerstone of one’s identity. Formed from a sub-set of people, subcultures naturally insulate, focusing energy inward and serving themselves. Identity shifts from a characteristic of the individual to a characteristic of the group.
This initial shift of identity deserves further examination when asking about society’s relationship with subcultures. Identity shifts from the individual to the group, but it’s still insulated, having yet included all of a particular society.
Writing for YouthTime, Kiriakos Anastasiadis gives insight into subcultures by commenting, “they are regarded as a threat to the political and economic status quo of society and are therefore attacked by any means - often unethical and illegal - available, in order to reduce their impact on the rest of the population.” These attacks typically kill off subcultures before they have opportunity to effect change on the society at large. Some persevere, and these that do “lead to changes that have positive impact on people’s lives.”
Fear of change. Threat to the status quo. Lack of understanding. Misinterpretation. These, among others, lead to the inability for subcultures to have any type of lasting change on society. But given enough time and some clever public representation, subcultures might shift into another realm: industry.
Industries grow from sub-cultures and retain this aspect of identity, only this identity now represents a sizable chunk of any given population, so much so that the society as a whole takes notice. Industry grows, not merely as a way for the sub-culture to enjoy its hobby, but as a way to live in, grow in, and give back to the same space that the overarching culture lives and grows. The focus shifts from the internal to the external, giving rise to a shared identity.
Among sports within America, baseball stands as a particularly easy to grasp example for American culture. No doubt baseball began as a game shared among friends and associates, but as its sub-culture grew, so did its influence. Giving way to industry, baseball was able to graft itself into the growing tree of American Identity, eventually becoming indistinguishable, earning the nickname the “American Pastime.” Jules Tygiel, famed baseball historian, reflects on baseball’s rise to dominance in the latter half of the 19th century, “by 1870 baseball’s architects and promoters had invented a sport and established an ethos surrounding it that held a broad appeal to nineteenth-century Americans.”
In 2015, ESPN solidified the presence of eSports as a thriving and important part of our culture. Ben Casselman solidified the importance of eSports: “Gaming is what every traditional sports league is desperate to become: young, global, digital, and increasingly diverse. So can it ever be a sport? Does it matter? eSports are here. They’re real. They’re growing. And we have the numbers to prove it.”
In 2012, the amount of hours (worldwide) spent watching eSports: 1.3 billion. In 2013: 2.4 billion. In 2014: 3.7 billion. On Twitch alone in 2014, the number of hours watched per month amounted to roughly 266 million. That same year Amazon acquired Twitch for the jaw-dropping sum of $970,000,000. eSports industry “produced an estimated $493 million in revenue - a growth of 51.7% from 2015 - and that number is projected to surpass $1 billion by 2019, per Newzoo projections.” Numbers like these cause society to take notice. They cause other industries to take note, seeking ways to partner and fuse their own brands with the growing popularity of eSports.
This exact thing happened earlier this year. Reporting on February 9, 2017, Sarah E. Needleman began her article NBA, Take-Two to Create Professional Videogame League, “The National Basketball Association and videogame publisher Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. on Thursday announced plans to create a professional videogame league, marking the biggest tie-up yet between traditional and digital sports.” Calling this the biggest tie-up is perhaps playing it a bit soft. It’s damn near unprecedented.
Maybe you grew up playing NBA Jam and later moved onto NBA Live. Perhaps your parents would lecture you about sitting in front of the TV, wasting your days doing nothing of substance. Maybe you grew up playing games, on through highschool and then college, only to stop once you got your first job. Maybe, you even rediscovered videogames upon making enough money to actually buy a $400 PS4. You make enough to allow videogames to be a viable hobby. Like my own story, this could be yours. Like myself, you were shocked when you saw TBS announce an eSports league. Like my own 10 year old self, maybe your’s would lose his mind over the sheer prospect of watching more skilled players compete, and knowing that maybe, just maybe, that could be you up on the big screen someday.
Charting videogames from the 70s to the turbulent 80s, on through the 90s and the 00s to today, our relaxing hobby has grown in its reach and impact impressively. Our subculture has suffered through society struggling to legitimize a completely viable activity and hobby; now, it has grown into an industry. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe. Roger Ebert infamously said, “videogames can never be art.” In an extrapolation of this statement on April 16, 2010, he even went on to say, “no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form.” A few short years later in 2015 (might as well be the blink of an eye in the videogame industry), Time published the remarkable article, Video Games Are One of the Most Important Art Forms in History. Chris Melissinos, curator of “The Art of Video Games” exhibit at the Smithsonian, reflects, “In video games we find three distinct voices: the creator, the game, and the player.” The player interacts with the author (through the story) and the game (through the rules) achieving a completely personal experience. He concludes, “If you can observe the work of another and find in it personal connection, then art has been achieved.”
Thankfully this discussion of art is over, being unequivocally laid to rest by the countless players who have achieved personal experiences. Our hobby is bigger than it’s ever been, and generations of people have been influenced by videogames. The questions from the beginning of this article leads us to another question: when does an artform and entertainment medium gain the respect it needs to thrive within a culture? Who gives this respect? Looking back on the many decades of videogames, it’s easy to see this is a collective process. It’s a responsibility that society as a whole must take on. Where would theater, or music, or film have ended up if society hadn’t taken up the mantle to preserve and grow it? I don’t know, but I am glad it continued. If videogames hadn’t survived the crash of the 80’s, knowing what I know now, we would have lost something beautiful and inspiring. But it thrived. It captured the hearts of people, many of whom grew up to be adults with visions for what the medium could be. They work hard and tirelessly, developing the videogame medium into something new yet familiar. Something that is an inspiration to the next generation.
I can’t wait to see what’s next.