The real reason I won’t be buying a videogame system this week.

John Dies at the EndDavid Wong’s comic horror novel John Dies at the End posits a race of inter-dimensional beings who can play with our universe’s timeline as they see fit, inserting and removing people and things at will. Towards the end, a middle-aged character pontificates on his first encounter with a videogame system (which is one of the things they’ve inserted):

“I got a nephew,” continued Arnie. “Eleven years old….But a few weeks ago I come home and I see him sittin’ on the couch, leaning forward like he’s entranced….And he’s got this plastic thing in his hands with buttons on it and he’s just hammering away. And I turn to the television and I almost get sick. There’s just a gun barrel on the screen, at the bottom, muzzle flash shootin’ out the end and people getting ripped to shreds. Sprays of blood everywhere. And I realize, with a feeling like I ate something rotten, that he’s controlling the gun. He’s sitting there operating a damned murder simulator and his mom comes in…and she glances at the TV like it’s nothin’, like it’s perfectly normal for a kid to do somethin’ that used to make new recruits puke back in the war….to look at a human shape and pull the trigger and watch it go down and not even flinch, to not feel that instinctual twinge at causing a death…”

john-dies-at-the-end02“…I’m a journalist, I travel, I got kids in the family, I know the world. And they didn’t sell these game boxes before, I know they didn’t because it’s insane that they do at all.”

It’s a fictional account, but it makes a point I couldn’t really make any better: As a culture, we’re currently in possession of amazing technology that can transport us to incredible new worlds, let us step into any role we could possibly imagine, and do nearly anything we’d like — and 90% of the time, we choose to use it as a murder simulator.

MonkeyIsland2I don’t consider myself a gamer, not because I dislike videogames, but rather because I simply can’t identify with the dominant culture that drives the market. Every generation I’ve bought a console, hoping to experience art like Ico, The Secret of Monkey Islandand Final Fantasy VIIand every generation I’ve felt betrayed by the industry’s determination to remain in perpetual adolescence. My N64, despite awesome capabilities, turned out to be a platform for little more than racing games; my PS2 turned out to play nothing by Grand Theft Auto clones, and it literally took the entire lifespan of the Wii for art like The Last Story to reach American shores.

At this point you’re probably going to say But you’re not being fair, dude on the Internet. Sure there’s a lot of crap out there, but there’s a lot of crap in every art form and genre. How are videogames any different?

final-fantasy-7-final-fantasy-vii-6973833-1024-768And you’re right, probably. Except that a videogame console is really quite a large investment — particularly when you consider it’s just an entertainment box. To lay out that sort of money on the promise of art only to be fed adolescent, sociopathic drivel, is endlessly frustrating. When Transformers 7 hits theaters with the tagline “We know what you drooling idiots want!” I don’t feel personally insulted because I know it’s not intended for me. But when I invest in a PlayStation 2 only to find there’s nothing to buy but cop-killing simulators filled with uncanny-valley jiggly boobies, it’s kind of a slap in the face.

Feel free to read that last sentence as innuendo.

I’m the Nintendo generation. I was born the year the NES launched, and I probably would have had one if my parents hadn’t been too smart to buy one for me. Those of us who grew up in the ’80s are still the main purchasers of videogame hardware, but we’ve grown up, and the products, for the most part, have refused to grow up with us. Sony and Microsoft are currently pushing their “next-gen” systems, but they don’t really offer anything the last gen didn’t have. More space marines. More jiggly bits. More murder simulation.

382061ae74cf63da1dc1e90fb68ac4bfNo doubt someone is going to say, But what else is a videogame supposed to be? and of course the answer is Anything at all. Two or three decades ago, the hottest type of computer game was the graphic adventure, where the gameplay consisted of interacting with interesting characters and solving intriguing puzzles. Somehow we’ve actually moved backward from that. Instead of thinking and conversing, our games are about shooting and killing.

As our computers have gotten smarter, our games have gotten dumber.

the-last-story-tips-1It’s taken me a long time to get to this point, because I’m just as susceptible to marketing as anyone. I once bought into the hype about how the next-gen systems would take me to NEW, INCREDIBLE PLACES that I COULDN’T POSSIBLY IMAGINE. But I’ve come around to realize that a good game is a good game, whether it’s running on an Atari or the most souped-up PC in the world. I still have great games to play on my Mac, my iPhone, my Wii, and my PS3; in the case of the latter, I’ve barely scratched the surface.

I’ve become hardware-agnostic. I don’t care that an Xbox One could be telling me what TV shows to watch; let me know when it gains the amazing power to show me something more interesting than a foreshortened view of a gun.


Come in, take your shoes off, stay awhile, and read this stuff:

New Videogame Consoles! Because…Why, Again?

I’m Supposed to Care  About DARK, GRITTY* Stuff This Week…But I Don’t. Here’s Why.

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s a Shambling Zombie Propped Up by Decadent Copyright Law

7 thoughts on “The real reason I won’t be buying a videogame system this week.

  1. But Luke, you charismatic devil, you’re overlooking all the great sports simulators that video games provide!

    No, but really, you’ve got a good point here. You’re right that video games haven’t grown up with the gamers, who presumably have. To be completely fair to the industry though, I, as a semi-adult, sort-of gamer, don’t have a lot of time or energy to play art games that ask me to think. I don’t know if other gamers are the same, but I know when I come home form work, with hours of mindless grading to do and miles to go before I sleep, I don’t really feel like something involving or complex. It’s kind of sad to say that out loud, and I should probably put in more effort, but I rarely feel like doing anything aside from beating up on Ohio State in football or killing some soldiers in Battlefield 3.

    So, using my own life as a sample to draw conclusions from, gamers mostly consist of adults who only have time and energy for simple, mindless games, and simple, mindless teens who have all kinds of time for games. What else should they do?

    • If you want to go there, I suppose we could argue that the deficit in intellectually stimulating art owes more to the slow death that our culture is dying. We’re one of the most overworked countries in the world, and as leisure dies, so does great art.

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  4. You do have a really good point. This article voices some of the things I’ve felt but haven’t really figured out how to say.

    It reminds me of conversations I’ve had about anime too – whenever I complain that 90% of it is unwatchable due to the high amount of ‘jiggly bits’ and schoolgirl uniforms, I usually get the response that ‘that’s just how anime is.’

    Drives me crazy; it’s a medium, you can tell any kind of story with it, and in a beautiful way…but instead it’s all basically Gurren Lagan over and over.

    That said, the part about the kid playing the video game does bother me – completely the parents fault. It’s amazing how so many parents would never buy their kid a rated R movie but buy them rated M games. That’s something that’s always frustrated me.

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