I’m getting used to de haut en bas scoffing from the 19-year-olds in the Kernel offices about how out of touch I am. (“I wanted to be a theatre critic!” I cry, to no effect.) But I can’t be the only person who feels as though mainstream culture is racing past him. James Cook of this parish reports today on the pandemonium that engulfs releases of major video games these days. There are stabbings, oodles of fake cocaine… I mean, just reading about it is exhausting.
We’re told by those in the know that the gaming industry is now bigger than the movie industry. By that they mean video game studios are now raking in more cash than all of Hollywood. I can believe it: the production costs of Grand Theft Auto V alone were in the hundreds of millions, easily comparable to a Hollywood blockbuster. And, while the movie industry shudders under the weight of apathy and piracy, video game sales are going through the roof.
I’d like to say a few words in defence of passivity, though. Namely: what on earth is wrong with a nice cuddle and a movie, without the demands of “getting engaged” in the “vibrant alternative universe” of some game developer oddball’s feverish imaginings?
We all lead busy enough lives these days without the added strain of all that “interactivity” when we get home. My work day doesn’t look too dissimilar to this 17-minute video of a supposedly ADHD 17-year-old called Noah. When I get home, the last thing I want to do is the sort of demanding recreational activity you can get RSI from. (Stop sniggering at the back.) No: what I want is to throw myself into a pile of pillows and get lost in a good-old big-budget blow-out.
That means proper production values, by the way. None of this “user-generated” guff, which at one time was going to be all the rage, until consumers realised that actually, no, a dickhead with a webcam can’t sustain much interest after the first 90 seconds.
So what happens when the movie studios no longer make films good enough to kick back and relax to? What will I do then? Much as I love DVD box sets, you can’t tell me Netflix is ever going to rival the big studios in terms of spending power, so gone will be the epic spectacles that make curling up on the sofa at the weekend with a bottle of wine and a pizza so deliciously relaxing. Why on earth would I want to relax by killing things?
And that’s my other question: why are these video games so saturated with sex, drugs and violence? Yes, I know TV and the movies have been going that way for ages, but video games are on another level entirely. I confess I’ve never spent much time in front of the computer screen zapping aliens, but the games I did briefly poke my nose into as a kid - Doom, Hexen and Wolfenstein 3D - were already way out there, which is why so many parents banned them once they actually realised how bloody they were.
To say nothing of the delicate intonations of Duke Nukem, who, I seem to remember, used to opine about his fondness for decapitating his enemies and defecating into what remained of their bodies. I understand the Grand Theft Auto franchise proudly boasts “hooker killing” as a fan favourite feature. (It’s not that I’m sad for the digital prostitutes: I just find it all so icky.)
I won’t lie: Grand Theft Auto V sounds spectacularly exciting, but it’s not for me. It’s too complicated, it’s too much effort, and it’s too blood-soaked to give me any sort of vicarious thrill. In a real world of terrorism, child grooming gangs and sex changes, nothing the video game people can come up with can compete with the pages of The Sun. I can only conclude that the yellow underpants brigade – teens and man-children addicted to these immersive video games – aren’t getting enough stimulation in real life.
I understand why young people might get the odd thrill from beating up a bad guy, or catching a glimpse of a nipple or two. But there’s something a bit tragic, isn’t there, about men in their thirties hunched over a controller whacking a helmeted extraterrestrial? I’m in my late twenties, and even I find it sad. And yet there are so many of them – enough to support a multi-billion dollar video games industry. That’s an awful lot of unemployed saddos living in their parents’ basements.
Is it that these games provide a bit of macho reinforcement to the terminally beta? It is hard to escape that conclusion. Might I suggest that if you want to feel like more of a man, you should head down to the gym or the football pitch. buff up and then bang a few birds “IRL”?
Perhaps that’s why this whole genre leaves me cold: by the time I get home from a night out, The Little Mermaid is about as racy a piece of entertainment as I can stomach. There are benefits to having seen it all before, you see: it means you’re even better at it than the kids.
NOW READ: James Cook reviews Grand Theft Auto V