Remember how back when I posted that it was hot I said I was busy in real life and that was totally interfering with my usual schedule of being around on the site I should arguably be responsible for maintaining? That was totally true, yo. So true in fact that it’s not even hot any more and I’m still too busy to, you know, pay attention to Tap. I’m really sorry about that.
Luckily I have many fine contributors and the ability to recycle my own content from other sites. Thus do I give you the latest installment of Culture Clash, which is a little incoherent on account of the busy – something about hearts breaking, and I think childhood. Harbour Master is mentioned in there as well. I dunno. It made sense when I wrote it. Enjoy! I’ll be back in like three months.
Every Day is Kids Day
By Matthew Sakey
September 18, 2011
Originally published by the International Game Developers Association
The man who made games journalism has died. Bill Kunkel, “The Game Doctor,” passed away on September 4. My heart goes out to his family and loved ones as they mourn. Bill was my friend, however briefly, and his contribution to gaming as a passion and a profession is incalculable. Nothing would have been the same without him.
With all the assaults on gaming, particularly as regards the hobby’s effect on children, it’s nice to stop once and a while and consider the myriad joys of a videogame childhood.
I certainly had one – I was nuts for them. Obsessed, completely. The games, coupled with my own imagination, created wonderful and wholly magical experiences. For the vast majority of my early life – until I was fourteen or so – I existed pretty much in a world entirely of my own devising, one fueled by games. Beyond that the imaginary world started to fall away, slowly enough that I failed to notice it, until I found myself here at thirty-six under the glum realization that if I’d known then what I know now, I never would have left the world in my head.
In Hearts in Atlantis, a character muses, “Sometimes, when you’re young, you experience moments of such joy that you feel you must have entered someplace magical – much like we imagine Atlantis would have been. Then we grow older and our hearts break in two.” That’s a great line, and I’ve always found it both incredibly depressing and incredibly accurate. The videogame childhood I was able to experience was definitely Atlantean, and I really miss it.
Apparently I’m not alone, either. Over the past three months, Joel “Harbour Master” Goodwin of Electron Dance has been working on an immense and satisfying (satisfying to his readers; exhausting to him) essay project. “Where We Came From” reflects on the rise of the videogame medium in the 1980s, pulling generously from the author’s own game-driven youth. The entire series is well worth your attention, but it’s the concluding essay, “The Last Dream,” that struck the deepest chord with me. Joel wasn’t just talking about the history of games, he was re-exploring his childhood, to the degree that anyone is able to. As I read his words I felt he was writing about me.
The sad thing is that joy is ephemeral; you only know it when you’re experiencing it, and it’s almost impossible to recreate. No, actually, I’ll go there: it is impossible to recreate moments of joy. You can’t do it. You can try, you can even come close, but you’ll never strike in the same place twice.
This creates an interesting conundrum for someone like me, unabashedly the product of a videogame childhood in which the games themselves, and the experience of playing them, were joyous. I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do back then. But as I grew older, and my heart broke in two, it changed for me. I haven’t become one of Those People – the ones who work in the games industry but don’t play games – I still love games. It’s not the same as it was in childhood, though, and I’m somehow ashamed by that fact. I beat myself up over it regularly. “Why aren’t you playing more games?” I’ll chide.
“Why are you not playing a game RIGHT NOW? You’re just reading a book. Books are nice but you love games. Go play a game. The book can wait.”
“Why don’t you enjoy the games you do play as much as you did? What’s the matter with you?”
“How can you possibly be sitting here, playing a game, and thinking that you should be vacuuming the floor? How could you allow your mind to wander like that? You never used to.”
As much as I rationally understand that the transition to adulthood, with all its disappointments and responsibilities, is truly the culprit, I often feel that I’m to blame, somehow doing games a disservice by not being as fascinated as I was back then. Children’s eyes can light up in a way that adults’ eyes can’t when they find something magical. Adult eyes have seen too much, maybe; or maybe kids are just lucky.
It’s not my fault I grew up.
Meanwhile, from the Department of Did You Really Spend Research Money On That, we learn that a child’s opinion of his or her parents is inversely proportional to the amount of time those parents spend kicking the kid off games. You don’t say. I can tell you from personal experience that I felt a good deal of antipathy toward my parents when they made me do anything other than play games. If the researchers had just asked me I could have saved them a lot of tabulation. Of course, I can also say with assurance that I don’t hold a grudge now, so we should nip it in the bud before FOX News announces that playing video games makes children hate their parents for life. I found it in my heart to forgive Mom and Dad for sending me outside to play from time to time. I suspect most kids will. These days kids can just take their 3DS outside, the lucky dogs.
Grown-ups who snarl “kids these days…” are probably secretly jealous. Kids these days with their video games can experience the same kind of numinous joy that Joel Goodwin and I, and so many millions of others, experienced when we were that age. I’d tell those kids to appreciate it while it lasts, because sooner or later their hearts will break in two, but no one ever heeds that advice until it’s too late. As for us, those for whom it’s already too late, I can’t say whether others feel the same odd guilt that I do. But it certainly brings meaning to the old adage that I’d trade all my tomorrows for a single yesterday.
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