Friday, December 31, 2010

On Videogames

I try not to keep rules during a date. I use to keep a certain “playbook” that comprised of 96 traits I wanted in a mate. After much self reflection, and ridicule, I moved my mouse cursor over the Word file and dragged it into the recycle bin. I erased something I held dear with a left click. I entered into the scary world of dating without this extensive crib sheet. But instead of feeling liberated, I still needed to reach for something, some sort of rule. As much as super villains appeal to me, I am more Batman than Joker, I need rules. As a result, my new totem while dating is to fess up that I am a nerd on the first date. If you are willing, if you are able, you have to be open to me drone on about: the psychosis of the Riddler, why The Stand is a better authority on how we should live our lives than the Bible, and my fascination by Richard Burr’s vote on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. At the first date I will pound into the other participant that books are my body, DC comics are my victuals, and politics are my life blood - did I forget to mention that everything that deals with money is my soul? A good weekend is me sitting at Starbucks reading an enlightening article in Barron’s about palladium and how I can make money by investing in shipping companies that move precious (oh yes, precious, not precious-light) metals from Latin America to China. I am some fucked up CNBC policy wonk that spends too much time playing Magic the Gathering. As I said in the beginning, I let all my dates know at date one. I don’t hide it anymore. Sure, I can do some pretty urbane gay things like talk about the career trajectory of Tom Ford (his best stuff was when he was director at YSL), but give me P/E ratios and Green Lantern t-shirts any day.

Dear Reader, I am going to share my results. I have been on enough bad dates that you can examine them like some homosexual fossil record. I can tell you what are not the deal killers. Telling a guy that you like to read, will not destroy the prospects of getting laid. Everyone puts up the front that they are looking for somebody smart. Of course this depends to a magnitude, there are some rice-queens that are terribly afraid of dating an Asian that completed college. Telling a guy that you like politics makes you look urbane and witty … of course this also depends on degrees. For the fags out there (and I really mean it in this context), make sure you say all the right things about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, DOMA, and all things marriage. But don’t get too specific, mentioning the invocation of the Commerce Clause, discrimination in the Internal Revenue Code, Intermediate Scrutiny, and the sainthood of J.Kennedy will end the date. AND DON’T for the love of God, do not make the mistake of saying that the federal deficit or marginal tax rates are more important issues than gays in the military; you will be stuck with the check. I am telling you what not to do, but I am going to hold true to myself, if we end up on a date, you will hear me pontificate about Lawrence v. Texas.

I know the rules, maybe not all of them, but enough. Dear Reader, the one thing that kills dates and that laid waste to my sex life, are fucking videogames. It is easier to be a sex fiend, a coke-whore, an alcoholic, a person who failed the GED, than to proverbially come-out and tell the other guy, you play videogames. Every date has ended on the circle button.

What I don’t understand is society’s allergy to videogames. I understand going to a Gamestop is often a harrowing experience; especially for one’s nose. People may not be able to shake off their preconception of sketchy arcades with machines covered in cobwebs a’la Tron. For those who argue videogames are for kids only – and not the cool ones, but the pimply faced virgins who will not score till they are able to tap a credit line, I argue, are movies that much different? Every time I go into a movie theater, sclerosis tightens its fingers around my temples. Parents who should have sought counseling at Planned Parenthood are staring at the marquee as if they are reading an alien language, teenagers are jibber jabbering on their phones (in line and often in the movie now), idiots bring in Panda Express, and there is always that one douche bag who pretends he is some investment banker and needs to check his cell phone a hundred times during the movie. No Dear Reader, I protest! I rather spend my time at home, and live in my squalor opposed to the den of discourtesy at AMC!

But while I make an argument that one’s castle is a better environment to enjoy entertainment than the movie theater, it still does not explain why videogames should be lauded. Why a potential Romeo should undress me immediately when I explain the merits of Fallout 3. Roger Ebert argued that “in principle video games cannot be art,” and I imagine, most people believe this. Ask my parents for a concurrence and they will add “Of course, videogames are for kids.” Hogwash. I challenge anyone, to sit through 30 minutes of Bioshock and tell me that they are not sitting with rapt attention watching the game move from one startling set piece to another. I challenge anyone to find me a better story, (with the exception of Prof. Samuel Park’s novel to be released in 2011 of course) than Bioshock; Hell, I will even throw in the inferior Bioshock 2 to the mix. The reason is simple, you are the movie.

From beginning to end, the Warcraft III campaign took me twelve hours to complete. During this odyssey, I saw a prince prevent a plague, sell his soul, commit regicide, and become a super villain. Meanwhile his lover tragically becomes something she hunted, cosmic powers are bringing down the apocalypse, and demi-gods are stirring in their sleep. A lot is going on, but guess what, the pacing, the story, is better developed than most movies I have watched. I didn’t care if Christina Aguilera made it in LA; I barely cared if Annette Benning and Julianne Moore rekindled the fire in their bed. You know why, the experience was passive, I was sitting in a chair watching people play tragic lives. I was not invested. But I was invested, dare I say, videogames are my IRA when Arthas became the Lich King. Instead of merely watching, I fought as Arthas, I was in his shoes as I pursued Kel’Thuzad to the ends of the world, and then I – yes, I, committed genocide in Stratholme. I have done more as Arthas than I will ever do in my life. That is fact.

You could argue, well videogames are just mere escapism, give me sports any day, for I am a participant – nay a gladiator on the court. Well first, I would argue that the point of entertainment is escapism. But even more important, you are not a character on the tennis courts. I concede there is a component in competition that appeals to people but I have been watching the “leader boards” for Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood and I think it is probably more cutthroat than any bowl game. No Dear Reader, if you want your sports, watch a Starcraft II tournament and turn off ESPN.

I am sure the literati will still scoff at this entry. They would asset that I am shooting fish in a barrel. Of course Eric can make arguments that videogames are better than movies and sports, he doesn’t care for either, but dare he challenge books? Well first I have to say this, I will make a blanket statement that I find videogames a superior form of entertainment than movies and sports. But I cannot make that sweeping generalization with books. First I will argue is the importance of the set piece. The Ayn Rand dystopia of Bioshock’s Rapture is breath taking. It beats Nolan’s Gotham City and whatever nonsense in the Matrix, but is it better than King’s version of Las Vegas in The Stand? Probably not, because in the book you can smell the flesh burning, you can hear the moans from those crucified, you can feel the sex, you know there is no God in that land. Rapture cannot give us the sensory feel. Once again, it is pressing the circle button. But I have already established “I like books” is acceptable on a date; so should “I like video games.”

The character development of a good videogame (like books there are many bad ones), are inherently more nuanced than any that you will find in most books. Do you like John Galt? Well guess what, the machinations and the rise of Andrew Ryan is even better. Does Goethe’s Mephistopheles stir your literary loins? I argue that Portal’s Glados wears an even more wicked mustache under her mechanical exterior and barbed quips. And maybe this goes back to point one, good characters are influencing you. The explosion in the tunnel is forcing you to run, and if you don’t, people will die. Edward Cullen’s pompadour does nothing to the reader, you just turn the page.

So Dear Reader, next time when I say, “I like videogames,” pick up the check, and let's go to Gamestop for a nightcap.