If you’re reading this website, chances are you have a passing interest in gaming and understand it pretty well. A lot of people don’t. Videogames are misunderstood, much like other “new” mediums in the past. Music-man and LFG writer Matt Reynolds explains…It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll But I Like It
It’s an iconic moment from the fifties – Elvis Presley shaking his hips and grinding his way through ‘Hound Dog’ on NBC’s Milton Berle Show on April 3rd, 1956. The performance caused outrage among the conservative elite of the time, with one letter to J Edgar Hoover from the Catholic Church saying ‘Presley is a definite danger to the security of the United States. … [His] actions and motions were such as to rouse the sexual passions of teenaged youth. … After the show, more than 1,000 teenagers tried to gang into Presley’s room at the auditorium. … Indications of the harm Presley did just in La Crosse were the two high school girls … whose abdomen and thigh had Presley’s autograph’. Elvis might not have invented rock and roll or the blues, but he was undoubtedly the controversial face of the fledgling genre.
This was the era of our parents and grandparents – all diners, milkshakes and teddy boys. The older generation just didn’t ‘get’ rock and roll, and was ready to blame all the woes of the day’s youths on the music and its figureheads. It’s a familiar story that has had its echoes down the years; the free love of the sixties; the punk nihilism of the seventies, the heavy metal of the eighties etc. But what does OUR generation have? Something that illustrates an unmistakable gap between ourselves and our progenitors? I put it to you that videogames are our rock and roll.
Video (game) Nasties
Now to be clear, I’m not just talking about controversy. I’m talking about a gap that’s big enough to thoroughly confuse and/or alienate our parents. However, controversy is a good place to start. The relatively tame controversies of the fifties pale in comparison to the heyday of the ‘video nasty’ in the late seventies and eighties – the true predecessor to today’s gaming controversies. Movies like Child’s Play 3, Straw Dogs, The Exorcist and A Clockwork Orange sparked fury and fear, some directly cited as the inspiration behind child murders and rapes. Censorship was rife and reactionary at the time, with many films being outright banned. Moving forward into gaming’s foray into the limelight we had Mortal Kombat, Carmageddon, and the daddy of gaming controversy, Grand Theft Auto. Finally, here was something that our elders and ‘betters’ just couldn’t understand. Coupled with musicians like Marilyn Manson, and the Norwegian death metal scene, the people in charge had something new to fear. It certainly didn’t help any time some psychopath unloaded on his school and then blamed videogames for the inspiration.
So, we get it. Our parents thought videogames were mindless constructs turning their beloved children into murderous automatons. But what of today? While the perception of gaming has seen a seismic shift over the last ten years, misconceptions still abound. Nintendo have taken huge steps to bridge the gap between the gaming periphery and the mainstream, by focussing on accessibility of hardware before accessibility of software. The Nintendo Wii was an unmitigated success story, showing our parents and grandparents that they too could be ‘gamers’. A vastly simplified interface coupled with more gentle, non-threatening games dragged gaming into a more acceptable light. Prime time TV adverts featuring prominent faces from our parents’ generation such as Helen Mirren and Patrick Stewart helped cement the idea that this sort of gaming was ‘ok’. But if we are to return to the analogy at hand, then the Wii is The Beatles. Non-threatening, loved by the young but in a ‘wholesome’ way, talented, but safe. The PS3 and Xbox 360 however, are Elvis. They are the Stones. The are an explosion of gore; monsters; the cold dead blackness of space; the military squad swamped by guerilla insurgents. For many, the complex control layouts and baffling multiplayer suites are still an iron curtain of inaccessibility and confusion. The fact is, we also still see people up in arms today. Famously disbarred lawyer Jack Thompson launched a hate fuelled campaign against GTA and Rockstar, saying it was ‘the worst assault on children since Polio’. Mass murdering psychopath, racist, sexist and all round Nazi asshole Anders Breivik claimed he ‘trained for the shooting attacks by playing Call of Duty’. Every time someone gets on their soapbox and links gaming with violence and depravity, its infiltration of the mainstream and quest for acceptance gets pushed back a little. So what do we do to combat this perception, and perhaps more pertinently; do we want to?
Teacher! Leave Those Games Alone.
In many discussions with my father and uncle, both in their fifties; the tide of talk has on occasion turned to videogames. ‘Haven’t you grown out of that yet?’ asks my dad, thinking I should concentrate on my guitar practice instead of wasting time on games. And remember, I’m a thirty year old man still being pushed to give up the games and study! ‘The problem with games, is that they are only capable of depicting violence. Unlike other mediums they can’t do anything else’ says my uncle. This staggering misconception of what games are and what they are capable of goes to show that we are a long way off from total acceptance.
However – gaming is ours. We are the first generation to grow up with it, and our children will be the first generation to have hardcore gamers as parents. In the next twenty to thirty years the divide will disappear, so why not just enjoy it while we can?
Rock and fucking Roll.
– Matt Reynolds Follow him on Twitter @thelostmoment