Video games, you may have noticed, are big. Entire generations have been lost to video games. A recent Congressional report on the alarming amount of time Americans spend playing video games was cancelled when the aides responsible for producing the report became addicted to EverQuest II. There is a worldwide epidemic of video gaming, especially among young people, aka the little whipper snappers.
According to video game journalist Geoff Keighley, online gamers are considered addicted when “player’s eyeballs begin to bleed and hands become detached from their arms.” But is this really a problem? Annual video games sales are now larger than the Pacific Ocean and are rapidly gaining on Snickers Bar sales. Clearly American culture is thriving. Our collective manhood is demonstrated in hits like Tom Clancey’s tactical military game Ghost Recon, while Wii allows people like my niece Sophie to kick my ass in digital tennis, which in no way threatens my male ego. I am much too emotionally secure. I have no problem with that, or with the fact that my daughter Laura can beat me in real tennis. It doesn’t bother me in the least. I’m cool with it. Everything’s fine.
But have we lost our way as a nation, much as I have in this blog? There was a time when video games taught us enduring values. Back in the 80s many of us spent 734,486 hours and 23 minutes playing Donkey Kong after work. In this classic game the main character, a plumber named Mario, was on a mission to save a kidnapped princess from a giant ape. (They never explained where the ape came from or who Mario was.) Donkey Kong, carrying the princess on his back, attempted to escape by ascending a tower that was under construction while throwing barrels down at Mario to prevent him from climbing up to rescue the princess. Obviously, Donkey Kong was a game that taught you something valuable.
But those of us who are old and were there at the beginning remember the Zen koan of all games: Pong. Now that was a video game at its essence—mano-a-mano, or, mano-a-machino. Pong is the Truth. Pong is the Light. Pong is the Way.
So what’s next? How should I know? I’m too busy playing. Ask somebody else—somebody smart—somebody who’s twelve years old.