Being a parent is a great tool for learning life lessons. I know I’m the one who is supposed to be imparting life lessons to my progeny, but I’m a gamer and I don’t want to grow up. Anyways, there are those moments where you realize that the things young people do make no sense to you at all. When you cluelessly say something to your kid that makes you sound like your own clueless parents did when you were young and with it and they just didn’t understand. Only now it’s you, gramps.
My son always had access to video games, but he never really started playing them for reals until he discovered Minecraft. I was really pleased because out of all the available games, that one personifies limitless creativity the most and if there was one thing I could will into my child, that would be it. Creativity means never being bored and always looking forward to the next adventure with a positive outlook on how you can make it yours. So craft your mines, kid. Craft ‘em like there’s no tomorrow.
But after a few months, he wasn’t so much about playing Minecraft anymore. What he really wanted to do was watch other people play it on Youtube. For hours. All the time. As soon as he woke up. Until he went to school/bed. Just watching people play Minecraft. Did he want to play it anymore? Not really. My reaction?
“Let’s Play” videos are a handy tool. On occasion, I’ve used them to pass a particularly troubling platforming puzzle, check out an alternate RPG timeline, or demonstrate a section of game in a post. Other people use it to explore older games or gauge whether a title looks good enough to buy. But it was always a means to the end. It never occurred to me that people would choose to watch other people play a game in lieu of playing it themselves.
I remember the nightmares of youth , waiting for your turn to play that awesome new game at your friend’s house and then having your parent tell you it was time to go home just as it came up, having just barely laid hands on the controller. This was life-ending trauma back in the day. I was a bit concerned when my son decided it was more fun to spend hours on end watching a zany Brit play a game he could himself be playing at that moment. It just didn’t compute. But the videos didn’t seem to have any content I could object to other than it being boring and stupid, so what’s to be done?
Eventually, he started splitting time between watching the constant stream of videos being uploaded by his favorite professional Minecraft players and re-enacting them. He was only building whatever he saw the other guy build. So now my joy at seeing my son blossoming into a creative-minded gamer was being smothered by the celeb-obsessed human centipede culture that is our internet. And here’s me being the broad minded idealistic dope who doesn’t want to stifle his child’s hobby of choice by trying to force him to do things my way: THE RIGHT WAY! [clears throat]
Up until last week’s episode of South Park I thought the kid was just a weirdo like his dad. I’m an old school nerd; liking stuff nobody else gets way too much is the story of my life. I’m not going to oppress my child into not enjoying things he loves. Fuck those people. But watching that episode showed me that he’s not a weirdo at all. This is a big thing and a lot of children would rather watch videos of other people gaming while acting like they are auditioning to be Nicktoons characters than play actual games. The only thing worse than being weird is being normal. God help me, my son is normal.
And it was right in front of my face all along. It then occurred to me that when we have other kids over, there are conversations about this. A neighbor kid came over once and started watching Grand Theft Auto videos on our wi-fi, which was awkward. In fact, all of my son’s acquaintances seem to be into this.
And that’s the moment where I realize I’ve become a clueless adult who is terrified that insignificant youth entertainment trends are going to ruin a world that was already being ruined by my own parents and theirs before them. The world is in a constant state of being ruined, but never seems to actually get ruined. All in all we’re all just bricks in the wall. And now I’m quoting fifty year old songs. Fetch my dentures.
But personal reflections aside, what does this mean for the future of gaming as a medium? There are few things I think are less fun than watching other people play video games when I have the same game and could be playing. And yet people make a living releasing these videos and garnering viewers and subscribers by the hundred thousand. I found fanart dedicated to these people. FANART! In my day, you made fanart for the video games, not for people who post videos of themselves playing the video games. And that’s how you’re supposed to do fanart. Kids these days don’t know nothin’….
If the games themselves are no longer the main event, where does that leave the industry? It shows how behind the curve I am that I raged when companies attempted to purge the net of Let’s Play vids. I mean, what a petty thing to do. It’s not like people are going to watch videos of a game rather than play it. Except what if they are? Pressing buttons and aiming cursors and figuring stuff out is haaaaard. And if there’s one thing the internet has done steadily, it’s make people lazy on a grand scale.
What if any challenge is too much of a challenge? Why go through all that trouble of getting good at stuff when you can just experience it vicariously on Youtube? People educate themselves politically on Twitter now and any attempt to explain the concept of metaphor when discussing a story in a manner that isn’t regurgitated from a celebrity blogger is met with slack-jawed derision. I suppose it was only a matter of time before the idea of actual fun became passé too.
Like Prince said, it’s a Sign O’ the Times. Wait, that song is how old? Surely I can find something more up to date. How about “haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake”? I don’t care if I’m old and my ideas about gaming are dated; your music is shit, Generation Z. But your games are awesome. WHY DON’T YOU WANT TO PLAY THEM!?
But ranty time is over now. More likely than any of this signaling a descent into the Wall-E-esque dystopia I’m picturing, gaming is transitioning to the mainstream the way other forms of competition and expression have and this will all balance itself out. I wonder if there was a point back in the olden days where people who grew up playing baseball or football on the playground scoffed at the notion of crowds gathering to watch other people play their sports. I mean, what kind of loser wants to watch a bunch of dudes toss balls around when they could get their own ball and be doing it themselves? And televised dance competitions? GTFO.
Gaming is never going to be something I‘d rather watch than do, but nobody is Clockwork Orange-ing me in front of Youtube either. I always tell people there’s no wrong way to game (usually while silently raging about somebody doing it wrong), but I always assumed that gaming would involve the actual playing of games. But who the hell am I to tell people how to enjoy any entertainment medium? Plus I’d kind of like to see the first Halo and Street Fighter gold medals awarded at the Olympics some day.
With society having left me behind, I reckon I’m only a few years away from arthritis and dementia demolishing my headshot and combo skills. What will I do with myself? I was planning on staking out my front window waiting for some punk kids to accidentally throw a ball or frisbee onto my property so I could quickly hobble out out there and claim that since it’s on my property, it’s mine now like old timers did when I was a kid, but now that everybody is busy on Youtube that plan’s shot. This is why the Who hoped they’d die before they got old.
Maybe I could knock on their door and shake my fist and shout “get on my lawn you daggum kids!” so I could regale them with tales about how in my day you had to put cartridges and discs into a gaming console and use a controller to play the game yourself. We didn’t have fancy videos to play the games for us. We knew the value of hard work in the good ol’ days.
It’s kind of funny that with all the leaps and advancements gaming has made in the decades since it became a thing that I never foresaw the culture taking this kind of turn and becoming something I can no longer relate to. But that’s alright. In the grand scheme it’s not any more ridiculous than anything else about our popular culture. The fact that gamers are becoming increasingly vacuous is nothing so much as a sign the medium’s widespread acceptance, which was pretty much inevitable from the get-go.
So get your game on, Youtubers. Or, you know, watch other people get theirs on. I’m not personally pleased about a branch of entertainment where interactivity and expression is the whole point moving towards becoming a spectator’s sport, but it stands to reason that sooner or later gaming would follow in the footsteps of other recreational activities where most people’s consumption habits have gone from active to increasingly passive. Who knows, this could be trend that leads to us one day finding ourselves routinely gathering to cheer prime time televised League of Legends broadcasts with plates of wings in front of us and beers in our hands.