Monday, November 17, 2008

Pixelized carnage as entertainment

Like most male types (and an oddly smaller handful of female types - I wonder why that is?), I have spent a great deal of time over the years in an electronic fantasy world. As a somewhat older member of the species, that includes some time playing pinball before graduating to video games when they arrived. There was/is some appeal to manipulating silver balls and pixels to accumulate points.

The obsession peaked in the early 1980s - I can even remember when I started worrying about myself. It was when my then-wife and her daughter dropped me off at the mall arcade and I dropped a quarter into QBert. An hour and untold levels later when they picked me up after shopping, I was still playing the game that began with that first quarter. Proud as I was, I wondered if it was worth the investment of time and energy to master the movement of a cute two-legged creature who hopped around changing cubes from one color to another while dodging snakes and other dangerous obstacles.

Even before games were digitized, my favorite fantasy worlds involved creating baseball and football teams made up from the stats of real-life players. Imagine Tom Seaver pitching to Joe DiMaggio at both players' primes, or Paul Molitor getting on base so Babe Ruth could punch him home - I went through full seasons with these mythical teams on my Commodore 64. I still spend a few "years" as general manager of a football team on my Madden 2000 game from time to time. I recently took the 1999 Jets to the Super Bowl with the only change being Brett Favre at quarterback - why didn't they think of that sooner?

I went looking for the modern equivalent of those games the other day, and they weren't there. I found numerous games where I could preserve the empire by hacking, shooting and otherwise dueling my way to some goal that involves eliminating virtual lives, but assembling a group of pixelized athletes to win the World Series or the Super Bowl must not appeal to today's young folks.

Over the years nanny types have suggested censoring video games, and I'm certainly not in their camp. I just have never understood the reasoning that human endeavors advance by killing and maiming as many adversaries as possible. Yes, there are that many fewer people interested in killing and maiming me, so as a practical defensive measure it has some value, but if they got me I would die still believing in liberty and individual rights — and presumably if I killed them first, they would die still believing in whatever it was they believed enough to do violence to me, so what was accomplished?

My main hope is that a generation is not being raised to be comfortable with the idea of advancing an empire by force, because, as a wiser man than I once said, ideas are bulletproof.



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