If Chris were not otherwise occupied, he could tell you that he is, by several objective measures, the most talented Guitar Hero player in existence: not only good enough to have attained numerous high-score records, but so skilled that he has parlayed his peculiar blend of athleticism and showmanship into online celebrity and a fledgling career designing and endorsing his own line of video game hardware. But at the moment, another barrage of notes was about to descend on him. “The chaos,” he said, “begins right now.”
Despite his preternatural dexterity, Chris, who turns 17 on Sunday, would seem to be just one more avid gamer who has helped make the Guitar Hero franchise a towering success. It has sold more than 20.7 million copies worldwide since its debut just three years ago.
Yet to the video game business Chris represents just the kind of player — the freakishly talented one-man spectacle — who could bring more revenue and legitimacy to the industry, and prove once and for all that video gaming is as much a mainstream American pastime as going to the movies or watching television.
From, the piece "Rec-Room Wizard" printed in the New York Times.
Youth is indeed wasted on the young. Sounds embittered doesn't it? I am just hurting, a little sad that the world has seemingly changed around me, but not necessarily with me. It is also a little nostalgia, a longing for the not so recent past and a realization that one of the favorite pastimes of my childhood has changed, pushed forward by "progress" and morphed into something I know, but don't particularly like or feel comfortable with--sort of like the hot ex-girlfriend from college you meet a few years later, who is still gorgeous, just a little older, and is now with a beau who is the exact opposite of who you would have pictured her with. This is one of those moments when you wake up and realize that you are a little older than you were yesterday:
Yes, I still play video games. Yes, my tastes have gravitated to PC games over consoles because I primarily play RTS's (although I will be getting an X-Box 360...primarily to download the "old school" classics and to play GTA 4). And yes, I play a pretty mean game of Call of Duty 4 and other first person shooters. But, something has changed. With the rise of the internet, with consoles and home PC's which are more powerful than anything we could have imagined ten years ago, the social space for gaming has inexorably changed. The communal space, those hives of scum and villainy which many of us ghetto nerds were drawn to in our New York City Time Squares, our South Sides, our West Sides and corner bodegas, our Milford Rec's, is gone, never to be replaced. Those hideouts from parents and adults where we could seek out a brother from another planet, an old school sage to teach us the latest tricks and exploits:
Reading about the rise of this Guitar Hero phenom encouraged me to take a trip to one of the few remaining arcades in the city. For the young and uninitiated, arcades were physical spaces where you would play video games and pinball with others, face to face, in a personal contest for supremacy. I was so excited, I would get on the Red Line, read a book, get some Chipotle on the way home, and pop some quarters into a favored machine. Would it be Killer Instinct? Street Fighter 2 Turbo or CE, Mortal Combat? Marvel vs. Capcom? What would it be? Guess what? It would be nothing as our video game oasis was closed, shutdown, its dirty floors still uncleaned. It seems this last arcade would be a victim of hipster gentrification.
This isn't to disparage the rise of the internet and how we finally have a truly global stage for contest and where video games are approaching a "sport" of sorts with tournaments, leagues, and big money purses. In my childhood I would have never dreamed that there would be lucrative prizes at stake in tournaments for games like StarCraft, Quake or Ultimate Tournament. I wouldn't have imagined that video game pros would have real groupies and fans...not the cast off, sallow faced, semi-teen runaway degenerates who hung out at the local spot. No, attention from real people whose approval you would seek, and if they were an attractive woman, to likely try to enjoy in a biblical, Song of Solomon kind of way.
You children of the 1970s and 1980s, did you also hear the same rumors that I did? That you could go to Japan and face off against the best, Asian kids who were in our imaginations just as good at martial arts as they were at video games, a mythical Blood Sport for video game heads where you could compete against the best of the best:
Random thought: am I the only ghetto nerd who was jealous of his Asian friends and their video game collections? Bootlegged titles purchased in China or Korea town, or mailed to them from friends and family overseas?
My use of the phrase "blood sport" is not accidental. Playing video games competitively was physical. In its most benign, it either involved travel and searching around town for the newest machine or the best competition, running to the neighborhood arcade, the bakery next to the high school where everyone congregated after school and during lunch, or the duck pin bowling alley that we would dip into after school for a few rounds of Street Fighter or Karate Champ. Sometimes it involved hours of travel to and fro just to find that best, most favorite, machine, or nagging a parent to sit in the car for a few hours while they read a book and you played video games all day long on your birthday. In its least benign, it involved a physical exchange, a stare down, especially if you were a newbie, to just put the quarter on the machine to get a play. In the worst case scenario playing in the arcade could escalate into a fist fight, real blood drawn between players if one felt that they were either treated unfairly or humiliated by a rival. With the ascendancy of video games into the mainstream and the rise of the internet as a means to compete, the world, as is the ultimate goal of technical innovation, has been made just a little too sterile for this ghetto nerd's taste.
