15 March 2012
I've been playing video games my entire life. I was shooting virtual aliens before my life could be measured in years, and I was mashing buttons earlier this morning. There have been times where I've played for hours a day for weeks on end, and strings of months where I've barely played at all, but I've never stopped altogether. I doubt I ever will.
Playing video games has a reputation as a lonely, isolating activity. I guess I can kind of see why. Not all video game enthusiasts are anti-social super-geeks, but enough are that there's a stereotype. Just because I sort of get it doesn't mean I support the viewpoint. I definitely don't agree with it.
There's a stigma about going to the movies alone. There's another thing I only sort of get. You're facing forward, you're not supposed to talk, and there's not enough room on the armrest between the seats to share. So, in a way, I kind of don't get why I need a friend to come with me. It's weird that this isolating event is among the most common dates - a common first date, even!
Intellectually, I don't need friends with me when I'm watching a movie, but I love it when they're there. I've gone to movies alone, and I still enjoy the thing I'm watching, but it's never a fulfilling night on the town. The movie itself is unchanged, but the experience is completely different.
Maybe I can't talk during a movie, but I can certainly talk after it's over. Those are the moments I remember most clearly; more than the 12-million dollar shot of the Porta-Potty exploding or the scene where a single tear rolls down the plumber's face, I fondly remember the conversations I have while heading out to the parking lot. We watch movies together so that we'll have someone beside us with whom we can reflect after the credits start to roll. Or after the credits are over, in the case of a movie where there's a rapping granny or blooper reel at the end.
(Rapping Granny's Bladder Bloopers isn't a real movie, but it probably should be. Tweet me, Hollywood producers.)
Back to games: I likes the video games. I like that video games are so often portals to different worlds. When a hot new game is released, millions of people are all simultaneously taking a trip to the same place, where they're seeing many of the same sights and participating in many of the same activities. When they return to the real world, they bring back an experience they've shared with millions of people.
Just like I can come out of a cinema discussing my interpretation of the director's subtext or cracking up over some joke will only make sense to those of us who heard it in the movie's context, players of a particular game are privy to an insider's discourse. As usual, Super Mario Bros. provides perfect examples: Invisible blocks. hidden Warp Zones, the Minus World - not only are these terms inscrutable to a Mario outsider; they're secrets which only became common knowledge because of playground chatter. The more you talked to your friends about these unseen mysteries, the more fun and intriguing Super Mario Bros. became.
I don't talk about games anymore. I write about them, obviously, and I read about them all the time, and I follow all kinds of Internet-based games coverage, but something in my life has changed. I used to have a close group of friends who loved video games. We'd play them together, we'd play alone, and we'd talk about them when we weren't playing. It wasn't our only interest or connection, but it was big for all of us.
I don't have people like that around me anymore. Sometimes I'll try to start some video game talk with people I know, or I'll crash a video game conversation my co-workers are having, but it never goes anywhere. Right now, I'm hearing a lot of buzz around Mass Effect 3 and Diablo 3, and of course there's the interminable Call of Duty chatter, but none of it's of any interest to me. Those simply aren't my games, for different reasons in each case.
I know there are places where the kids are huddling in tight circles to gush about Rhythm Heaven Fever and debate the outcome of last week's IGF winners before wistfully reminiscing about The Incredible Machine, but it's not happening around me, or maybe I'm just not hearing it.
I'm not thrilled that I'm bitter and lonely and can't connect to the most popular games of our time. It's kinda lousy, to be honest. Absence, however, has helped me appreciate what an important part of video games the surrounding conversation can be.
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