I’m Not Game for Gaming
... but I'm loosening on what it means for others.
Those who know me well know that I kind of hate video games. Okay, “hate” would probably be too strong of a word. Let’s just say I firmly dislike them.
This hasn’t always been the case. When I was a kid in the early 80s, I spent endless hours on my family’s Apple IIC, playing what I think was a pirated copy of Lode Runner. I still contend it’s the greatest video-game ever made.
Using a joystick with a single button, I’d navigate through a blue maze, collecting “gold coins” (which I thought were barrels at the time) while being chased by orange dudes who could kill me with their mere touch. Once I collected all the coins, I advanced to the next level/maze. It was pretty addictive.
In retrospect, the game was quite similar to Pac-Man… just with these orange dudes instead of ghosts. There were some key differences, however, including player advantages that Mr. Pac-Man never had. One of them was a ray gun that could open a temporary hole in the floor beside you (as long as that section of floor was textured). Another advantage was gravity, which let you drop through the hole you just blasted, or trap one of your orange pursuers just long enough for you to escape.
Perhaps the coolest thing about the game was that you could design and play through your own mazes! Ah, the memories.
My family never had an actual video-game system, like Atari, Nintendo, or Sega. Those were for the “rich kids” back then. By college, however, they were more commonplace, and since my roommate brought his system up from home (he was one of those “rich kids”), I admit I played a lot of Street Fighter, especially on those snowy winter days, from the comfort of our dorm room.
But I never got super into that culture, and I was secretly kind of annoyed with my friends who did. Over time, as being a “gamer” evolved into less of a social stigma, and grew much more common among adults, the activity struck me more and more as a colossal, unhealthy waste of time. I wanted to go out and do stuff with a friends, but they’d often rather hang out and play “fighting” games instead.
I remember years later, after I got married, inviting a group of old college buddies up to my in-laws’ cabin in the mountains for an overnight. I guess I had envisioned this rugged, outdoorsy, thirty-something guys trip, where we’d spend all of our time fishing, hiking, shooting the s*** around a fire, and talking about the old days. But someone brought with them the latest and greatest video-game system (and I believe even a television set since I don’t think my in-laws had one)… and you can probably guess what we ended up spending most of our time doing (with me kind of the odd man out). I’m talking hours and hours and hours, folks.
I have several similar stories, but you probably catch my drift. I built up a certain spitefulness over the years for gaming, which I very rarely talk about these days, in large part because of how mainstream it’s become in our culture among people of all ages. I’m liable to needlessly offend individuals I like (including some of you reading this) by airing my views on this topic, so I don’t say a whole lot about it beyond giving my own kids — especially my son — grief over their gaming. I still think it’s unhealthy (especially with the more graphically violent and immersive nature of a lot of today’s games), and a huge time-sink, but I also largely view what people do outside of my household as their own business.
(Re-reading that above part, I should clarify that I’m not a total Ebenezer Scrooge on this stuff when it comes to my kids. I occasionally will play video-games with them, when they ask me to, just to spend time with and talk to them, but I usually max out at about 30 minutes.)
Now, contrary to how it may appear at this point in the newsletter, I didn’t choose to write about this topic just to vent my curmudgeonly views on video-games. In fact, I’ve recently had some epiphanies on the matter — ones that have cast, for me, a more positive light on gaming. That’s where I’m headed with this week’s commentary; I thank you for your patience.
Last month, in a newsletter where I talked about going to a Toadies concert, I wrote this:
What’s remarkable to me is just how many fans the Toadies still have, and also how young a lot of them are, considering that the band hasn’t had a big mainstream hit in close to 30 years... At the sold-out show, it was surreal watching folks in their twenties singing along to all of the songs.
What I didn’t mention is that the Reverend Horton Heat, who opened for the Toadies that night, and who also enjoyed their most success (by far) in the 1990s, was eliciting the same reaction — again, from people who, to me, seemed far too young to appreciate, or even to have heard of, either band.
It was a real mystery to me, one that bounced around in my head for weeks. I mean, a lot of people my age don’t even know of (or at least remember) these bands, despite those bands being big in their era. How then did all of these youngsters fall into the mix?
After realizing, from watching the bands’ social-media videos taken at other tour stops, that this was by no means just a Denver phenomenon, I began reading some of the comments concertgoers had left under the posts. I soon discovered the missing piece to the puzzle.
