Pat Stuart

Books and Columns

WHAT’S IN A NAME:  ESPORTS

By Pat Stuart

Powell Tribune30 January 2020

esports

Gamers at work

We all recently learned that Northwest College’s plans to offer a new activity to its students:  namely, video game competitions rebranded as esports.  This news gave me pause.  Right up front, I’ll admit to having a negative view of both the name and the idea of video gaming as a college-sponsored activity.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think names are important.  I have no doubt but that how we name things influences not just how we speak but how we behave.  Take the word “esport” as an example.  The base word “sport” shouts healthy and good.  We want our kids to engage in sports, because sports involve skills and physical exertion—so says the dictionary.  We want our offspring to develop healthy bodies.  Except they’re not likely to do that while sitting in front of a video gaming monitor.

That said, they do learn a skill and hand and finger dexterity.

Which reminds me of a childhood joke.  My friends and I would face each other and straighten and bend one finger while chanting, “Exercises, exercises, we must do our exercises.”  Then, we’d explode in laughter.  Totally ludicrous.  Right?

The few people laughing in the video gaming world are at the top of the competitive heap or own the game companies.  Those guys—and they are guys–laugh all the way to the bank.  They can stand up straight with pride.  That one simple word change from video gaming to esport was a stroke of genius, dignifying the activity and opening the door for expansion into the schools.  The result?

The Gaming Industry

Annual video game revenue rose to an estimated $1.5 billion in 2019.  Yes.  That’s ‘B’ as in Billion.

The industry has gone one step further by calling its players “athletes.”

Aargh!  That has to be one of the biggest word rapes in modern history.

Still, it’s a done deal.  And, since money talks and since rebranded video gaming is creating new millionaires every second, it seems we’ll soon see gaming become an Olympic SPORT and players termed Olympic ATHLETES.

Which can’t be all bad for our kids and future generations, can it?

Pause.  Actually, a really big pause here while I took a break and did my research, coming up with two laundry lists—a good one and a bad one.   The “good” things about gaming turned out to be good for those who design, manufacture, and sell games and those who manage the competitive end of the industry while the “bad” things all happen to our kids and by extension to their parents.

Reasons Not to Sponsor College-Level Gaming

Here’s the bad list.

  • Constant immersion of the players in all forms of violence with an emphasis on killing. Of the 239 games reviewed in a 2019 survey, only 17 on major platforms could be considered non-violent.  Let me repeat:  17 out of 239.
  • Incentivizing our kids to sit for hour after hour in front of a computer screen … alone except for the humanoid figures that they’re doing their best to kill off. Psychologists say that, in the process, players are weakening their own ability to work with and empathize with real people.  And what are they doing to their own bodies?
  • Encouraging parents to pay out big bucks to the gaming industry for the devices their kids need to play as well as for the games, the tools, and the web time. It’s pay to play, folks.  That’s how millionaires become billionaires.
  • Teaching female objectification … the internet is full of articles on the gaming industry promotion of the hyper-sexualization of women.
  • Reinforcing male dominance. Google quotes a survey claiming that of 59 new video games showcased this year, only 3 percent featured exclusively female protagonists.
  • Female participation at a competitive team level is difficult at best.   Collegiate teams generally require compliance with Title IX, but numerous articles say this doesn’t work out too well for the girls—that’s thanks to extreme MCP attitudes the games develop in male players resulting in common belittling and verbal abuse against their female teammates.
  • Use of performance-enhancing drugs is allegedly rampant in the industry although efforts are being made to control it … so far, it seems, without obvious success and possibly without much enthusiasm.
  • Playing games instead of studying or engaging in healthy activities. But, hey.  The college players are in training for the world of professional gaming where they will, of course, win big bucks.  They won’t need an education or socialization or a healthy body, will they.
  • And I’ll close by noting that games can be as addictive as gambling, particularly for young and vulnerable brains.

And so …

A word to balance the above.  Not all games are violent.  Not all of the above applies to every gamer.   Of course, some games can be fun and have positive elements, particularly when played in moderation and as entertainment.

What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t let ourselves be conned into believing that just because something comes with a good name that it is a good thing.  Video gaming has a place, certainly, but that place isn’t in a college sports program.