Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Game days are over

There's this little block of white text scrolling across my television screen. It says "Roku" in all capital letters. It's the screen saver, set against a black backdrop, that reminds me of the omnipresence of digital entertainment that is around me at any given time.

A Roku box is a little Wi-Fi enabled thing-a-majig that hooks up to my television and allows me to watch Netflix whenever I so choose from my big screen. It serves to satiate my greatest obsession these days - audio/visual entertainment consumption.

But there were days, only a few years back (or I guess more than a decade back, if we're being truly accurate) that as much as I was about film and television, I was also interested in tactile pursuits. There were these newfangled things called video games on the market, and I was for some time a consumer (however behind the times I was and continue to be).

I have this thing for nostalgia. My collection of DVDs includes animated features and children's movies. Flipping through my book of movies, it might be hard to distinguish the age of the owner unless you know me already.

So it's no wonder that when I think and talk about video games, my only frame of reference is the seriously antiquated Super Nintendo system.

I love having conversations about antiquated gaming systems. You see, this is a topic that I know very little about. I couldn't tell you the differences between a Wii and a PS3, much less a Nintendo 64 and a Sega Dreamcast. Even using these proper names is kind of like speaking another language for me.

But what I do know about are the few games on the few consoles that I did play. And that makes for quite enough conversation as it is.

Back in elementary school, we had one computer to share at the childcare center. School would end at 2:15 pm and after we had snack time, everyone who was waiting around for the parents to pick them up would disperse to several different corners of the classroom. Some would play board games or color or braid lanyards, others would do their homework, occasionally we would go outside and hang out on the jungle gym or in the grassy field where P.E. was held.

Those were all pretty open opportunities. If one person wanted to play, everyone else could join them.

But that wasn't the case with the computer. The beautiful state of the art computer where we would all battle over who had dibs. It kept us apart, but it connected us together. Why? Because we all played the same games.

Computers are now all about connecting with friends. Social networking is what we come here for. Even blogging could be seen as a form of this.

But back in elementary school, the only use for a computer (besides word processing, which was a dorky personal habit of mine) was for gaming on the internet.

Even if you chose "2 Player," you still played separately.
I've always considered video games a pretty solitary endeavor. Maybe that's because when I grew up I often perfected my technique at Mario Kart and Kirby's Avalanche while I was sitting in my room all by myself. Or maybe it's because certain games aim to create single player dominance (like Super Mario World or any of the Donkey Kong games, which have a single player participating at any one time).

Whatever the reason was, I never felt like I was socially engaging with my peers while actually playing the game. But the act of being a gamer, on the other hand, was something very sociable indeed.

In that childcare scenario, anyone who discovered a "hip" new game on the Disney Channel or Nick.com websites would report back to the rest of us. We'd watch each other play and grow envious of our friends getting to score high points on Kim Possible: A Sitch in Time or Lilo & Stitch Sandwich Stacker. These became well-known names among us, and conversation pieces.

I can't believe now that in my young youth I'd become so absorbed in this medium of entertainment, only to move onto the next generation of video games and completely fall out of the loop.

It's not as though this is a community I feel compelled to become a part of. I don't think of myself as cheated because I don't sit around playing The Legend of Zelda for hours a day (no disrespect to those who do, of course). But I wonder what happened to make me choose rather to hang around staring at "Roku" flitting across my screen while the little white text stating "Nintendo" hasn't graced my television for ages and ages.

I have no answers yet, but in my heart I know that I will eventually pick up a controller again. Not because I want to become obsessed, as a result entering into a community of gamers. Rather, because I remember the kind of joy and relaxation I felt while concentrating on saving Princess Peach.

Those were the days. And why should those days be over?

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