Hello - it's been some time, hasn't it? We haven't talked, you and I, for a little while, so let's cut to the chase.
I have an investigative mentor - a friend who I have never met, if you will. Journalist Vitali Vitaliev, writer, investigator, teetotaler. Though I doubt I am hardly the kind of individual he would admire, it is my hope that in another life we might cross pathes for a few moments; just long enough for me to yell that I keep a dog-eared copy of one of his novels on my desk at all times, possibly while pestering him for a light. Which one? That's a mystery for the ages.
The reason I bring Vitali up, however, is that even since I was young I admired the way he looked into things even if the conclusion wasn't something that was particularly pleasant. Unafraid to make mistakes or self-deprecate, he gave me the courage to do the same - and that leads me to a theory of mine I've had for some time.
We're all here because we're gamers, by and large. Some of us might even be ordinary gamers, and I guess you could say we're some ordinary gamers. Many of us work, come home from work, and play a game - perhaps writing or reading a few short stories in the meantime. It's a nice hobby, one that keeps us at home, and quiet, and sedate.
Have you noticed that?
For all the complaints about violence in video games - and video games are becoming more violent, with the ability to render lovingly crafted gore increasing as boundaries are tested and what was once undergound becomes mainstream - crime, overall, decreases when people do not leave their homes. Certainly, kinds of crimes increase - hidden crimes, domestic violence, things that tend to be more easily brushed under the rug. But for all the arguments made that videogames are murder simulators out to train the next generation of killers...
When was the last time you heard a theory that they are instead designed to keep us placid and sedate?
That's quite an assumption, so I'll clarify. I don't mean that there is some vast conspiracy meeting in closed rooms, saying that flashing polybius screens need to be altered to symbols of peace, fast food, and consumption - though the latter have increased in games as well, with advergames fading to be replaced by subtle - and very ostentatious - product placement. The modern temples of entertainment, however are convenient; so convenient that they can lead to a kind of self-immersion and self-improvement that non-interactive media have left undreamed and untouched.
A movie forces you to attend the same experience as everyone else. You might walk out with friends, railing against the horrible plot as you go, but at the end of the day you're not going to change anything. You paid to have an experience - and not your experience, but one created by someone else, a whole team of 'someone elses', themselves beshackled to whatever deadlines and boundaries set for them.
But games - games are different.
In a game, you have the power to do whatever it is you want, within the boundaries of the game - and increasingly, our entertainment challenges even that. But even before the age of open-roaming and 'objectiveless' games, there was a plethora of different entertainments for different tempers. Ask yourself - if you were in a nation, or nations, wracked by economic problems, fear for the future, and - by your very position - fear of the people around you, would you be particularly interested in meeting them?..
Political attitude towards gaming has shifted massively, if it was ever truly stigmatized in the first place. I may just be highly cynical, but I've always felt that gaming itself has been largely acceptable; it is the sort of people that most enjoyed games that suffered, and continue to do so even as we have such 'landmarks' as Gaming as Sports, finally telling countless thumb-jockeys that they too can enter the wonderful world of moneytizing entertainment. Games influence other media as much as they are influenced, and gamers are considered a 'demographic' - which sounds just as ridiculous as any other arbitrary clumping when said out loud.
Not that politics has had much - if any - real effect on gaming as a medium. Indeed, the medium itself is driven by the marketplace, and despite the attempts from game developers to occasionally seem persecuted by the cruel lens of politics, business is booming. An article by a developer I admired predicted that the market for independent game developers has become oversaturated, and perhaps it has - but I do not think that will stop the market from continuing to be developed, as there is a demand for more entertainment, endlessly and immediately.
But again, I must state that there is no act of malice in here, no concerted political schema or attempt to monopolize your attention beyond th normal excesses of any company; it is just that gaming is so convenient, has become so convenient. How many of us are subscribed to an MMORPG, or perhaps have that one game that we will buy DLC for regardless of the quality? And perhaps it is just one game - but if so, how many hours have we... Have you... Logged playing it?
And the strangest thing is - on some level, it's working. Weighing the options between revenge on an enemy or enemies, immediate monetary compenstation, and a block of uninterrupted gaming - I know many people who'd gladly take the latter. And that itself makes the hobby more acceptable, as staticians and economists alike began to push the idea that this is the beginning of a new phase that is largely positive for both the economy and our well being, at the very least mentally.
Even if that is the case however - and I am inclined to believe that it is - one question remains in my mind. What happens when this is all subsumed entirely into the mainstream? What happens when sports networks are replaced by teleprompter DOTA matches, when students who aren't interested in gaming, or can't afford the latest games (or the trendily retro ones) get bullied for their lack of ability to keep up with a hobby that is in many ways driven by disposable income?
It's an unpleasant question, and one I've yet to figure out an answer too.