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

PBS documents the rise of competitive gaming.

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."

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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