On Farmville

Once upon a time, it was largely accepted that only dweebs ever bothered to play video games. All the cool kids were out shootin’ hoops while dorks like me were holed up in a basement, hunched over a keyboard, twiddling our fingers as we gyrated through the labyrinthine “mines” in Descent or Bard's Tale.

But then, something strange happened. We started to imagine that games were becoming “mainstream” as stuff like The Sims, Halo and World of Warcraft, started growing ludicrously popular. We started to imagine and possibly celebrate the notion that gamers were no longer the black sheep – we were finally cool!

Then you turn around and you see the social networking games explode in popularity and those of us who grew up on a solid diet of Castlevania, Space Quest, and the abominable masterpieces of Tim Sweeny are going “zuh?!”

We cry out in horror as we see people getting sucked into the most asinine, vacuous, unrewarding, Stockholm Syndrome-driven madness mankind has seen since the advent of wrist-bruising slap-bracelets.

Some would argue that social games of the Farmville variety is evidence of a decline in the world of gaming but I’m not entirely sure that’s the case. Sure, it’s strange to see the money go from things like Prince of Persia and into Happy Aquarium but I wouldn’t call it a massive transformation in the gamer culture.

I contend that gamer culture really hasn't changed much since the days when I was slaying gargoyles in Ultima 6: The False Prophet. I'm still a weirdo with weird tastes in entertainment. I am not and never was normal. Gamer culture imagined that just because the dregs were enamored with Halo that it somehow meant that the they were accepting of something more praiseworthy like, say, Painkiller.

No, my disenfranchised and temporarily star-struck gamer friends, you were never cool. You always had too much taste to care about Halo, even though it loosely resembled the sorts of things you loved. The cool kids were never interested in a game with lucid dynamics and compelling core playability elements. They were interested in doing something competitive together when they’d worn themselves out after shootin’ hoops and Halo was there to accommodate them.

Remember when games had a “boss key” that you could hit and instantaneously bring a faux spreadsheet, or DOS prompt to your screen? Well browser-based games have the same thing: it’s called ALT TAB. You can’t play Half-Life 2 on your work computer and fool anybody into thinking that you’re actually looking at the source code for the mission-critical web application you’re supposed to be working on. But hiding a browser with Mob Wars on it – that’s entirely doable.

As you find more and more people doing menial desk jobs with lots of busywork (because the world at large doesn’t know what computers are actually good for or fear that automation is the precursor to Skynet and Judgement Day), you find a lot of common folk – the kinds of people who scorned you for playing Mechwarrior 2: Ghost Bear’s Legacy – wanting to pass the time while their paycheck turns their brains into oatmeal. The browser’s there, the boredom’s there and the boss isn’t. It’s easy to sneak a few clicks into Treasure Isle.

And it’s true that someone made a whole truckload of money by exploiting peoples’ compulsions with these hyper-casual, unimaginative games. It’s an absolutely brilliant business model. And I’m sure the yokel who thought-up slap bracelets had his fifteen minutes of fame, too.

Game culture had brief delusions of being “mainstream” and every bit as cool as Michael Jordon with his tongue hanging out as he’s going for yet another slam dunk but social games are now the rude awakening from that dream: We aren’t cool. We never really were. Sure, some jocks may still play Gears of War if there’s nothing to watch on TV but they’ll never understand why you give a damn about the alleged Zelda time-line. You’re still a dork and they’re still cooler than you. Only difference now is that, in addition to shooting hoops and gawking at Megan Fox and muscle cars, the rest of the world might also laugh when they beat the snot out of a prostitute in Grand Theft Auto.

What distresses some gamers is that the gap between them and the rest of the world is widening again. Where we once gingerly entertained the notion that we weren’t such freaks, we are finding the Star-Bellied Sneetches chasing a new whim and it’s every bit as weird to us as WWF is to your grandma.

Some gamers feel threatened by this new trend away from the console and WASD and toward chintzy little Flash stuff. Some gamers are baffled by the idea of wasting illustrious broadband connections on something that a 486 could’a done all on its own.

But we don’t need to feel disturbed or unsettled by the trends we see other people follow. It’s not a threat to us. We can still enjoy our freakish pleasures like Adanaxis and Portal – knowing full well that we will never be understood and the only time we thought we were, it was all a great big lie.

Date: 2010-09-15 10:10:10

Author: Anthony "Ishpeck" Tedjamulia

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