Thursday, July 8, 2010

Games don't play!

"Dad, is it my turn yet on the [XBOX] 360?"
"Ok son, just let me get to a save point..."

As the video game industry continues to churn out more eye-popping adventures with ever-more stunning graphics, a gamer-Dad has to know where to draw the line when it comes to what they can play... and even watch.

A good friend of mine made an interesting revelation; your age might very well determine the depth of your gaming addiction. Yeah, I said it.


It goes a little something like this: according to my long-time friend and fellow gamer geek (who by the way is presently writing two books based on characters he developed that were heavily influenced by gaming and Hollywood stereotypes), presents the following point; in 1978, Namco released a vaguely popular game called "Space Invaders". Heard of it? I'm being glib, it changed our world forever! I won't go into Video game lore (that's a whole other blog!), but let's just say I can still hear the staccato "Bom, bom, bom, bom" of the legions of evil alien minions as they did their slow march of death toward my bunkers and my efforts to stop them. Ultimately, my resistance was futile. However, his point was this; if you were about 14 or so in 1978 (which put your birth year about 1964-5) you were caught up in the gaming craze, whole hog. Older than that and you weren't so enamoured. The reason boils down to two word; girls and cars.

Generation X is widely acknowledged to include anyone born between 1961 and 1981. So my generation is split. If by 1978, you were 15 years old or older, Space Invaders and the invading hordes of digital quarter-a-play challenges that followed were a fad, but not one that could never overcome freedom from parental tyranny or the prospect of either getting wheels or riding shotgun with someone who had them. Girls? To this day, as a heterosexual male, hanging with girls still trumps just about anything else. However, if you were in that strike zone, basically 14 and under, you were hooked. Whether it was showing space rocks who was boss in Asteroids, saving damsels in distress from giant apes in Donkey Kong or getting Pac Man fever you couldn't get enough (me, I was a Missile Command-er myself). Our addiction was a controlled substance, because when you were out of quarters, you were out of time (cue bizarre dying pac man sound here).

Video gaming has come a long way, to be sure. For me at age 10, when Space Invaders landed on the scene, I became an immediate convert. Every new game brought new challenges, slightly better graphics and an insatiable hunger to conquer the next latest and greatest game. Today, video games have their own advertising campaigns and budgets, they have movie theatre trailers and vie for brand name voice talent that has snared the likes of Ray Liotta, Burt Reynolds, Christopher Walken and Alec Baldwin, just start the list. Game release parties are catered and have red carpet events where celebrities arrive in limos and some are even black tie affairs. These games offer experiences more real than ever that can (and have) included seducing women, bribing officials, battling corporate corruption and of course, vaporizing alien invaders.

Where are the controls? Well, for $40 - $60 (new), a kid doesn't ever have to worry about running out of quarters, it's a cut-off that no longer factors in. In fact, a child could feasibly play 12-14 hours a day (and while that is NOT an option at my house, we all know those kids). Whats more, they can go online and get cheat codes from the Internet and conquer a 40+ hour game in a single day. Where's the fun in that? My kids hate that I don't let them gather cheat codes online to beat games in a single weekend. Funny, they didn't have to pay $60 to buy it in the first place, so they get no say so in the matter.

My oldest son, a huge fan of watching me play a game called Mercenaries 2: World in Flames has been green lighted by Dad to play. In this game, you are either working for or battling oil companies, a corrupt civilian government, a revolutionary army, "the allied nations" (the US) and the Chinese who all want a stake in the oil. You assassinate key officials, high-jack weapons of mass destruction or commandeer tanks and helicopters as you blast your way through a tropical paradise consumed with oil corruption. Sound pretty current huh? While shooting adversaries is very cartoon-like, it doesn't diminish its impact. My son actually has to disconnect from XBOX Live to play as the game server knows how old he is and will not let him play online. I am grateful. When I was 10, would I have been traumatized, by a game geared at freeing the US Embassy hostages in Iran? Would kids in 1963 have suffered unspeakable psychosis playing a game surrounding the Cuban missile crisis? No, I don't think so. These events would be no less, scary, no less real and would actually call for a deeper level of understanding about such happenings because the game immerses the player in the thick of it.

In Medal of Honor: Airborne player re-enact role of US soldiers in Key battles in World War II's European theatre. They have asked about who the Nazis were, why the Italians were with them and why aren't the soldiers dropping out of C-5's. Hey enlightenment starts somewhere, right? In Assassin's Creed, my Daughter has picked up several phrases in Italian (part of her actual heritage) and uses them around the house. On the Wii, in "Band Hero" my twins listen to and faux play songs by the Beatles, something I didn't even do until college... 20 years ago!

In the interest of being reasonable, this blog post could on for a fortnight, but I will say this; Video gaming is here to stay and as the graphics get better, parents need to have a grasp on when, or even if, they decide to expose them to their progeny. I will say this, they are a permanent part of the cultural landscape, sheltering them from TV shows, movies, internet content and games will drive you as insane as Edward Nigma. But Riddle me this, isn't it much easier to get involved with the kids and discuss the material? I do, I must say, the kids respond favorable and are able to make their own choices as to what to play and watch, once they know where parents stand.

After all, kids are pretty smart and even my generation struggles to keep up. I figure, it's best to stay connected, since this will be an entrenched part of their lives... and this Gen X'er has a lot of lives left!

Hey, check out this link to one of my favorite sites and a great presentation on the evolution of video gaming. The short film about halfway through is stunning. Enjoy!:

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