Where Is The Thing That Terrifies Me?

I’m looking forward to the thing that terrifies me. I’m looking forward to the thing that will rot our children’s brains. I’m looking forward to the moment when I can look my son dead in the eye and tell him he should spend less of his time messing around with that ‘trash’ in there and more time playing normal, old video games. Only then will I know that the medium is transforming itself into something important.

But where is that thing? What is that thing?

We’re at that cusp in entertainment history. Video games aren't scary anymore. Now when I look at the 'video games ate my hamster' headlines in newspapers and mainstream media, I see a moral panic swinging blind haymakers at a target that’s long since slipped the jab. No-one, save a few nutcases, is afraid of video games anymore. Video games are understood.

I used to get angry when video games were attacked in the press, I’d bash my keyboard, fingertips like sledgehammers. As someone engaged in that world, I would get defensive. Now I actually laugh. I laugh because I know the audience this tripe targets is no longer invested in that sense of fear. Let’s assess our culture honestly: video games are as safe as jazz. As safe as Rock & Roll. Remember when Tipper Gore campaigned with wide-eyed terror against the ills of Hip Hop? Nelly is now the brand advocate for Cheerios. A breakfast cereal aimed at children.

Oh! Must be the honey!

Video Games are close behind. Their run as Moral Panic media darlings is all but done. At the very least it’s in its death throes. Sure, stories are still being written about Grand Theft Auto V and Call of Duty and how the children are doomed, but the response is telling: gamers don’t get angry, we just laugh. And more than ever once ignorant baby boomers simply roll their eyes with disdain.


It’s gotten to the stage where I’m beginning to ask myself: have video games become too safe? I’m 32 years old now. I’m a father. Where is the thing I’m supposed to be scared of? Where are the headlines I'll self righteously frown at over my morning porridge?

I look at the future of video games as brought to me by major publishers and platform holders and feel overwhelmingly comfortable. I think this is worrying, a sign of stagnation. ‘This Grand Theft Auto V video game feels a lot like the last one,’ I say to myself, wearing my comfy slippers. ‘Actually, it’s a lot like the one before the last one.

‘I’m okay with this.’

Then I look ahead. 'Oh, there’s that Wind Waker remake that’s right up my alley. The game that targets my nostalgia with razor sharp precision. I shall place it high atop a pedestal and worship endlessly.' Sergeant Pepper for a new generation, remastered, chucked on a brand new format for us old bastards to buy again and again and again.

Then there’s the consoles. I haven’t even gotten started on the consoles.

There’s a worrying sense of familiarity about the new consoles. The first PlayStation and the N64 moved towards 3D visuals, the next generation refined that and flirted with online functionality. The current generation stuck that concept into the fifth gear and realised that once elusive concept of the all in one media center.

What do the new ones do? What defines them? These devices feel like technology for technology’s sake. I can’t for the life of me figure out what it is they’re supposed to do.


Where is the thing that terrifies me?

What is the thing that terrifies me?

Tablets? Mobile devices? Maybe. As a card carrying ‘gamer’ in the stupidest sense of the word, I am a little afraid of what these scarily powerful bastards will do to the humble video game as I now enjoy it. Will they tear down the structures I have become used to, will the video game as ‘grand narrative experience’ be swept away and replaced with a series of increasingly angry birds?

Nah, that doesn’t quite feel subversive enough.

Maybe the thing that terrifies me is a simple idea. The idea that video games as a cohesive, rigid object is a blip on a slowly disappearing horizon. It’s a subversive idea embraced by the young with games like Minecraft, and an idea I frown upon with furrowed, concerned eyebrows.

Maybe that’s it: the idea that the authored video game experience is no longer an inflexible totem of cultural reflection. Maybe that’s the thing that scares me. The idea that I can contribute to the thing I am engaged with, the idea that creativity has become a two way street. The idea that the thing I’m playing might change in a year, or evolve to the point where I can’t recognise it anymore. Gosh durn kids, don’t they have any respect for art?

What a stupid thing to be afraid of. What a relief to possibly be afraid of something. Maybe video games can still be dangerous after all.


Comments

    I think the thing to keep in mind is that all those other moral panics were only ever a vocal minority. I'm sure if you'd gone back to those time periods and really taken a cross-section of the population, there'd have been a lot of people that thought the panic over whatever that particular hot topic was were nuts.

    Perhaps you're just in the group that prefers logic and reason over blind, unreasonable and illogical panic over nothing?

    On the other hand, maybe the thing is that you don't know what the next major media shift will be. Back when the great debate was about whether letting youths read novels was going to ruin their minds (this really happened) if you had told them that a century or so later they would be trying to do the same thing with comic books, they wouldn't have even known what a comic book was.

    I think the most old man thing I have with gaming is the old Call of Duty style rehashing cliche. The idea that developers are clinging to a few ideas that have sold really well, and putting seemingly more time and effort into focus groups, etc. We never had these sequels upon sequels in my day! *shakes fist at cloud* That or maybe I was just a very naive child.

