Will We One Day Have a Super Bowl for Video Games?

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PBS documents the rise of competitive gaming.

One of the most common complaints about video games is that they are (take your pick) isolating/anesthetizing/antisocial, and thus that they encourage (take your pick) reclusive/apathetic/antisocial behavior among their players. But while many games, sure, encourage solitary striving -- the player, locked in battle with the interface -- games are not implicitly hermit-making. In fact, they can be quite social.

The latest of PBS's "Off Book" series documents the rise of social gaming: a video game as an event. A video games as, in particular, a kind of sporting event. E-sports take the logic, and often the platforms, of video games and convert them into something that closely resembles physical sporting extravaganzas: cheerleaders, huge audiences, the ability for competitors to make money from their skills. One of the questions tournaments ask, says MIT's TL Taylor, is: "What does it mean to turn something that we mostly think of as an object of leisure into something you're professionally passionate about -- and are dedicating lots of time, hard work, and energy to?"

Another question: Are video games really as antisocial as so many people believe? The Internet's connective power, the short documentary points out, has allowed people to compete against each other -- and play games with each other -- in a way they weren't able to before. And the IRL tournaments -- the bread and butter of e-sports -- have increased that ability. The games became a path to social interaction, rather than an impediment to it.

And that's in part, the video notes, because of another phenomenon that connects gaming to sporting: "As long as there are people playing video games, there are people ready to watch video games."

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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