Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Games (or, Why I Don't Play Guitar Hero)

When I was fifteen, I played my first video game.

Okay, I'm lying. I used to play educational games on the computer (Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? That was bitchin'), and I used to play some unco-ordinated Mario Bros. in the early 1990s. My parents never bought us a game console, so when I went to Ryan King's house to play, my little pixel-men were constantly falling in canyons and getting bit by venus flytraps. They displayed the same aptitude I did; that is to say, none.

But when I was fifteen, my friend Jo gave me an ancient, first-generation Game Boy, with a green-and-black screen. She also passed along a copy of Frogger, a maniacal street-crossing game which is impossible to win and crack-like in its addictiveness. Alas, not having been trained since birth in the electronic arts, I quickly realized that there was no way I was going to ever become good at video games. I abandoned that for loftier pursuits, like fighting with my parents.

But someone was bound to enjoy it. That someone was my younger brother. At the time, he was seven: the ideal age for introduction to an on-screen challenge. He took to it like a Sea Monkey in a mason jar. After mastering the clunky Game Boy (seriously, it was the size of a shoebox), he begged for an escalating series of consoles that played ever-louder games. There were controllers that vibrated in your hand, wireless headsets that allowed him to discuss fake game tactics with neighbours, and then, of course, the omnipresent war and music games.

I'm impatient with both categories, for different reasons. War games allow people who can barely pilot a minivan to believe they are crack shots with a Walther PPK. Music games let people who really can play an instrument think they're "practicing," when they get high score on "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" six hundred times in a row.

Full disclosure: I'm biased. I've been blown off by friends in favour of video games - notably by an ex-boyfriend and my brother, both of whom spent hours perfecting a music videogame instead of, you know, playing their guitars. And it's not bad - they both had tons of fun. It's just not a creative outlet, even though it looks like one. They both claimed that it was harmless, then spent dozens of hours hammering furiously on five plastic buttons. Sometimes, they would insist I watch. I'll gladly watch a musician play; I've paid for the privilege many times. But videogames? Yawn.

If I want to pretend to be a rock star, I'll get drunk and go to karaoke. Hell, I can flip a dollar towards a busker and get a viola rendition of "Free Bird" before I board the subway. I'm not better or worse that a Guitar Hero, but at least I'm getting fresh air. Want to shoot someone? Join the fucking army. Hell, these days, sign up for airport security - you'll at least get a few Tazer shots in. Gaming is an illusion. Even though it seems like what's being practiced is guitar or target shooting, all that's really being practiced is video gaming. Dressing up the controller like a Flying V ain't going to get you a record deal. Music games are just that - games - while making music is work.


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  2. Alright, as a fairly hardcore FPS WW2 gamer during my early high school years (I was in a clan and took on leadership roles in that clan, enough said), I feel compelled by the fact that it is about 5:30 AM to respond...well, just offer my comment.

    The illusion of greatness that games offer can be highly addicting. Being able to play a grand strategy game and feel like I am Wellington, Caesar, Rommel, and Grant all reincarnated and rolled into one strategically brilliant package is perhaps one of the most addicting feelings that I have yet experienced.

    Yes, that sounds ridiculous, but it is perfectly true for me.

    As for the FPS WW2 gaming, I was just like your brother. I discussed tactics, developed deployment strategies, organized my clan mates, and basked in that wonderful illusion that it somehow all mattered.

    That illusion continued throughout first year of university as I become engrossed in a gaming clan for a game called Armed Assault. Participating in virtual cold war-style battles on a fake island with about 60-100 other people. Four hours of training each week, plus the six hour gaming session every Saturday afternoon.

    Eventually, the realization that I was spending ten hours a week on just that one game took hold, plus the 2-4 hours each week spent discussing the gaming sessions and tactics on the clan's online forum. Combined with the increasing burden of cost that gaming took, my interest dwindled. All that coincided with a time in my life when I started to become a lot more 'so it goes' about life, but that is another story.

    I still enjoy spending a couple of hours playing Xbox 360 when I go home for a weekend or holiday, but the obsession is gone.

    I 100% agree about the Rock Band and Guitar Hero games. Four years of playing the alto sax has ensured that I do not find it at all rewarding to play a virtual instrument.

    And, yes, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? was a great game. I played the game, watched the TV show, and just all together loved it all. It was just a lot of fun and highly useful.