Tension: Move or die: When real and digital worlds collide
Arcades are a shell of their former self these days, always run down and barely functioning sections of movie theatres. If an arcade still exists today, it is completely because of nostalgia, but at one time they were a hub of activity.
More and more our daily lives are inundated with images of destruction: television, newspaper, Internet, movies, and the king of all vehement imageries, the video game. It isn't that video games (from their popular inception in the late '70s) have been a reflection of our society and proffered an alternate to it, my contention is that, more and more, life is becoming a reflection of video games. We meet, work, date and destroy virtually. Our movies, books, graphic novels and even the local newscast seems to be reflective of the modern video game.
Video games started their evolution as small 8-bit keyboard-generated angle brackets whizzing around a small green screen avoiding clusters of O's, X's and the occasional capital T that shot hyphens, periods and the deadly plus sign. A late '70s curiosity played after school in scorching Commodore PET 2000 computer labs. Thick, plastic-rimmed glasses peering at five-inch green screens while groups of guys played Dungeons & Dragons in the wings awaiting their turn at the consol. Behemoth five-inch floppy discs neatly displayed in plastic sleeves in enormous three-ring binders tucked under polyester plaid laps ready to provide 13-year-old boys with a space of their own.
Well, we all know what video games look like now. Look at this evolution; it took 30 years to turn a nerdy pastime into a worldwide, multi-billion dollar industry.
The advent of the early home computer: The Vic 20, Commodore PET 2000, and the Commodore 64, all opened the arena to ‘high end' gaming at home. Competing with the original home computers were the early gaming systems: Pong, Atari, Intellivision and Colecovision, each one a ‘game'-changing system. Megasystems such as Nintendo and Sega were still years away.
Then came the age of the video arcade. You would round the sterile white corridor of the local mall with hints of bells and beeps pinging through the overhead sounds of a sorrow-filled muzak rendition of “Cat's in the Cradle.” There before you stood the dark, cool haven of the '80s: the video arcade. You instantly grew to 5'2”; cashed in the $5 bill you stole from your dad's wallet for a bulge of quarters and lost yourself in temporary, side scrolling escapism. Space Invaders, Pacman, Asteroids, Donkey Kong... they all seemed to maintain the same premise: move or die.
The arcade lasted a dubious 10 years, its final end founded by such characters as Mario, Link and Sonic. The age of the home arcade had begun and is as dominant now in the Western world as the television, computer and cellphone (all of which are now also gaming systems).
The video game industry took in just over $9.5 billion last year! That's enough money to buy every person on the earth an Atari 2600 with Donkey Kong AND Pitfall. What a world that would be!
Well, it seems that the days of getting stoned and playing in the realm of realistic destruction, simulated civilization and cooperative assassinations are here to stay.
Is the line between real and digital becoming too thin? Are our digital personas taking over our real selves? Of course, not everyone is escaping into the World of Warcraft. Some of us are still chasing capital T's around a screen, some of us are still pining for the cold, dark comfort of the arcade, and some of us are still trying the get the small metal balls into the bear's eyes. Whatever your distraction, from whatever age, it all amounts to the same things: we seek escape, autonomy and relatedness. The digital playground fulfills some of our primal needs, but not all. Deep down, we are still just living a fantasy that video games represent the basis of survival: move or die.
Sometimes we need to be that gladiator, if even for a moment; we can stand triumphant before a coliseum of roaring spectators. Unfortunately, sometimes our gladiators take up a lead role in the musical version of Les MisÚrables.