Blog Topic 9: The Game of Life

In Uncategorized on November 16, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Up until this week, my gaming experience had looked a lot like this:

A yellowing “lucky” pack of pseudo-Roman cards my grandmother picked up in Vegas at Caesars Palace in 1957. Parlez vous gin rummy?

My dad’s faded Monopoly board, whose top hat has been conspicuously absent since a college camping trip and is now purportedly nestled somewhere in the Vermont wilderness, and whose railroads I strive to monopolize with violent zealousness.

Clue, the coolest thing to be printed on cardboard since, well, ever. Everyone thinks Miss Scarlett is so incapable. If they only knew. That candlestick is so misleadingly dainty-looking.

In situations in which six or more people are present, Cranium rules the roost. Unless you happen to be gaming with members of the elderly set (as I frequently do) – then it’s all about the Trivial Pursuit (…circa 1965 version, read: I always lose).

You get the picture. To me, gaming involves dealing, shuffling, cardboard, pawns, and, if I’m feeling especially adventurous, a rope with handles or a giant hoop meant to be kept airborne via ungraceful posterior orbiting.

This lack of familiarity with electronic amusement is due to a combination of factors: disinterest on my part, unwillingness on my parents’ parts, and an overt lack of manual dexterity. Growing up, I also didn’t have many friends who gamed. One had a Super Nintendo and we did enjoy the occasional Mario (or in my case Yoshi) battle, but beyond that I was clueless. The pizza place down the street had a Pacman machine, which I was fond of when the air hockey table had again experienced a mysterious puck disappearance.

And who doesn’t love the SIMS? Though, I guess, my interest is far more Liz Lemon-esque, who so famously said,“If I have learned anything from my SIMS family — when a child doesn’t see his father enough he starts to jump up and down, then his mood level with drop until he pees himself.” Let’s face it: the SIMS is convenient for three things: bankrupting yourself on the highest-priced wide-plank wood flooring without repercussion, buying things with names like “global aquatic fishery and biodome,” and creating families with similar faces and the exact names of the people who occasionally make our lives hell and watching as they self-destruct via starvation, bathroom deprivation, and/or verbal abuse. Not that I’ve ever done that.

Beyond this, I am clueless. So much so that my discomfort with online gaming comes close to precipitating a kind of mild fear at learning that the U.S. military is using games (and graphic novels, apparently) for training and recruiting. I’m not even going to bother apologizing for the fact that I have a problem with this. I’m sure there is some tactical value to it, and it of course beats forcing recruits into real-life situations of danger just to impart basic maneuvers and tactics. But it evokes the same kind of visceral anger in me that military advertisements that run at the movie theater do. As I sit there in my seat at the cinema in that environment of pure entertainment, I could spit nails when a U.S. Army National Guard ad showing GI Joe-like troops surge their exotic environs as Kid Rock blares a hard-rock, bad-@$$ ballad in the background. I think it sends a totally inappropriate message that joining the military is equivalent to participating in a music video that will resemble the set of Transformers rather than the more realistic sandstorm embedded with IEDs.

..yes. It absolutely seems as if the wee lad took away the intended message (this is the time in which an officially designated sarcasm font would come in handy).

To know that the army has been touring the country with this Virtual Army Experience, stopping at amusement parks and county fairs…um, no. I’m sorry. Just…no. I don’t see how this, in any way, can be construed as okay. It has nothing to do with anyone’s respective opinions about the military. It has everything to do with presenting something (to children!) as a game that in reality is by no means entertaining.

Cue scene: An army recruiting office. An 18-year-old is trying to convince a recruiter that he’d be the perfect candidate for service. Recruiter: “How would you know, son? Have you ever been to war?” Reply: “No, but I dominated the game at the county fair when I was 12! I was so good that I won a giant pink elephant and a lifetime supply of funnel cakes!”.

I really need to move on to another topic, because this one is rapidly approaching rant territory.

For our upcoming class, I chose to test out Second Life (World of Warcraft just sounded overwhelming. I’m sure I’d be gunned down in five seconds flat). Admittedly, the amount of time I devoted to immersing myself in the SL culture was necessarily limited by the time I had available to do so. However, I left the brief Second Life I lived (and, in effect, died  — an entire lifespan in only an hour!) with two somewhat conflicting feelings – those of fascination and incomprehension.

From an anthropological perspective (I can’t help it! Like Jersey Shore and the early era of Survivor, it’s RIVETING!), it’s a fascinating study in how people will act and what they will choose to value once the physical realities and barriers that govern their 3D lives are largely removed. But from a personal perspective, I just don’t get it. The SIMS provided the occasional thrill of allowing me to design a house to a scale that I will likely never be able (or desire) to actualize in real life. But Second Life? I just couldn’t get into it. Partially because if I’m going to take the time to interact in a fake world, I want the people I’m interacting with to be fake, too, and of my own construction (the remnant of those passive aggressively-motivated SIMS characters, perhaps?). Partially because as I was playing, I was thinking of all the things I would rather be doing in my First Life (e.g. watching Grizzly Man. Or eating Hint of Lime Tostitos. Or counting the number of people on M Street who walk by wearing the same outfit over the course of an hour.).

A random selection of things that boggle my mind:

  • That people will pay real money to receive a weekly stipend of fake money.
  • The fact that Linden Lab, the creator of Second Life, deals with protests from parents players that they cannot cohabitate/integrate with their teenage children who have recently be transferred from the teen grid to the adult grid upon turning 18 says it all. You can’t coexist with the fake version of your own kid in your fake world when you’ve spent the last 18 real years of you real life really living in the same real house with the real them? Interesting.

This indicates to me that many players, perhaps especially adults, are approaching Second Life – as Second Chance. Entertainment not just as escapism, but an opportunity to make different choices or be someone else — Self 2.0. Like the movies once provided a welcome escape from the national environment of war, social upheaval, etc., perhaps online gaming is providing an escape from the often unimaginative real world – a world in which unemployment is the word of the day, and employment often connotes a situation not all that much more desirable.

All this to say: It’s so typical that my first response to any techno-phenomenon be ¿cuál es éste, y porqué? Though proficient at using the internet, I struggle with understanding and valuing many of the things that make the experience so rich for others. Which is why I am so excited for our class tomorrow night. I am eager to learn more about the whole phenomenon of online gaming from someone who understands its facets better than I do. And maybe, just maybe, prompt me to give Second Life a second chance, if only to more effectively seek out the avatars of my real-life nemeses and cause some social upheaval… Kidding. Kind of.

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