Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Stolen from the Editor's Desk: Gamers are Weird

Stolen from the Editor's Desk: There are a lot of opinion columns, write-in articles, and advice editorials in the greater medium of the written word. Virtually none of these advisors are particularly qualified, either. There's nothing to stop them from giving bad advice. Except me. Stolen from the Editor's Desk involves me taking some sort of advice column and tearing it a new one, all for your sake. Bad advice, meet the nerdery.

On the Today Show, Some-Rich-Guy was on their 'The Other View' special giving advice on relationships. The question was whether it was okay for a guy to play video games if he was in his thirties. The pontiff's reply: no, it's weird, he shouldn't enjoy video games at that age. You can view the idiotic exchange here, but before I lay into this over-the-hill metro-sexual non-jock, let me set the background on the opinion-giver.

Donny Deutsch is the CEO of an ad agency. He is rich and probably bought his way onto the Today Show as part of increasing his advertising footprint, so you should respect his opinions about relationships. Never mind that he's been divorced, got his girlfriend pregnant and then left her before the birth, and that he was named as the 'other man' in divorce proceedings involving another woman a year later. He's got gobs of money, so he is an authority on male behavior and what makes for good mates.

I, on the other hand, am the wordsmith of a blog and a dedicated life-long nerd. I fantasize regularly about living inside a to-scale mockup of the starship Serenity, and I'd like to make a homemade arcade unit before I turn thirty. I've been married since 2008, and despite the fact that my wife got pregnant, I managed to stick around to actually be a father to my son. In fact, I actually enjoy being a father, which I'm sure Deutsch finds 'weird' as well.

I'm twenty-five years old, a working man, husband, and a father. But I don't feel like I'm approaching the upper end of my gaming shelf-life. In fact, since 343 Studios is making another Halo trilogy starting with Halo 4 in 2012, I'd say that about clinches that I'll be playing Halo games for at least another six or seven years. And why is that weird? Is it weird for an adult man (or woman, for that matter) to enjoy books, or movies, or television into his thirties? I really doubt that Deutsch would claim that, since he likes to advertise in those media to, ya know, adults.

Let me explain something. In a special such as this on any talk show, the people asking these questions are almost always asking about single people in the context of dating relationships. They're asking (perhaps inappropriately) for strangers to weigh in on personal hang-ups and either challenge or empower them with stamps of 'okay' or 'not okay' behavior. If they're using this pundit's advice to evaluate a spouse, they really lost the battle already and should have dealt with perceived problems before they got this far.

"He's got gobs of money, so he is an authority on male behavior and what makes for good mates."

But, and this must be very clear, the question is not about obsessive or addicted game-playing behavior. This is about Deutsch deigning to dictate that it is never acceptable for an adult man to enjoy video games as a hobby. The speed with which he retorts that it's weird clearly indicates that a man who comes home from work and spends an hour drinking is much more socially acceptable to him than a man who comes home from work and spends an hour playing L.A. Noire. Of course, as a New Yorker father-eating businessman, I'd bet he'd prefer a man who passed out each night after work and spent virtually all of his free time trying to score tail while at business meetings in over-priced restaurants. Welcome to New York, pal.

Since Deutsch didn't have the human courtesy to treat a viewer's question seriously and explain his rationale, I think I'm going to put words in his mouth: Video games are a kids' toy. As you get older, games are for dorks, and if he's playing games at that age he's probably a gross fattie who doesn't deserve to occupy his wedge of the bachelorette population. Men in their thirties should be focused on chain-dating, social climbing, and playing sports in clubs where half the members spend half the time standing around talking in their sweat-wear while watching younger members actually play segue-polo, speed-ball, or squash. If they have a personal obsession, it might be with work or professional sports, which is okay because pro sports are cool, and they are replete with ads that push the over-saturation envelope.

Because whimsy, imagination, and creativity have no place in an adult man's life. Whimsy, not escapism, is the desire to see more magic, wonder, and optimism in the world today, and to take part in that which we could never experience otherwise. Imagination, not childishness, is the exercise of exploring the limits of our world, our reason, and our projections of ourselves in entirely other-worldly settings. And creativity, not mindless consumption, is the constant hunger for new explorations of our fantasies as they become worlds in themselves.

Why don't you want those qualities in a thirty year-old man? Or a sixty year-old man? Or a woman, for that matter?

"I'd bet he'd prefer a man who passed out each night after work and spent virtually all of his free time trying to score tail while at business meetings in over-priced restaurants. Welcome to New York, pal."

Don't get me wrong, there are other ways to develop the traits I described above, but studies in the industry have shown repeatedly that those uplifting qualities define career gamers--people who define themselves by their hobby and spend years actively investing into it. There are bad traits linked to gamers, but I think you'd be hard pressed to compare extreme video gamers' socially negative qualities to extreme sports fans' socially negative qualities. Not unless I missed all the headlines of nerd riots when Halo: Reach was released. And while some of these elements are common in movies, movies encourage passive escapism and bland acceptance of processed entertainment with the unenlightened refrain: "it's only a movie". In a game, players are encouraged to change what they don't like or find unacceptable. And, if it's not possible within the confines of the game itself, gamers are much more likely to address their problems with game developers.

Deutsch and the rest of the talking heads on the Today Show also happen to be too old to understand what is starting to happen with today's thirty year-olds. The thirty year-olds today are the leading edge of the first generation to be raised on video games. They have no memories of life before video games, when electronic games weren't a part of popular culture, and a great number of them could probably chronicle the timeline of seminal video games alongside major life events. The fact is, whether the old holdouts trying to mold public opinion like it or not--whether they understand it or not--the gamers that are growing up now and evermore will be lifers. You can either accept it or revel in your own irrelevance as it grows. I think it's pretty clear what the Today Show and the media grognards they represent have chosen.

And what was Deutsch doing in his thirties? Fighting his way to become a (I'm sure well-earned) CEO of his father's company and buy out his own father's ownership, likely more-or-less in respone to getting fired from the family business a few years prior. I'm sure if you pinned him down on what he thought was normal and acceptable behavior for a man in his thirties, he'd probably come up with a horrifying list of activities that turn man into a shape-shifting, spineless creature that undulates seamlessly between lemming and remora.

So I'll tack another tag onto this post. Elitist CEO snob, baby daddy, other man Donny Douche--er--Deutsch: don't be that guy.

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