What got me thinking about this was thumbing through my 8-year-old's copy of Electronic Gaming Monthly (not a plug: he gets PC Gamer and GMR, too). My youngest is a game fanatic. When he's not playing, he's devising and designing his own games, complete with age warning labels ("It's called 'Marines in Space', Daddy, rated M for violence, blood and gore, and extreme language. Player experience may vary"). He may be a little jock, but when it came to summer daycamp, off he went with a bunch of nerds for a week at a Lego and Game Design program.
The New Insiders
For a boomer like me, reading a magazine like Electronic Gaming Monthly is more than a little disorienting. First there is the graphics overload — every article and ad seems to be screaming at you in an explosion of fonts and screenshots. Then there is the sophomoric writing and humor, the kind of nudge-nudge, let's-see-what-we-can-get-away-with college newspaper prose beloved by 20-year-olds, but like a dental drill to adults.
Most of all, there is that insider's combination of catchphrases, assumption of common knowledge about the field, and exhausting attention to minutiae that separates veteran insiders from ignorant arrivistes. It is the oldest magazine trick of them all (nobody did it better than the early Rolling Stone) and still the most effective.
It would be easy to dismiss a fanboy mag like Electronic Gaming Monthly as trivial. But make no mistake: this is a very real, successful and important magazine. For one thing, it's owned by ever-ruthless Ziff-Davis, which doesn't stick with losers for long. As for the staff: I ran one of the largest technology magazines in the world, and I didn't have nearly the masthead of these guys. Watching my sons tear through the latest issue, I know EGM has found the best way into their brain stems.
But not into mine. I can't tell you how many times my youngest has asked if I'd like to play one of his endless library of games. I always politely refuse — as much as I admire their graphics, their creative story lines, even their amoral anarchy (ever watched Grand Theft Auto?), I am just not interested in playing games.
Most adults aren't, I suspect, probably because the game of life is infinitely more challenging, funny, sexy and terrifying — and even the best computer game is a poor simulation. And because of that, we tend to dismiss the gaming world as some sort of silly subculture inhabited by slightly twisted teenaged boys and antisocial college kids; a place we might occasionally visit as a lark but would never take seriously.
But what if we are wrong — as wrong as my parents were about the '60s sub-culture? What if the yearlong delay of Halo 2 is as much a cultural tragedy to this generation as the death of Jim Morrison was to mine? What if SuperMario Brothers is Shindig and CounterStrike is Woodstock?
And what if the future, which we still see as the Triumph of the PC, is in fact the Revenge of the Video Game Machines?
Culture of Gamers
Absurd? About 10 months ago I noted in this column that TV Nielsen ratings had collapsed for 17-to-25-year-olds — a slump I suggested came from the kids playing online games instead. And consider these statistics I gleaned from the pages of EGM:
Twenty-percent of all U.S. households have a Playstation 2.
Twenty-four countries play online games through Xbox.
Nintendo expects to sell 20 million GameCubes in this console cycle.