There is mainstream, and then there is mainstream. In the gaming world, a lot of developers like to say mainstream to represent the hardcore crowd of gamers. These are the fans that are expecting innovative gameplay and amazing graphics in each new release. Gaming is not just for quick fun here and there. It is their main source of entertainment. Their one hobby they engage in whenever they have free time. I would consider myself in this hardcore crowd, but there is also the other mainstream.
Mainstream within society is a whole different thing. Justin Bieber’s music despite being popular may be hated by a lot of people in the general public, but these people still see the potential of other kinds of music. Some people might be into classical music, and there are still composers in that genre. Similarly, other people might be into jazz, and new music keeps getting made in that genre. Video games, on the other hand, are still not seen this way.
In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, society in general saw video games as toys for kids. Playing video games was not something that adults did. The adults that did play video games were made fun of either directly or indirectly, not like being made fun of in the school yard, but being gossiped about behind their back or looked down on. Video games were seen as not only uncreative, but also just a fad that would soon pass. Any adult playing games needed to grow up.
Now, in the last ten years it has gotten a little bit better. I do not think anyone considers video games to be a fad anymore. They have been around too long to just disappear. In fact, they are getting more and more popular now with Facebook and smartphone games, but there is still that lingering issue that society does not see video games in the same light as music or movies.
An adult can play games these days without attracting too much attention, but only if they do not spend too much time with them. If they become serious about games, putting in 20 hours a week and talking about games when not playing, it is the same situation as the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Their peers see their interest in games as unhealthy. Games are for casual fun, not a hobby you dedicate your free time to.
Some people like to say “Just give it more time. Society will eventually come around and see games just like music and movies.” Well, I do not think that is always the case. Comic books probably reached the height of their popularity in the 1950s and 1960s. At this time mostly children, teenagers, and young adults read comics. They grew up waiting patiently for comics to be accepted for all ages, but it never happened. Society these days still considers comics as more of a kid or young adult thing.
We can see the same thing with role-playing games. Invented in the 1970s as an extension of wargames, they were initially only popular among teenagers and young adults. The greater society considered role-playing as a waste of time. Any adult that played them was looked down on by society. Role-players just assumed one day that role-playing would be mainstream. Maybe not everyone would play it, but it would at least be accepted by the general public.
This did not happen either. Role-playing games are definitely more accepted these days, but the society still looks down on adults that play them. Using the imagination as required for role-playing games is considered to be strange. That is something that kids do, not adults.
I am sure there are lot more examples. Not all forms of entertainment become mainstream. Only a few ever get to that critical mass. Video games are certainly more accepted these days than when they were new. However, society still considers them to have less artistic merit when compared to music and movies.
I am not sure video games will ever get to that point, but we should keep playing games even if the general public criticizes us. There are enough fans of video games they will stick around in some form or another for a long time. I do not see anything else replacing them.
Times change. Video games may not go any further. They may even decline, but we will still play them. We have the most fun playing video games, and that is what we will do.