By analogy, in the same way that we can find any number of "Emcees" "battling" on Youtube, MySpace or in chat rooms, how many would have lasted second in a real cipher, a real battle in the South Bronx, Queens, or Brooklyn?
Object Lesson 1:
Object Lesson 2
Hell, how many of these "crappers" would even be allowed into the cipher? Now, it is so clean and impersonal. You don't have to have clout to get into the circle, there is no physical risk if you under-perform or step out of bounds. The worst that can happen is that you move onto another chat room, another message board, or another Youtube video.
We no longer have to put quarters up on the machine to get a play, we don't have to be accepted into the local tribe (real people not a virtual clan), and we certainly don't have to face down rivals eye to eye in what could easily end in a post-game melee. I am not discounting the visceral rush of online play, of an hours long match, or how great it feels to beat a rival--I don't know how many of you have had this experience, but I sincerely love playing skinheads and Nazi wannabe's online (and summarily dispensing with them in the most humiliating fashion possible), ignorant folks who take competition very seriously and make their video game playing prowess some type of proof for the superiority of their imagined Aryan bloodline.
I am not a Luddite. I love technical change and innovation, but I am worried about how our social interactions with strangers, meeting people and becoming friends in the real as opposed to virtual world, what was once the core of playing video games, has been changed for the worst. I admire the art and artistry of video games. I am wonderfully pleased that a hobby has grown into a culture. And I do indeed smile when I think about how we are now in a position where we can hear the symphonies of our childhood elevated to the level of high art:
Nevertheless, I do offer a warning, a fear about the rise of glamor and glitz, of the prominence of bells and whistles over substance and form. Sure, we have gorgeous games like Metal Gear, God of War, and the like; and immersive titles like World of Warcraft (and on MMORG's isn't the Star Trek title destined to be horrible?) and the Grand Theft Auto series; and great fighting games such as Soul Caliber, Virtua Fighter and the new Street Fighter--which by the way I am holding my breath for in anticipation of its release:
But, will they stand the test of time? Will they be downloaded and played twenty or thirty years from now? Will they be the objects of fond reminiscing of battles both epic, bloody, and personal? I suspect they likely will, but will the memory be the same? Will it have the same texture as a kid recalling the first time he played Ghosts and Goblins, Elevator Action, Double Dragon, Street Fighter 2, Tron, Karate Champ, Ikari Warriors, Cruis'n USA, Star Wars, Donkey Kong, Ms. Pacman, or Killer Instinct in a dingy arcade or bowling alley and where he or she defeated the local arcade king, if even for a day? And then had to hustle home before dark to ensure that the local tough wouldn't get some revenge? This ghetto nerd doesn't know, and in truth probably wouldn't like the answer.
Random thoughts and confessions:
1. I was never so happy as when I found my Christmas gift, an NES hidden in my parent's bedroom. I was never so exhilarated as when I would take it out and play it when they were at work and I was home "sick."
2. I never beat Super Mario Brothers--I still to this day cannot beat the last level.
3. I never beat Zelda--I couldn't find the silver arrows.
4. I loved M. Bison. No, I owned with M. Bison. I owned even more with Guile...but then again, who didn't?
5. Anyone else remember The Adams Family pinball game? or Fun House? Were they not perfect?
7. Didn't Chuck E. Cheese have horrible pizza and even worse video games? I take that back, the one on the Post Road in Milford did have the Star Trek video game. It was unplayable, but the vector graphics were really futuristic and cool.
8. Spy Hunter! Galaga! and 50 cent slices of pizza in the Acme Mall on Dixwell Avenue were my heaven. Where was your favorite video game spot, one with not too much competition, where you could play for hours on a quarter or two, and get a snack?
9. Am I the only one who charmed a pretty would-be girlfriend at the local arcade with my video game playing prowess?
10. The General Custard video game. The holy grail of Atari games, need I say more? A naked man with an erect penis raping a tied up Native American "squaw"--yes I know what the word really means--really needs no embellishment.
11. How many of you went on quests in New York or Los Angeles to find games you couldn't find at home? This is something I really miss, in hip hop and dj culture we used to have to "dig" to find the obscure, the exciting record, a new white label, which rewarded our efforts at the next party. Now, folks just buy music online or download it to a laptop pc-dj-turntable interface. Yes, lighter on the back. No, in my opinion too far apart from what the culture should be. And sad when folks don't graduate to this technology from analog, but begin there: you do need to learn how to use a knife before graduating to a food processor if you want to be a real master chef. Likewise, in the past one would have to "dig" to find certain video games. They were usually overpriced and a letdown, but often they were real gems. Do you have any war stories, great games found following an epic search?
11. Colecovision, Intellivision, Turbo Graphix, the Amiga, or Neo-Geo? Which is the greatest missed opportunity?