The Decade in Video Games

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The Decade in Video Games

I’ve never been much of a gamer myself.  Growing up, my parents never bought me Nintendo, or Sega Genesis, or Xbox, or Playstation… I was always the guy who’d show up and ask “how do you work this controller thing?”  You remember the kid who never lasted more than one round in Mortal Combat, the one who never fully understood how to aim in Halo? That was me.  I was always so frustrated at my friend’s houses when they would want to play these games for hours and I would be forced to play and humiliate myself all afternoon… But then something clicked.  It happened when I finally found a game in which even I could excel.  I bought Nintendo 64 back in 1999 and realized that it didn't matter how well I could drive a racecar or how many combination moves I knew by heart. I realized that I could actually be judged as "good" at a game by how many human beings I could kill and how much havoc I could create. And for the last decade it could be argued that all decent and violent video games have stemmed from 1997's 'Goldeneye'.

Goldeneye was the first game to keep me up all night, despite whatever I may have had planned for the next day.  It was the first game to cause me to skip homework or come up with excuses like: “I really wish I could come over but I have to go to Temple tomorrow so I can’t hang out…”  I would literally dream in 007.  Dreams in which I’m dying and my vision was bleeding from top to bottom in red.  It all seemed so beautiful and yet so disturbing. Little did I know, this was only the beginning of the gore.

Tracking the development of video game technology over the past decade has been a disturbing thing for my once naïve mind. In the 90s, we saw the creation of parental advisories for music, and more strict ratings on movies, and yet computer games like Doom, Counter Strike, and the early GTA, were opening up the flood gates for more violence and sexually explicit content than all other media could possibly contain. 

Last year I played Grand Theft Auto for the first time.  I was shocked, awed, and immediately addicted.   For the past decade, GTA has released several games and all have been top sellers. I'm tempted to say that the plot of the game is for show, while the game's real function is to allow the gamer free will in as realistic a setting as possible.  In other words, it allows you to take out all your anger on the residents of Liberty City without leaving your couch.  On one Saturday, for about 3 hours straight, I used the exact same game plan:  I would steal a car, preferably an SUV or pickup truck, head to a long sidewalk, slam on the gas, and try to hit as many pedestrians as possible.  Then I'd either out-run the cops, and repeat, or get killed by the cops, and repeat.  When I finally stopped playing and left the house, I stepped out onto the street,  adrenaline pumping, looking for cars to steal and people to run over. Which leads me back to the fact that children should not be playing these games.  We already have 50 Cent teaching kids to 'get rich or die tryin'."  Do we really need a game that shows them just how much fun it is to live the life of a crazy psychotic killer?  And what about the sexual content? Were talking about a game where you can actually restore your health by visiting a prostitute.  It's extremely awkward to have your girlfriend come over and see that you're playing a video game and your character is getting a blowjob in the back of a dance club. (See "GTA: The Ballad of Gay Tony.")

Not all video games released this decade have been about death and mayhem.  In terms of realistic graphics, sports games such as the Madden football franchise, FIFA soccer, and NHL hockey, have fooled me many times in passing, making me think that for a split second I could actually be watching a televised match.  The camera angles mimic those of the real matches, and every player is crafted to a likeness that's almost uncanny. Its gotten to the point where you can look into the stands and see what beverage the guy in row 10 is drinking.  Absolutely amazing.

Another interesting twist in video game culture came about in 2005 with Nintendo Wii.   If you thought you looked stupid playing Mario Kart you had no idea how stupid you could look playing Wii.  By sacrificing the more realistic graphics that other gaming systems have, Wii successfully got us off the couch and actually made us do physically demanding work, and were not talking Duck Hunt. We're talking too sore to actually play a real sport kind of exercise. I can recall the first time I tried Wii boxing after an all out slug fest with my brother. My arms felt like rock and I was sore the whole next day.  Many Wii games, 'Wii Fit' most of all, gave us a reason to give up our overpriced gym memberships and stay home to work out, though sometimes at the expense of a flat screen TV, (holding onto the controller is not always easy). 

And for those of us who always wanted to be a rockstar, but who had no real musical talent, there came Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and a number of other copycat systems, with their own fake instruments and attachable gear.  Even the remaining Beatles jumped on board for this concept, creating their own Rock Band game. 

And then again, for those of us who aren't good at anything but simulated violence, there's Modern Warfare II.  While the Nazis were always a great video game enemy scapegoat (due to worldwide endorsement of their evilness, and a sufficient lapse of time since their reign), now it seems that current wars and conflicts are not taboo at all.  If this last decade has been defined by Terrorism, then the terrorists are surely winning the war in video games.  In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, you act as a number of different people, each with a predetermined story line.  You may be a sniper in a snow storm, you may have to scale a rock wall using pickaxes, or you could be part of a Russian terrorist group who very casually walk into an airport and open fire on hundreds of unarmed civilians.  Whenever I have people over to my apartment, I feel the need to show them this level. Despite this grotesque exploitation of a current crisis, the game is truly a work of art.  In the same way that watching someone play NHL 10 is like watching an actual hockey game on TV, watching someone play Call of Duty is like witnessing a gun battle up close. 

The question now remains, what's next?  Of course the graphics will continue to improve, and systems like Wii and Guitar Hero are still in their infancy.  But how long before our craving for all the no no's of life are satisfied in a fully 3D bodysuit.  How long before we live in a world where every 12 year old kid can feel the steel of a Magnum in their hand, or actually feel that prostitute's hands on their animated flesh?  At this point I wouldn't count out anything.  As for me, I'm going to keep judging the morality of these video game creators, and I'm going to keep indulging in whatever they put out next.


  • 1

    "How long before we live in a world where every 12 year old kid can...actually feel that prostitute's hands on their animated flesh?"

    Coming Q3 2010: Handjob Hero

  • 2

    Well said Mitchell. You may still owe me a cool $2M but you know how to speak truth to video games.

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