I am not generally a particularly snappy dresser. When I told my roommate I'd be wearing a shirt and tie to Video Games Live, he looked at me as if I was crazy. It wasn't like I was going to a funeral or a job interview, right? This was just a concert with video game music. He and the rest of my friends were planning on simply going in shorts and a t-shirt.
That just didn't sit well with me. Now don't get me wrong, on most days I dress for comfort over style. I like my jeans and a graphic tee as much as the next neckbearded slob. Yet we were going to a concert. Not the "everyone bang your head and throw the horns" type, either. A fancy symphony with a talented choir, everyone dressed up in suits within a fancy concert hall. This was a concert concert, and it deserved more respect than your average game convention or, y'know, any other night where some kind of pants are mandatory.
So I made a compromise and put on what I call the "back in black." It's really no different from what I usually wear, only everything is an article of black clothing. Jeans, shirt, even topped off with a black newsboy cap to add a smidge of class while slightly differentiating myself from stage crew. Still, I couldn't help but think that video games deserved better than this. Just because the music was from video games, did that justify going in jeans and a t-shirt? If we're going to demand that games be treated with respect, as more than toys, then shouldn't we be the ones to treat it respectfully first?
Then I realized I wasn't going to a concert. I was going to a party.
I'd say the moment of clarity struck when my roommate, holding his Sonic the Hedgehog hat high above his head, was chosen to go up on stage for a little game. What followed was playful banter as Tommy Tallarico, founder of Video Games Live, placed the hat on conductor Emmanuel Fratianni, pocketed my roommate's phone and wallet, and then let him step side to side across the stage in a physical game of Space Invaders.
Don't worry, my roommate got his wallet and phone back.
Were it not for that ridiculous hat, my roommate never would have gone up on stage. It's what allowed him to stand out. I was worried it would be a negative thing, but it turned out to be a positive.
It was a reminder of something I already should have known about games. Something I was aware of every time I went from playing a Super Mario to a Halo to The Last of Us. In all the discussions about whether videogames are art, whether they're making a statement, or how childish their writing is — many discussions in which I am a vocal participant — we often forget that mysterious ingredient that draws us to games in the first place.
Games are a form of play, and one that we shouldn't be ashamed of. While we may grow out of Sesame Street and Transformers, there is no outgrowing the excellent design of Super Mario Bros. or engagement of Sonic the Hedgehog. A well designed game, no matter how stupid its premise or juvenile its story, can engage with the user and provide hours of fun. It's why we remember our grandparents or parents buying the cheap knock-off platformers for our younger birthdays. Even before we could describe the abstract nature of what makes something fun, we knew the difference.
I was viewing Video Games Live completely wrong. It wasn't about making video games respectable, dressing them up to convince those in boardrooms or ivory towers — imagined purveyors of Cultural Legitimacy — that we're ready to sit at the grown-up table. If they are indeed looking down on us, it's because they don't get it and are looking at it all wrong.
Video Games Live casts aside the notion of the grown-up table and invites everyone to share the experience together. The audience is quiet as the epic, symphonic theme to Skyrim thunders through the concert hall. The crowd shouts in unison the Team Rocket motto to denounce the evils of truth and love (and then to extend their reach to the stars above). Several horns are thrown as Tallarico himself wailed the Halo theme on guitar.
Video Games Live reminded me one of the first reasons I came to love video games. No matter the story, the genre, the setting or the target audience, a good game was and is a good game. As companies like Nintendo, Capcom, Square and Konami had proven, there's no language barrier for fun and good design. There is no entertainment medium as accessible to as wide an audience as video games are.
For a brief moment I felt ashamed of myself for forgetting something so simple and fundamental. Then I began to sing along with the crowd the theme to Tetris.