    If I had to bust out a crystal ball and make a prediction, I'd say that the kind of ARGs that our kids will play will scare the shit out of me.

    VR is the next thing - there is a massive thread at the Oculus Dev Forums about the impact to society of VR. An example post...

    I think the effects of new tech on society particularly immersive tech should not be dismissed. A responsible company/ industry must be accountable for research of side effects of their product.. I don't suggest that they be held responsible for every idiots actions. But as tech becomes a supplement for parenting/ upbringing ( this already happens like it or not) the effects of such realistic "alternate reality" on children say 4-12 could be quite harmful... Because we are not creating Virtual Reality anymore it's Alternate Reality.. There is this world and there is that world.. That is what we are pushing Oculus to create, pushing software devs to make, something that makes us feel, see, touch, hear, something where we are made to believe we are actually there... And as they get better at making adults disconnect, children become the collaterally damaged on the way. How are you to know reality from VR if by the age of 10 you could of spent half your waking life half in each? It's not my problem but it's one to consider

      Or this one...

      I Believe that this will impact families to the extreme. Not only will our children grow up in a virtual generation, they will be forced into this generation. I don't like the idea of the VR. This will be a huge time consumption and people will stop socializing. It will make imaginary friends real, the ones we actually created. Families will stop growing because the need for marriage and a real relationship will decrease. People will lean on their virtual relationships and all of a sudden start marrying them.These things that are so special now and can only be done with another human, will be destroyed. There will be falsifying attributes to the Oculus Rift. Less children will be born. And on the most extreme, this could eventually wipe out the human race if we let it get control of us. Lots of people are seeing this control take over and addictions be formed. I won't allow a VR in my house.

      Last edited 19/09/13 3:02 pm

    EDIT: What happened to the post I was replying to? Alright let me try to edit this so it makes some kind of sense and doesn't contain any spoilers. It lacks a bit of relevancy now without the previous post.

    After taking a look at a video of the particularly egregious scene in one of Trevors missions previously mentioned in the removed thread, it made me feel particularly conflicted about buying the game, to the extent that I cancelled my preorder so I'd have longer to consider whether I wanted to play it. While GTA is full of violence and unashamed mayhem, for me the mission in question crosses a line into a far more troubling area.

    I'm not going to suggest that such genuinely shocking scenes shouldn't exist in games, but they definitely make me more reluctant to be a willing participant.

    Last edited 19/09/13 3:18 pm

    I'll admit, Angry Birds terrified me when I first heard of its success a little under four years ago (and, to be honest, it still baffles me). I saw what it could do, how it could raise mainstream interest in mobile timewasters, and divert time and effort from the medium I hold so dear. To some extent, that has happened - every publisher has seen and invested in a slice of the mobile gaming pie. But over the last few years, mobile gaming has found its audience, and publishers aren't diverting funds so much as expanding to include new studios to specialise in these mobile games.

    When Mass Effect 3 came out with its "booster pack" multiplayer, and moreso when Diablo 3 came out with its auction house, which actually affected the design of the looting system, I was worried that this could become the norm. I was terrified that, with game prices at the time averaging $100 a pop, companies would request a further investment on my part to even be able to enjoy the game I'd bought. The backlash, combined with the recent lowering of game prices here, has made me less concerned about this issue, however, as the industry seems to have watched with great interest, and learned what to avoid.

    Now that game prices have dropped, microtransactions compromising game design has been proven to be a bad choice, mobile gaming has stabilised, the only thing that really worries me is how so many publishers are announcing plans for new MMOs. I guess the sudden fall of 38 Studios kinda struck home how expensive an MMO could be to make (let alone maintain), so watching Bethesda and Bungie (two of my absolute favourite developers) going down the MMO/pseudo-MMO route really worries me. Well, that, and I don't want games to become purely a service, as so many software products are evolving into these days.

    Unfortunately, the only constant is change, as they say, and refusing to go with the flow now seems to indicate that I'll be a curmudgeon shouting "get off my lawn" before I'm 30. And that terrifies me even more...

    All of the "moral panics" over the years...... books, music, movies, tv, games......

    It's just a vocalisation of the generational disconnects which occur. And, like anything, the fear isn't of the products themselves.
    It's a fear of the unknown. The fear of what they [eventually, we] do not understand.

    Give it a few more years and it will be thought of a spin the bottle phone app

    Where Is The Thing That Terrifies Me?

    A world shortage of porridge? :P

    The thing that terrifies me is just so far away from games that they don't intersect. At a time when we're in the process of trashing the planet we live on, and treating each other like ever-increasingly bigger assholes, it just doesn't feel like the next big thing is likely to be one rooted in artistic culture, in part because society as it is now is pretty down on artistic culture to begin with. Everything now is about being better and more efficient wageslaves, how selfish we are to think we should treat each other (And ourselves, even) with compassion, and so on. There's plenty out there that terrifies me, but most of it is the steaming pile of shit my kids have to find a way to, at best, cope with, in the coming decades.

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