Sunday, January 4, 2009

The State of the (Gamer) Union

I write this post with a heavy heart, crushed by the knowledge that with every passing week I lose some the maddd skillz that made me a gaming ninja back when I was a younger man (although my many, MANY losses in Madden and FIFA never seemed to indicate to me that I was never all that good to begin with, but sports games are for Philistines... and rappers). I used to be able to dole out headshots and counter-rushes like Santa Claus gives presents to a Jewish family; efficiently and ultimately without welcome. Now, because of a variety of factors (well, two really: Grad skool and marriage) I simply do not have the time to throw down and spread some pwnage (A phrase that does not actually exist in my lexicon but I felt I had to burnish my gamer credentials). On top of that, now that I am legally emancipated (!!!) my parents are no longer required to furnish my lodgings with video or computer games, and lord knows I will not spend MY hard-earned money on them without months of consideration. That has left me in the unfortunate situation where I have not been able to buy any of the current-gen consoles or upgrade my rig (although I question that my slow-ass 4-year old computer could be called a 'rig' anymore), so I have yet to play Bioshock, or the new Smash Brothers, and look wistfully at the undergrads who have enough time and resources to really game. I still fancy myself something of an expert on gaming and gamer culture, so I will drop some pearls of wisdom:

-The gaming industry is showing that it is not quite as detached from the world economy as some of its boosters thought it was. Game sales and profits were once again ungodly, but companies suffered (and good ones too, not useless ones like Ion Storm). Gaming is a business, to be sure, but the tempering of expectations and the quest for recovery will only hasten the inexorable march of The Industry towards corporate professionalization (AKA complete bullcrap, the absence of reason and sanity, and cookie-cutter products). I will wax nostalgically for an idealized gamer past sometime in a future post.

-There were some sweet books that came out over the past few years about games: Dungeons and Desktops, Quests, Power-Up, etc. Most of my recommendations are basically from this guy, but I trust him because he is a down-ass dude and all of the books he is reading now (allegedly, at least) basically mirror my own interests and have not been written by any Cultural Studies professors (outside of Michael Berube they are ALL useless). Kohler in particular is someone I would keep track of, the dude basically did everything I thought about doing when I was 12 years old (and I mean that in a good way). Why are these texts important? Well, they treat video games seriously, they are well-researched, and they hopefully expand the level of discourse about the subject. While gaming has emerged as chic (something that caught me COMPLETELY by surprise, because admitting that you played Video Games in the 1980s and 1990s was tantamount to committing popularity suicide), it is still by and large treated as a faddish hobby/the root of all our youth's corruption, and many gamers have been conditioned to defend their passion with rather facile (dare I say retarded?) tactics, notably blasting any and all comers on teh internetamatron! KEWL! While these people are technically 'my people', most of them are morons who I will not defend. Rather, it is with the publication of these serious texts (ok, Quests is not ALL that good, but the topic is just so JUICY) that our way of living and seeing the world will slowly get respected, rather than attacked or commodified and ignored (christ I sound like a Critical Theorist).

-Games have been getting qualitatively better, but as some rather astute observers have predicted (oh Videogames Magazine writing staff, you guys were prophets), most of our gamer fare has been moving to photo-realistic acts of brutal violence. The games that do not move towards this direction but still try to utilize serious horsepower make flawed PoMo artistic stuff (different for the sake of being different, using a bastardized definition of PostModernism from the Simpsons that I know does not capture the essence of the ideas behind it, but whatever)... oh we are different, just look at our art style! Look at our controls! The majority of games seem like the equivalent of summer blockbusters or art-house pieces. Indeed the gaming industry mirrors the movie industry more and more every year, and I find that an appalling proposition. We need more No More Heroes!

-Video game journalism has improved, but the big-name guys are overrated. I am talking specifically about the members of Slate's Gaming Club, Croal, Schiesel, Suellentrop, and Totilo. Newsweek and the New York Times are suspect publications who employ suspect people. MTV even more so. Slate, like the New Yorker, is hit and miss, usually the latter. All of them are decent writers, but outside of Croal's work on 1-Up, their stuff is not all that hot but people think it is mostly because of their credentials. I do not mean to use guilt by association, but that is EXACTLY what I am going to do. If you put stuff out on Newsweek, New York Times, Slate, or MTV, you are wack. Period.
-I have to go to dinner, I will resume my reasonable post/lunatic tirade at a later time.


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