Thursday, March 22, 2007

PlayStation 3 and the Sadness of Blogging

There are three views of computer games. They are hypnotic, anti-social and frequently violent exercises in futility that leave us, in Eliot's phrase, 'distracted from distraction by distraction'. Or they are contemporary art. Or they are, as James Lovelock would say, desirable, low energy, green technologies that consume our time far more benignly than burning carbon by driving or by flying away on holidays that provide us with escape from everything except the one thing we really want to leave behind - our selves. I reflected on this matter three years ago and concluded the games were 'ontological prosthetics'. Now we have the PlayStation 3. The Ministry of Defence has spent £40,000 on these machines to distract our boys in Iraq and Afghanistan. How odd that they should play shoot-em-up games in between shooting 'em up. None of these games has ever distracted me, but, as I have this blog, I'm not sure I can convincingly maintain a holier-than-thou posture on the matter, though, much of the time, I do. Blogging is not quite as sad as gaming.


  1. I'm not so sure that it is, Bryan... (And, at this juncture, I should declare an interest, since by day I'm cross-media defender and champion of gaming, glorious gaming).

    What you're exposing is the gaping (though far from unbridgeable) generational gap between those who grow up with a new technology as a fundamental part of their lives, and those who miss the boat and stare back in bewilderment.

    Primary school-age girls are now just as likely to play videogames as boys; the average age of a gamer in the UK is 28, according to BBC research (and probably a few years older in reality). And, while you'll always get the solitary, ghost-faced geeks, festering in their Gothic gaming dungeons, the overriding trend in the industry is towards exploiting the social potential of the digital experience. And that doesn't mean exclusively for the 19-year-old college meatheads who like shooting prostitutes.

    The statement in your article that "The Sims and a few others aside, all the biggest games involve slaughter on a vast scale", wasn't true then and most definitely isn't now.

    And the well-worn argument against gaming being "sad" is long past its sell-by-date, given the mainstream success of products like SingStar, EyeToy, Buzz and Dancing Stage - the first three of which were created by Sony for PlayStation.

    Ingenious and affordable systems like Nintendo's Wii are designed to promote shared, fun activity amongst friends and family.

    Compare and contrast this behaviour with the activities of the lone, obsessive blogger.

    And without going off at a tangent, (and despite this argument being recycled roughly every five years) technology is now at a level where, as a creative medium, its unique potential is capturing the imagination of modern entertainment's greatest visual storytellers.

    On an intellectual level, there are few creative projects in the digital world more inspiring than Will Wright's Spore. Yet, the mainstream media prefer to focus on the superficially intriguing, yet over-hyped, rudderless tedium of Second Life when feeling the need to appear "in touch".

    You're no Luddite, Bryan. I just don't think you've tried the right games yet!

    And by nailing them down as "ontological prosthetics", you somewhat fail to see the wood for the trees. They're also just fun.

  2. Yes, but it is an addiction! My husband gave me to read a couple of days ago an article on 'net addiction'. Me thinks it was a hint ...

  3. I'm afraid those games, while of course being very addictive, amount to little more than a black hole for consciousness.

  4. You're (entertainingly) off-track there, Bryan; probably an age thing, unfortunately. Video games are no more futile than most sports and, unlike most outdoor games, do not favour the quick and the strong. As for the social side, kids gather to play them - playstation and pizza. No where's my comic-book (sorry, graphic novel) collection got to...

  5. Johnny, I hardly knew ye. You're a young 'un.

    What you say about the generation gap is right on. My son is an avid gamer ("World of Warcraft" his fave) and my daughter is into Sims stuff, MySpace, etc. Both communicate with friends by AIM and I hear the pinging of their computers at night. Neither is weird or geeky; they just grew up with this technology. It's part of their world; they use it (I don't *think* it uses them -- though there are some who succumb to all-night sessions in a virtual world and those, I think, are the Net Addicts Rebel references).

    By the way, my kids love to ask questions like: "So, you remember a time *before* videos? *Before* even cassette tapes [ancient technology to them]? You played *records*?" They are stunned at how deprived we must have been, pre-computers and advanced entertainment systems. Hey, maybe they are right!

  6. What's really interesting about the PS3 is that Sony has huge hopes for it's cell processor which it hopes to include in many of its electronic products. So, ironically, we might not be able to escape the PS3, even if we want to.

