This post was inspired by the following NY Times article, “Sleep Can Wait. The Birds Are Angry”.
Like so many other children of the 80’s, I grew up enthralled by video games. I would be hard pressed to think of something I enjoyed more than video games and didn’t have to hide from my mother (sorry 8-bit graphics, you don’t quite match up to the excitement that a pocketful of M-80’s can bring a pre-teenage boy. There isn’t much that can). And like many of my generation, my parents didn’t quite “get” video games, and it always perplexed me as to why. They have lasers, and aliens, and high scores. How can you be so interested in your tax return dad? Look, lasers!
I don’t mean to sound as if my father and I never shared anything, or he didn’t teach me cool stuff, because he did. He taught me how to play lacrosse. He taught me how to get your hand caught in the fan belt of a small block V-8 engine. He taught me how to hide getting your hand caught in the fan belt of said engine from my mother. And he taught me how to laugh when mom eventually found out and proceeded to throw every blunt metal object in the kitchen at him. That was also when my mother taught me how to swear.
But when it came to video games, it always seemed like that was a foreign language to my dad. For his part he tried, but it never clicked. Recently I gained a fair bit of insight as to the “why”, when I just flat out asked him as an adult. The response I got was unexpected to say the least, but in hindsight made complete sense. “They’re not funny”. I can say it would not have been so unexpected if he had said, “they’re not fun”, but funny? He further clarified, “I have seen Pac man and others, but there was never anything there that ever made me laugh”. It was one of those things a father says that a son just has to think about for a while but I am finally starting to understand his point.
While the following statement might insight a hostile response, I invite you to take a moment and ponder at what level it might be valid before you proceed to start a flame war with me (and if you do just be forewarned that I do still have a shoe box with some left over M-80’s in it under my bed so bring on the fireworks). Video Games are immature. Wait, take a deep breath. Good. Now allow me to clarify. The video games of my youth were immature. The industry was young. The technology was young. The art form was young (place rude immature gesture to Rodger Ebert here). Sure young things can be silly and make you laugh, but often times it’s the product of an unintended action. It takes some level of maturity to make an adult truly laugh.
Game makers of the past had to work within the confines of limited technical resources. Like the clumsy drawings of a child, the game worlds where drawn bit by painstaking bit. That is not to say that I don’t love those games, because indeed I did and still do. Much like the drawings of a child, they warm my heart. But you cannot fault those who do not care for youthful drawings if the child artist is not theirs.
Video games have most certainly grown up in my lifetime. And as a result, they have been embraced by a wider demographic. Nursing homes have Wiis. Fathers and sons battle for high scores in Angry Birds. They are old enough to make us laugh. Well maybe not all of us, yet.