Time magazine ran a cover depicting Oculus founder Palmer Luckey leaping into the air in front of what appears to be a high school grad photo backdrop from the late 80s. His invention, the Oculus VR headset, looks like a goofy Johnny Mnemonic throwback at the best of times. Luckey, in the photo, appears to be headed to the socially maladjusted digital rapture. This led a lot of people involved in video games to implicate Time for the attempted murder of VR. The photo is cheesy, ridiculous, and plays into revenge of the nerds style stereotypes. If ever there was a button that could be pressed that would send all of games media into a frothing rant, that's it. Time Magazine pressed it, and the response was dishearteningly predictable.
Video Games folks, as a collective culture, feels nothing more strongly than our deep sense of general inadequacy. When other facets of popular culture began garnering some small glimmering phantom of what might be called respect, games lagged behind. Movies are called films, books are called literature, and video games remain the butt of basement dwelling nerd jokes.
Video games are barely 40 years old. For huge chunk of that time a person was represented by a stack of squares and a dozen colors. If you weren’t on board with games early on, there was no way you would be won over by the abstract graphics and dismal audio. As the graphic and sound fidelity increased, so did the interactive complexity. Pac Man is operated with only 4 discrete inputs and all of them are marshalled by the player with a single joystick. Street Fighter 2 can represent recognizable characters and environments, but there are no fewer than 14 discrete inputs, and they can all be used in patterns, combinations, and timings to create thousands of interactive possibilities at any given moment. Even though fighting games may represent the deeper end of the complexity pool, games in general have become complicated enough to be frightening to those who didn’t stay all in from the days of pong, or mario, or whatever their own particular onramp was. Since what we video gamers were doing seemed so impenetrable and foreign to people who didn’t play video games, it was an easy avenue of ridicule. If you were in you were in, if you were out you were out, and both sides of this culture divide were wrong.
The people that have been on board with video games for most of their lives have internalized that ridicule, and perceive any attack on video games, as an attack on our own identities. We rush to the defence of a medium that needs none. Here’s the thing, that fight is over. No matter what anyone says for or against the respectability of video games or video game players, games are simply another vehicle of culture. Kids who grew up with Mario or Pikachu don’t have a separate rung on the ladder of relevance for those characters. They exist alongside Mickey Mouse, Superman, Odysseus, and Huck Finn. The war, if there ever was one, ended decades ago. The generation that grew up alongside games, my generation, we can stop fighting now.
Time magazine is still well respected, and maybe they were out of line depicting the founder of the newest frontier in digital interactivity as a weird shoeless geek on the most budget of holodecks. It really doesn’t matter. The people who will pick up that technology and push it forward, the newest generation of gamers, they don’t feel the sting of being slighted by a magazine. They don’t understand fighting for the respectability of the medium. Video games are simply a part of their cultural landscape. Amazing games and interactive experiences will continue to be made by people who think they have something to say in the medium. Some of them will use VR headsets to tell their stories and make real their ideas. Video games will continue to grow and change and branch out, maybe in ways that are unrecognizable to those of us who were around when they started. But die? no were far beyond that now.