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Gaming As A Cultural Thermometer: Beyond The Frat Pack - Articles Surfing
When I walked into the store, all I wanted was some lunch-type that could get me through the rest of the work week. However, when I passed the crowd of onlookers just past the store entrance, and then nearly tripped over the rickety card table (complete with cheesy plastic tablecloth) that they were staring at, I remembered the significance of this week. What I was stumbling over was the front-and-center display that the store had created to showcase NCAA 2007. Judging only by the fervor displayed by the card table's adoring masses, maybe I missed the unbelievable thing that they were actually staring at' maybe the pet department was going to start selling manatees, and there was one on display that you could feed! Nope, it was NCAA 2007. Apparently, I wasn't ready for some football! At least not as ready as these guys.
I wouldn't consider myself a sports gamer, but anyone who is somewhat familiar with gaming probably recognizes the cultural weight that the major sports titles (NCAA and Madden being the largest) seem to carry with them. They are what some gamers look forward to all year, and rightfully so, since they tap into the excitement and camaraderie that is associated with the pastimes shared by so many Americans. I'm no world-traveler, but it's a safe bet to say that these titles don't exactly start the streets of Tokyo aflame with excitement on their release day as they do here, making the Top-Shelf-Sports-Game-Release-Week-Mania a uniquely American experience. Microsoft will likely tell you the same story, as many have blamed the poor overseas performance of the Xbox 360 on Microsoft's inability to provide launch titles that excite any large number of overseas gamers (never mind that whole lack-of-systems thing!)
So I finally bought my deli sandwich and went I back to my car, and then I thought some more. Many people on the Internet marvel at how 'mainstream' that gaming has become, and wonder why exactly it is that you see rappers on TV in 2006 hyping video games, which was the same thing that got you called a hopeless dork 15 years ago. The topic of the rise of gaming as a socially acceptable (at worst, socially tolerated) form of mass media might be starting to get worn out. We finally get it. Computers are 'cool' now. I think that it's safe to say that computers are 'cool' when people can exchange numbers in bars via Bluetooth on their phones. Yeah, it took a while, but it finally happened.
So what's the next 'angle' for us to watch in amazement when it comes to gaming and the culture that surrounds it (especially now that the culture includes practically everyone)? Maybe, after seeing what NCAA launch week looks like at the local department store/supermarket/pharmacy/oil change place, we can make links between how these kind of experiences will change as we (and our industry) get on in years, and what kinds of pursuits capture the hearts of the era's Americans. Football isn't going anywhere, obviously, but will there be a day when I'll be tripping over public displays of Winning Eleven, especially once the generation raised by today's Soccer Moms comes into their own? Perhaps the storytellers of the next generation, aided by amazing technologies to let them finally portray the human imagination without compromise, will be the ones that will become the next cultural icons. I'll be tripping over Dragon Quest displays, and nobody will be more amazed, and appreciative for the new experience, than I!
The prospect of gaming becoming a thermometer of 'what's hot' in the American psyche is an exciting one, especially for many of us who have been around since its relative beginning. It means that every gamer has the opportunity to lay claim to a piece of what's 'cool' in their neighborhood, their state, their country, whether they consider themselves to be particularly 'cool' or not. This is a claim that any previous generation could have never made. Will gaming be the tool that will finally help us 'all get along'? Maybe, as long as we don't confuse gaming online with, well, developing actual social skills. Will import gaming help keep us in sync with and become closer with our neighbors abroad? Maybe, if the next generation of parents is globally-minded enough. There are no 'maybes', however, that we'll find out the answers to these questions one way or another during our lifetime. Now that's exciting!
An old college friend of mine was really into Japanese culture. He told me once that Sega named their console the Dreamcast because it 'broadcasted the dreams of the people', or something very similar. For as ill fated as that machine was, maybe it was just ahead of its time.
Copyright © 1995 - Photius Coutsoukis (All Rights Reserved).
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