"The New is not a fashion, it is a value." - Roland Barthes
It's Saturday morning. 7AM. The sun's been up for an hour or so, but the day still has that yummy oven-baked freshness. My family is still asleep. I get on the bike. After 20 minutes, I hook up with my friend Kyle, as we always do. "Hey." "Hey." We don't need to say much more than that. We've been riding together for 25 years. I've spent more time looking at his ass in a saddle than I have at any girl I've ever known.
Another 20 minutes pass in near silence.
"So, I'm thinking of buying Chris his first game console. Thoughts?"
"Really?" He says. "Not some souped up Xbox 360 or something?"
"Kyle, he's fricken' nine years old. His brother's 7. Call me a curmudgeon but there's not one single 360 title I'd be proud to sit down and teach them."
He ponders that for a minute. Kyle's not what you'd call a hardcore gamer. He shows up in my basement once a month or so, carrying the cubearific SFF PC I built for him two years ago. He pops on his headset, we play a little Battlefield 2, maybe some Unreal 2K4. He kicks me around for a few hours, and then he's back to his very real world.
"I just feel like he's at that point where he needs to learn how to play videogames."
I chuckle at this. Chris is not exactly your average kid. He's a foot taller than your average 9-year-old. He's wired tight. And he's a freakin' genius at board games. He can beat pretty much anyone at Chess, instinctively. He's harbored a dominating addiction to Heroscape (thanks to good ol' Uncle Julian making some accurate birthday purchasing decisions) that borders on scary. I have zero doubts that if I showed up one evening to teach him poker he'd own my house by sunrise.
But his real introduction to videogames occurred just a month ago, to Runescape of all things. He's not exactly a twitch-monkey. It's hard to imagine him sitting on the couch with his DS, fingers poppin'. He's just too cerebral for that. He's gross motor movements attached to a giant brain. When this kid moves, the house moves.
So I ride another mile and think it over.
When I was Chris's age, there simply weren't any real videogames. The Atari 2600 was still a few years away. The Apple IIe, likely responsible for most of the rest of my life, wouldn't be sitting in the computer lab for six or seven years. But something marvelous happened when that 2600 rolled into the rich kid's house on my street.
We all learned a new language.
Most kids today don't even realize it, but they are growing up with an entirely new way of looking at the world. I'm not talking about the Wired Magazine/Nicholas Negroponte starry-eyed "isn't the digital millennium orgasmic" crap. I'm talking about nuts and bolts.
It's 1895. You live in rural New England. If you are a nine-year-old boy and you don't know how to fire a gun, gut a fish, or skip rocks, then you are simply not going to have a lot of friends. You will be on the fringe. (Interestingly, if you are a girl, you are likely expected to know these things as well, but without having been explicitly taught.) In 2006, if you don't understand how a D-pad works, or how to use an analog stick to aim, you're in the same boat. You'll be the kid standing watching your friends do something fun. Nothing life threatening here, you'll just be on the fringe.
Even worse, you won't understand the vernacular of an entire communications pathway that dominates so many of your peers' interactions. Those of us engaged in the punditry, frivolity, and mayhem here may forget that our avocation is the actual medium of existence for an entire subculture of not-even-teenagers. If you're a teenage boy, it's simply expected that you understand how videogames work. It's not one big thing, it's a thousand subtle things. How grenade timing works. That you need to jump on the back of the turtles. The industry standard layout of a heads up display. Over-steer. Flight mechanics. Physics. Fluid dynamics.
When the railroads first crossed the US, there were startling numbers of fatalities. Not because trains were unsafe to be on, but because people simply couldn't connect the dots between the perceived speed of the train with their own momentum. People, time and time again, were killed watching the train. One day, vector analysis was important to a devout marksman hunting moving game. The next, it was a critical survival skill.
I down-shift. The bike complains. Carbon fiber, that miracle of ten years ago, just ain't what it used to be--to say nothing of my quads, lungs, and knees. We stay silent, breathing hard to the top of the hill.
"Yeah. You're right. Super Monkey Ball. Mario Kart. Sunshine. A little Tony Hawk. It'll get him started on the right foot."