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.