The lad culture of video games
Last year I wrote a post kvetching about what it means to be a video game player and my antipathy for the self-proclaimed hardcore video gamers. Because I am a video game enthusiast, it is fairly easy for me to develop certain levels of disappointment and frustration with the loosely organized community of fellow gamers. It is sad to report that in the last year my attitude has not changed. In fact, it has broadened to include those who make the games as well.
My game playing experiences started nearly 25 years ago with a Commodore 64. My interest in video games was solidified shortly after acquiring a Nintendo Entertainment System and vowing to overcome the taxing obstacle known to me as Super Mario Bros. 2. Since then I have been a steady advocate for video games as a hobby. My favorite aspect of video games has always been that advancement in a game is dependent upon some sort of problem-solving, despite the occasionally heavy reliance on proper timing. Beyond that I am a proponent of integrating interactive media, such as games, into therapeutic strategies for autism and the spectrum of mental disorders out there. Obviously, I have a lot of emotional stock put into video games.
So why have I been feeling so disconnected from video games for the past couple of years? I still buy and play games. I still have a strong desire to know what is coming out next. I still find playing games to be fun. There are still games that resonate with me like a good song. But I am not as driven to be involved in the gaming community, nor am I interested in playing absolutely everything.
It has been suggested to me that there is a barrier between myself and more full commitment to video games because I opted to avoid purchasing an Xbox 360 or PS3. I chose the Wii. That is not it. I picked the Wii because I was not interested in most of the titles released on the other systems, and the Wii is the most friendly console to people who do not usually play games. I have a confession to make: I find playing alone pretty pathetic. Even with online play, if you’re the only one in your room holding a controller, you’re completely alone. As gaming enthusiasts we play alone because that is most often the option given, but my choice in system was reflective of my desire to decrease the amount of solitary play time my system would see.
The barriers I am unable to overcome and the sources of my antipathy are in the greater gaming public and the content of the games released. Up until a few nights ago I was unable to put into concise words what troubled me about these sources. Fortunately Wikipedia has an entry on it all – lad culture. [Note: This link will probably be subject to many edits. Currently one of the descriptors for it is a liking of “lesbians fucking”.] I wanted to initially lay the blame on frat boy culture or bros, but the connotation there would be suggestive of once having some college-level issues. Lad culture provides a nice neutral term that covers it all: drinking, macho sexism, cars, etc. It all comes down to presenting an image of being more man than one actually is.
Think I am being too broad about this? Let me put it this way, the release of the original Xbox, Halo, and the rise in popularity of sports titles along with the sudden prevalence of violence-centered titles signaled the new age of video game player who is more interested in measuring his electronic manhood than in the game playing experience. Since then there have been even more sports games and first-person shooters, and the inclusion of voice chatting with other players is less known for its aid in coordinating and strategizing and more for its allowing people to anonymously trash talk everyone. And the game systems themselves are being sold more on their specs, like cars, than the actual substance of media produced.
Video game producers, meanwhile, have been forced to cater to this market because it is now their bread and butter. Dark graphics, violence, huge boobs, and unoriginal game play became more important than creating something new and exciting. Or even something lasting. For as good as people said Halo was, did they continue playing it after the release of number 2 or 3? For as good as people claim the last Madden game was, did they continue playing it? Do any of these games have lasting value, or are they merely flavors of the week? I thought the idea of creating was to make something that persists.
And that there is the reason why video games are nowhere near being considered art. Up until now, I was on the ignorant side of that discussion. Video games can certainly become art, but they’re currently meaningless pieces of pop culture trash. For the most part.
I regularly read blogs from gaming academics who fight the uphill battle for the recognition of video games as more than just toys. Some people make great points and provide amazing analysis of the titles released. I know that games do not have to be trash. Not all games are. Sadly, though, I think that the people creating games have been aiming low for some time.
I like the term lad culture because it puts into perspective how I feel about the medium. I feel like I am too old for it. I know that I am not. I just cannot help how I feel. I became an adult while the video game industry halted itself in adolescence, which I suppose is remarkable since back in the 80’s games were the toys children wanted most. The games themselves have an adolescent fixation on power fantasy, violence, and unrealistic depictions of women. The gamers are no longer the basement dwelling uber nerds who were despised for their fantasy fixations. The gamers are status-seeking, sheltered, entitled boys who wish their media to remain at a static level of immature content. One might be able to understand why I feel I have outgrown things. Video games seem to be focused on some sort of image currently, and I realize that I have nothing to prove. I have become a realized adult.