No more video games. This isn't that hard for me compared to breaking my, say, taco addiction, or someone else trying to quit smoking. The quantity of video games has been going down in my life for the past several years, having peaked (of course) during sophomore year of college. But it feels urgent after having read two editorials this past week about completely different things (college admissions, the declining quality of newspapers) that both hit below the belt.
First up, Russ Smith's editorial about the declining quality of newspapers starts with this story (all italics this entry mine):
Last Sunday I was in a cab driving down to Fells Point—Baltimore's equivalent of today's gentrified East Village—with my 13-year-old son Nicky, explaining that there was no way an Xbox 360 would be under the family's Christmas tree later this month. Although Nicky has been a gamer since before he could read, in the last year he's lost interest, preferring to spend lots of time downloading music and making short movies.
My wife and I were tickled at this development—not that he admitted it, but the unread copies of PlayStation and Electronic Gaming Monthly on his desk told the story—since the appalling prospect of our elder son gabbing for hours with clerks at Entertainment Boutique or GameStop when he was 25 was reason enough to consider a move to Sicily or St. Lucia. Unfortunately, Nick belatedly got caught up in the hype for the new Microsoft product and was trying to build a case for one of his parents to wait in line for 25 hours at Best Buy when the next shipment comes in. I wasn't buying his rationale, but just for the hell of it decided to test the magnitude of his desire for this cash-eating—$400 for the machine and then games at 50 bucks a pop—monstrosity.
*sigh* While shopping for Christmas presents I had indeed stopped inside a GameStop in the mall and ended up chatting about how turn-based games peaked with Masters of Orion and the first X-Com circa 1994. And I'm now older than 25. Not only do I have the worry that I am letting down my own parents, but I'm also evidently letting down the parents at the New York Press. Great. That was rough, but the Washington Post, writing about a crisis with male college attendance (really? who knew?) kicks this out:
…We still see thousands of men who succeed quite well in the professional world and in industry — men who get elected president, who own software companies, who make six figures selling cars. We see the Bill Gateses and John Robertses and George Bushes — and so we're not as concerned as we ought to be about the millions of young men who are floundering or lost.
But they're there: The young men who are working in the lowest-level (and most dangerous) jobs instead of going to college. Who are sitting in prison instead of going to college. Who are staying out of the long-term marriage pool because they have little to offer to young women. Who are remaining adolescents, wasting years of their lives playing video games for hours a day, until they're in their thirties, by which time the world has passed many of them by…
Now, however, the boys who don't fit the classrooms are glaringly clear. Many families are barely involved in their children's education. Girls outperform boys in nearly every academic area. Many of the old principles of education are diminished. In a classroom of 30 kids, about five boys will begin to fail in the first few years of pre-school and elementary school. By fifth grade, they will be diagnosed as learning disabled, ADD/ADHD, behaviorally disordered or "unmotivated." They will no longer do their homework (though they may say they are doing it), they will disrupt class or withdraw from it, they will find a few islands of competence (like video games or computers) and overemphasize those.
Yikes. This hits harder and longer than the previous jab. Not only because I clearly have an "island of competency" in video games, but I have to stop and consider that everything I enjoy (books, comics, movies, etc.) and the way I enjoy them (geeky, obsessive) functions as an anti-social "island of competency" that I enjoy due to incompetency with dealing with the "mainland." I still don't know if I've recovered from this thought.
But at least I'm leaving on a good year for gaming. For any of you who have done a hard drug once and never again out of fear at how good of a time you were having, you can understand why I cancelled my subscription to World of Warcraft after two months. The game was simple too good (or in another context, the game was cut "too pure"), and I was afraid I was going quit my life to play this game, bottoming out by selling everything I own just to buy a magical sword. But 2005 was the year of WoW, and it deserves it. The game doesn't have any of the pitfalls of the other online universe games I've seen, which are usually just too repetitious to enjoy beyond a few weeks. I did play long enough to enjoy the hell out of the following animated .gif when I found it later:
This was also a good year for comic-book video games*. For those of you like me who enjoy such things, I can highly recommend Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, Ultimate Spiderman, and X-Men Legends II. Each can be completed in ~10 hours (so perfect for rentals). The Bagley-inspired comic graphics of Spiderman, along with the Bendis-written wit, make for a fun game. The Hulk sends destruction all across the sandbox map, while X-Men Legends II gives you fun of composing an X-Men team of heroes and villains (Magneto, Wolverine, Rogue, and Jean Grey = awesome), and the usually exclusive joys of leveling up and button smashing.
* The fact that I can even make such a statement means I need to quit.
So that is that. It was a good year, but I have to start admitting that I'm too damn old for this. The next wave of technology will require a level of mental and time commitment that is astounding when I look at it, and it now feels like the appropriate time to head out the exit door. The only question left is what other "islands of competency" are secretly crippling me?