I should have seen it coming ten years ago.
In an effort to "toughen up" my younger brother, who was half my age at 10 years old, I was ragging on his soccer skills...beating him every way from Tuesday...and really giving him no shot at all. Finally, following an embarrassing nutmeg, he turned and said, "Yeah, well, I bet I can beat you at Mortal Combat."
And thus, the right-of-passage when two brothers square off in a physical battle only one can win...but builds character in the other...was killed by Super Mario...and ironically, his brother.
Video games aren't new...but they are far more prevalent today than at any time in history. In my day, getting four quarters to go down to Velvet Freeze and a chance at Tron was a big deal. Today, college kids are forsaking the kegger for all-night Madden-fests.
If video games where limited to teenagers and a few hold-overs from the Dungeon & Dragons days, we wouldn't be discussing this. The fact is, gaming is now a multi-billion dollar business attracting consumers...mainly men...from the ages of 6 to 60. In a recent article, Chuck Klosterman of Esquire compared the gaming revolution to that of Rock n' Roll. It's that important...or so say the gamers.
And maybe so. In the article, Chuck searches for the meaning behind games, and why there are no real critics of gaming...not critics of the hows and whats...but the whys. He says we need to understand the "significance of potentiality". The meaning behind games. In the article, Henry Jenkins of MIT is quoted as saying "Gaming Designers are asking themselves questions about how a game should look and what it should do, but not about what the game is supposed to mean." (more about this later)
My buddy Fritz in Minny shared some insight from Dennis Trinkle, the CIO at Valparaiso University in Indiana. Trinkle argues that video games will become the primary tool which history, values, and culture is communicated. He notes that the verbal, or storytelling culture died with the printing press...and that books lost their primary foothold with the development of television and eventually motion pictures. Now, our children will learn about the Civil War, Middle East conflict, and the do's and don'ts of society (thank you GTA) via a console plugged into the TV. And it's not a terrible thing. Would a middle school student rather read Red Badge of Courage or learn about the battle of Gettysburg via fighting in it while playing a video game? And if they learn...does it matter how? My mother, a teacher of 25 years is feeling ill somewhere.
But, I digress. I could spend a year pointing out all the ups and downs of video games...but for this post, I'm focusing on one. The "pussy factor."
Kids...and thus men...are getting softer because of video games. We're launching a generation of wimps into the world. Men who's understanding of the world resides in fantasy and their ability to use their thumbs.
Despite Chuck's desire to find someone who can pull 'meaning' from video games...The fact is, video games are anti-meaning. It's 100% escapism. It's people fleeing from meaning, consequence and responsibilities. It's people taking a break from their crappy existence to be an NFL star, a car-stealing pimp, a magical warrior or a made-up creature with amazing leaping ability. What does it mean? Nothing.
And without meaning, we have a bunch of guys who's only recourse when "times get tough" is to dive into a world ruled by megabytes. Don't look at McDonalds & Coke as to why we have fat kids...parents should to look to the permanent indentation that their child has left on their living room couch.
But isn't just about kids either.
Men, fellas 18-36, represent the bulk of the gamers, and giving their buying power, they are the target of many new titles. I asked three friends...all 30 years old, all married, all working-stiffs, all in different parts of the States, what they were doing tonight. One was unpacking from a recent trip to Croatia. One was heading to the tavern to drink his fill and play some darts...and the other? Madden, all weekend, all the time.
I personally never got into video games...I don't know if it was athletics or all the hiking and camping I did as a teen...but it's just not something that ever became a part of me. But gaming isn't like a lot of technology...I'm embarrassed that I have no idea how a DVR works...even if I don't watch enough TV to own one. I can't believe when I have to educate peers on their "first iPod". But I have no shame in telling someone that I don't know how to play EA Sports FIFA '07. Just not my thing. But why is it so many others?
I argued to my Madden-loving pal in LA that the overall development of the home...DVRs, home theater systems, Whole Foods, the Internet...has made it so a man can be fully entertained without leaving his home. I also argued that the tennis/golf/raquetball clubs of our fathers are either outdated or outpriced for the regular joe...thus, the only escape comes virtually.
But Ben shot back that while his ability to have four-star food delivered to his door and all his media needs piped into his home via three screens makes living much easier than our folks had it...it still comes down to the three hours he'll spend tonight in suspended reality playing a video game and doing his best John Gruden.
But, back to the point. What does this mean for society? It means I'm interviewing people with the inability to function in the real world. People who have little to no communication skills beyond IMs. It means that 25 people will show up for our agency's NFL Fantasy draft this weekend...but I can't get 11 guys who want to play soccer on Thursday nights. It means I'm seeing people more comfortable in front of a monitor than in front of each other.
It means we are becoming weak. Hey, Chuck...I think I found your meaning.
This post has been written as part of the Carnival of Modern Man.