  7. Don't like them one little bit. I have watched kids and adults playing them, and quite frankly they looked like masterbating zombies. Will hold out for as long as possible to stop my kids playing them. What's wrong with a friendly game of scrabble or chess of an evening?

  8. Has anyone played "Nifty Lifty"? It was the only game I got along with (me in the armchair with a glass of wine and my son using the control under my direction) Blogging seems different to me as it is about communication and, certainly, contact with others. I do negotiate with myself about whether I can go online or not; have I been constructive and busy enough during the day ? I usually reply "Yes"

  9. Susan - World of Warcraft: now there's a terrifying phenomenon. 8 million players worldwide and, on the surface at least, geekier than a comic convention (orcs, trolls, spells, pointy hats etc.)

    With that in mind I attended the London midnight launch they held a couple of months ago for the expansion pack, expecting the freak show of a lifetime.

    But to my surprise, aside from the expected pockets of fancy-dress weirdness, the overwhelming majority of the, yes, hundreds of fans in line appeared to be 'regular people' of both sexes and all ages (though queueing for hours down a dark alley for a game you could buy from a shop the next day at your leisure seems a rather questionable activity.)

    Still, at the 'safe' end it's a fun game and an enjoyable social experience.

    At the other end of the spectrum, it brings out the very worst in humanity. Virtual weddings, anyone?

    Memorial services have also been held in-game for former players who have died in real life. One of which was violently sabotaged by a rogue group of players objecting to what they saw as the inappropriate hijacking of an entertainment product. You couldn't make it up.

    Back to the launch, I recall speaking to one family in full, utterly ridiculous red-and-gold fantasy attire. I asked the father if he thought it was healthy for his dead-eyed seven-year-old daughter to be spending so much of her free time playing a hardcore video game with her parents.

    "There are paedophiles on every corner these days," he confided. "When she's playing with us we know she's safe."

    Yes, sir.

  10. Ah, Johnny, you remind me of something else positive about "World of Warcraft": Its altruistic component. My 13-year-old son has explained to me that other people who are on the scene when you're in the midst of a battle with demons, or whatever, can simply choose to help you. If they have a high level of power, then their help is really worthwhile (for other readers --not J., who knows -- all the scenes are based on a quest the user is on; if s/he completes it, s/he goes up a level).

    Many people have helped Mark and Mark has helped others. He himself noticed this phenomenon of sharing skills and helping other people you don't know, or only know virtually. Since the players are often also instant-messaging as they work on their quests, Mark has gotten to know people from all over the world: Gamers in China, India, Europe, and of course all over the U.S.

    I think this is pretty cool. Mark says he occasionally wonders if his correspondents are 30-year-old uber geeks rather than 13-year-old boys like himself, but it doesn't worry him. He has also never encountered a pedophile online in all his hours of playing this game. I think that's significant too.

    Rock on, WoW!

  11. It sounds like your son is having a brilliant time, Susan.

    And that's a great and important point about the very real altruism that is displayed in the virtual world of Warcraft.

    It is not a game for lone adventurers, and rapid progres depends upon the forging of bonds and co-operation between fellow players in their close-knit 'guild'.

    And this provides a clear framework within which it's no real surprise weddings, funerals and so on have occurred - although I personally find such activities disturbing.

    My main concern with the family I interviewed was the level of their addiction. Each claimed to have several Level 60 characters. And, as your son will know, Susan, that takes an astonishing level of commitment to achieve. (For the uninitiated we're talking literally thousands of hours of consecutive play).

    I also met a young couple who had met on a particular server and, yes, fallen in love in real life. There's Extreme Internet Dating for you.

    The ease with which the Internet creates and encourages the unlikeliest of friendships in every connected nook and cranny of the planet occasionally reminds of my father's erstwhile obsession with his pea-green CB radio.

    When I was very young I would spend hours with him each weekend as he determinedly sought out signals from fellow radio-seekers across the globe and exchanged charmingly fuzzy messages of greeting.

    Over time he built up a wonderful collection of postcards and local currency from countless countries and regions, all through his dogged persistance with that crackly box of a thousand voices.

    I'm not sure he's ever fully come to terms with how the Internet practically overnight gave him his instantaneous ticket to the world.

  12. i have a problem!
    my controller has broke and i want to use my friends but when i try and connect it by pressing the home button it will not work but it flashes as if it is trying to connect.
    what do i have to do to connect them?
    it has been working on a 60GB and mine is also a 60GB
    i do not see the problem could you please help me out?