Apparently, both the Toadies and Reverend Horton Heat (and presumably lots of other 90s’ bands) were/are big on the video game, Guitar Hero. The game is wildly popular enough that a lot of you probably know much more about it than I do, but for those who don’t, Wikipedia describes it pretty well:
players use a guitar-shaped game controller to simulate playing primarily lead, bass guitar, and rhythm guitar across numerous songs. Players match notes that scroll on-screen to colored fret buttons on the controller, strumming the controller in time to the music in order to score points, and keep the virtual audience excited. The games attempt to mimic many features of playing a real guitar…
Guitar Hero’s extensive music library, licensed by record companies and whoever else owns the rights to various songs over several decades, has introduced a lot of younger folks to tunes that were popular with their parents’ era. It’s similar to the way classic rock stations familiarized people my age with the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Who, Boston, and other iconic bands.
But there’s more to it. As is the case with most video-games these days, Guitar Hero can be played online with other players (including strangers) from all over the world. And when browsing through the aforementioned social-media comments, I came across story after story of people who’d met each other online, through those bands on Guitar Hero, who then went to the concert to get together “in real life” for the first time.
I found this incredibly interesting. In many cases, their initial online meetings began during the pandemic, when much of the world was on lock-down. It gave a number of people a safe way of maintaining and even expanding their social lives, while enjoying some great music together.
I wasn’t oblivious to a similar benefit in my own home during the worst months of the pandemic. While I absolutely recognize the social (and educational) damage caused by people not seeing each other during that time, online games at least helped keep my kids connected to their friends… in a fun, positive way.
There’s a commentator I like who’s mentioned a few times that he plays online video-games once a week with friends he served in the military with, some of whom face physical and mental challenges stemming back to their war-time service. This ritual has helped maintain their camaraderie, and even serves as kind of a support system — one that perhaps adds even more benefit than direct, sometimes socially awkward conversations.
So, while I still think in-person socializing is far and away the best, most healthy way of maintaining solid friendships, I’m not quite as down on video-games as I used to be. I acknowledge there is a social benefit in some cases, as long as you keep it in check (which is the tricky part).
Plus, more people really should like the Toadies. On that position, I remain firm. 😉
A Pleasant Surprise
Last Friday night, I received word that CNN’s Jake Tapper would be quoting me from one of my recent political columns. I had no idea which column or what quote it would be, but I found out quickly enough.
My wife was pretty impressed.
Over the weekend, I finally got to do a signing at my city’s only bookstore, The Midnight Oil. It’s a great family-run shop, and the two guys who own and run it, Pablo Guzman and Manuel Tapia, are very cool dudes.
They primarily sell used books, but they also offer (and can special-order) new titles. If you’re ever in Downtown Greeley, make sure to check them out (and tell them I sent you).
Obligatory Dog Shot
“If you’re going to photo-bomb the shot, at least hold still.”
Obligatory Colorado Fall Shots
I’ve said this more than a few times, but Estes Park (the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park) is one of my favorite places anywhere. And Fall sights like this one (Sprague Lake, when I was there last Thursday) are a reason why.
Have you picked up your copy of RESTITUTION?
Interested in a signed copy? You can order one (or five) here.
Already read and enjoyed it? I’d love if you could leave a review for the book on Amazon.
It took me a long time to truly appreciate the New Jersey rock band, Monster Magnet. As with a lot of people, they first came across my radar on MTV in 1995 with their hit, “Negasonic Teenage Warhead”. The band’s look seemed misplaced for the era, and the video was so comic-bookish (at a time when lots of videos were beginning to look more like feature films), that I suppose I didn’t lend them my ear the way I should have (hats off to my college roommate, Dave, who did).
But when their next album released, and their song “Powertrip” tore up the airwaves, I reevaluated everything, and gave their broader body of work a closer listen. The band’s unique, catchy “space rock” sound grew on me, and I became a fan.
“Monolithic Baby” (the band’s sixth studio album) was released in 2004, and just came out on vinyl a few weeks ago (so this baby is hot off the press). It includes both original material and covers. I believe “Unbroken (Hotel Baby)” got some U.S. radio play, but most of the band’s later success has come from Europe.
Yet, this American guy right here still digs their stuff, including “Monolithic Baby”. It’s a great listen.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!