One Day at Kotaku: Understanding Video Games and Other Modern Obsessions

kotakuKotaku is a gaming site, full of news, opinion, and lots of readers’ comments. People hooked on video games go there for a steady stream of stories from around the world. On this particular day, January 12th, a range of pieces captured why the video game phenomenon has so much to tell us about our modern obsessions, from sex to shopping, drugs to drinking. These eight stories show us the powerful convergence of people looking for fun and industries looking for profit. From pleasure to despair, this convergence is the story of our post-modern lives. It’s not commodities anymore, it’s activities.

Why not start off with an aircraft carrier? Golden Tee Joins the Navy, Ships Out on Supercarrier covers how Lieutenant Mike Hall wrote to Incredible Technologies, the manufacturer of the popular arcade golf game, “about his love of the game and his longing to play it while at sea.” Incredible Technologies donated the game, the Navy invited the company to the USS John C Stennis to “see just how important the machine will be to recreational life at sea.” A rather straight-forward feel-good story. It’s where most of us live our lives, including the 5000 crew members who can now golf at sea.

The next one, One Man Zelda Band, shows how video games inspire a cultural genre of creativity, how these activities becomes more than a game and move onto artistry, meaning, and, in this case, some inspired music from the composer and gamer Diwa De Leon. But still, in this video we’re talking about a real obsession. Think of the time and effort that went into this production!

ninja-gaidenNinja Gaiden II, a demanding hack-and-slash video game, is featured in the next story Best Buy Starts New Year Off With $9.99 Deals. This marks a return to the mundane, a business trying to make a profit. But just because it’s so mundane, so everyday, does not mean that it is unimportant. This news site is highlighting the deals; gamers are responding and then sinking extra hours into a cheap buy, something they might not have bought otherwise. Here’s a couple illustrative to illustrate the convergence: “Want…Ninja Gaiden…..Now…..” and “That shit sold out in seconds here in Albuquerque…”

“Did Galaga save the life of actor Alec Baldwin?” Now that’s a hook to a story. Baldwin was partying in his twenties, the famous young actor in a world of people using drugs and drinking. “Baldwin would end the night at an arcade warehouse playing Galaga. ‘I would play video games from, like, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., and I would wind down. Then I’d go home and go to bed,’ Baldwin writes. ‘This was the only way I could go “beta” and go into that state I needed to be, where I could calm down and take my mind off everything. I didn’t want to see anybody, talk to anybody, deal with anybody’.”

Sex, Drugs And Galaga: Alec Baldwin’s Addictions shows us just how entwined these sorts of activities have become, from parties to aircraft carriers, one playing off another. People need to do things, it’s as simple as that, but our doing today revolves around these created “needs,” getting us into and out of states and settings. We pass through, warped modern-day Buddhas, nirvana and ephemerality fused into the passing moment.

Do such happenings go unremarked, uncontrolled, unpoliticized? Hardly. Our obsessions are not merely things in our brains – they meld into relationships, like Baldwin with the owner of the arcade, and also into politics. Congressman Calls For Health Warnings On Violent Games shows one popular push to treat gaming as dangerous as smoking, a moral lightning rod like the hand-wringing over the super-sized obesity “epidemic.”

Joe Baca wants the following packaging label: “WARNING: Excessive exposure to violent video games and other violent media has been linked to aggressive behavior.” The video game industry must be held accountable, he tell us, and consumers need health warnings, to better manage (or so I imagine) their compulsive habits and the way our media shape the ways we think and act. The writer can’t help but adding, “Hey, I’m all for it, if Baca can come up with solid, irrefutable scientific proof that this is indeed the case. We’ve seen countless research reports arguing both sides of the subject; let’s nail down something definitive before we start uglying up our game store shelves.”

Yet what about this case, where we are far from golf for fun: Petric Convicted Of Halo 3 Inspired Matricide. Teenager Daniel Patric bought the popular shooter Halo 3 against his parents’ prohibitions. His father confiscated it. Patric went to his fathers’ lockbox and broke it open. He got the game, and took his father’s pistol as well. Returning to the living room, he asked his parents to close their eyes, he had a surprise for them. He shot both in the head. His father survived. His mother died instantly. Petric’s lawyers argued that he suffered from a video game addiction. The judge saw otherwise, and the 17 year old was found guilty and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole.

This case raises important questions in a much more horrific fashion than Baca’s moralizing. Is this something akin to a bar fight gone wrong, an occurrence we generally accept as a bad outcome? How direct is the link between these obsessive activities and unintended consequences, ones that leave people damaged or dead?

The next story heightens this angst, pointing out that there is something about these obsessions that can take a person over. Here it’s not public agonizing, it’s private despair, the embodied consequence of the lifeless machinations of manufactured manipulation. Game Addict Swallows Saw Blades to Commit Suicide – the title speaks of a terrible transformation, the incoherence of a man trying to win his favorite games in a life emptied of everything else.

Our obsessions become addictions; our addictions become business; our businesses become politics. The gaming site is forced to respond. The final story is an editorial on How Seriously We Should Take Video Game Addiction?, a direct reaction to these last two stories on that January 12th day. Such things cannot remained unremarked, unreflected. In this case we get an image of a Twinkie and the line that the problem here is “not game addiction. It’s media coverage.” Sensationalization has become de rigeur, another industry looking to capture our fleeting attention for its own profit. We’re encouraged to check out sites with “actual science and stuff” on video game addiction.

And the Twinkie? In the story it references the infamous Twinkie Defense, of murder blamed on a mood swing linked to too much junk food. To me, however, the Twinkie in all its manufactured glory is a rather perfect emblem for our post-modernity, of supermarkets filled with our produced food, malls designed to keep people shopping, and, in our user-generated future, the same enriched banality raised to an art form.

Is it bad or good? That’s the wrong question. It’s us. A “golden sponge cake with creamy filling” or in this case, a golden golf game and a filling of saw blades. We still have plenty of sharp edges, despite the manufactured fun.

So that’s it. One day of video games. Fun, creativity, and savior. Money, politics, violence, and suicide. Game over.

Play again?

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