I remember this special, magical time in my youth spent with my Sega Master System, where I would need nothing but a controller and my little composition book. My mother had started this trend of writing down notes about the various games I was playing to help me if I ever got lost or found out a good tactic to use in the future. There were various tomes of these little clues and tips that we all wrote and set up in the small cabinet of our entertainment system. Our games were all lined up neatly and then you’d see five or six little books with our names on them or even the names of the games we were documenting. Games like King’s Quest had their own book with clues and hints, passwords, and even graph paper taped on the inside to show us what paths to take in order to get through without problems. Essentially, we were writing our own strategy guides before they were being printed in the mass market.
The Way We Were
I remember being so fascinated by this concept because we rarely all sat together to play games unless we were super excited about the title or unless they were two-player. My mother used gaming to unwind at the end of the day and she was who got me into roleplaying games like Phantasy Star, because they were her way of using escapism back then. We didn’t often run in the same times when it came to gaming, but I used to be fascinated with sitting there, on the floor, thumbing through the notes she took for the games she played. So detailed, you know? Sometimes I’d meet up with her in the kitchen in the morning and we’d discuss Phantasy Star or Golvellius, perhaps even some other new game we had that was complicated to me but that she was breezing through. She’d toss her frosted blonde hair over her shoulder, push her stylish bangles up her wrist, and then walk me through how to get to my next checkpoint in the game. My mother was this tall, beautiful, blonde gaming idol to me and nobody else I knew was playing all of these games because my peers didn’t have this many. I was quite lucky, I realize.
Honestly, things didn’t change on that front for a long, long, damned time. If I wanted to discuss games with people, I usually had to actually talk to them about said game. Through the console systems that we were gifted with through the years, they were all still very solitary experiences. Like watching movies and listening to music, gaming was something you did and then would later talk about by documenting it online. “I enjoyed this because…” or “This movie was good because…” littered the Internet due to the fact it was the only way we could relate to people and get the word out that we were enjoying or hating something and have other people engage us in the conversation. To be honest, I really preferred it back then.
The Consoles Have Eyes
Fast-forward to today and there is absolutely nothing I’m doing online that people don’t know about. I wish I was kidding, really. If I log on to my PS3, I usually get about two or three texts where people now realize that, not only am I online, but that might mean I’m not working and I’m free. If I am just going on there to watch The Daily Show on Hulu, I generally have to field messages and, by scrolling over to my Friends List, I can see what they are doing as well. Without meaning to, the PS3 turned me into a mini cyber-stalker. When I log onto Steam, an online gaming platform, I’m met with the same amount of enthusiasm, but generally there’s no socializing downtime. I usually have to mark myself as “Offline” in order to game without interruption, but the PS3 doesn’t really offer that if your game title is an online one. No, you just have to sit there quietly while everyone knows what you’re doing; you’re possibly ignoring them or acting very anti-social. Everyone needs a quiet escapism break though, don’t they?
The New Normal
It made me think about the fact that this is the new normal for us. We need people to know we’re doing everything because activity is such a huge deal to us now. “Look, everybody! We’re enjoying ourselves! See?” seems to be brandished on electronic billboards for everyone to see and we need that to keep going. We check in to shows, games, and even comic books on GetGlue and show off that we’re presently involved in something that thousands, maybe millions of others are doing. We just have to connect somehow. (Personally, I’m addicted to those stickers.) It is to the point now where nobody is safe from it and if you use Spotify, you have to actually check off something in your settings to not broadcast that you’ve been listening to R. Kelly’s “Remix to Ignition” on repeat for the last two hours.
Every website, every Netflix movie in Instant Watch, every show on Hulu, each game you play, and the music you’re listening to will give you an option to share it on Facebook or on Twitter. Applications are set up to actually document and update your friends and family with every single damned thing you’re doing because, well, they need to know, right? You hope they’ll see what you’re watching and think something about you or possibly relate. “Well, Bob is watching from the Criterion Collection. How fancy!” will flitter through your mind whether you realize it or not and instead of finding out that Bob’s a huge fan of “The Red Balloon” on your own, you’re force-fed these little mysteries. Instead of maintaining my own memory, I feel like all of this useless information about people is forcing out the stuff in my brain that I actually put there with purpose. I’m retaining too much dumb shite, to be honest.
Going off the Gaming Social Media Grid
It made me wonder if it was something I had become so used to that I needed it in order to feel normal in my peer group. I set up my Nintendo Wii on my new television because, though you have the option to add friends, I have not. I never play online multiplayer on my Wii, so if I’m using that system, I’m virtually invisible to my friends. There’s an odd silence that fell upon my room as I was playing Super Mario Bros. 3 and that was the Internet peace that hummed all about me. Nobody knew unless I told them, you know? Nobody could see I was logged on and text message me, there was no “Share to Facebook” button whenever Mario sprang up and freed a blinking star at the end of the level. Absolutely no leaderboard glittered with updated scores of my friends and family there, as I played, not connected to the Internet and social media whatsoever.
It was quiet and unsettling.
I loved it.
It started making me wish that I had thought of it sooner. I immediately started dusting off my other consoles, digging out cords and cables and seeking time in the day to enjoy that black wall of quiet some more. When trophies aren’t being given away because nobody is watching what you’re doing but you, when Raptr isn’t checking off the game you’re playing and spreading it all over the Internet, and when your automatically updated scores aren’t taunting your friends, it frees up a lot of your own internal resources. The peace and quiet of gaming because you want to game and not to do something everyone else is doing, so they can see, is a beautiful thing. You’re actually alone in those moments, enjoying something all for yourself. Just for you.
Sharing is Caring, But…
Now some of you might say “But I don’t do ______________ for anyone but myself.” And sure, maybe some of you are truthful about it. Even though you’re connected through dozens of methods of social media in your entertainment life, you’ll still hold steadfast to it. Let’s be honest, though: we found it novel. We did. Gaming companies are starting to pay attention, just as music and movie business is, too; we can’t do anything without showing it off or using it as a badge to prove our self-worth. This exists for a reason: we did it. We wanted that connection to be built, didn’t we?
I, personally, wish that we could have an option to remain online but maybe go invisible once in a while. To enjoy our games without needing to have our escapism virtually broadcasted to whatever audience is paying attention would be a novel concept and I really, truly, want to go to there. (Yes, it was a 30 Rock reference. My grammar didn’t have a stroke.)
What do you guys think? Do you prefer it this way because this means a new way to connect with others, or do you feel okay with your quiet time and wish it actually belonged only to you? Honestly, I wouldn’t mind if I could go back to the day where I could play Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Vollyeball without everyone thinking I’m a creepy boob-hound. I prefer to be that in the privacy of my own home without the judgmental eye of a captive audience to damn me, you know?
Image: The Lost Toy, Public Domain