I write this article – my first for The Escapist in over a year – with a troubled mind. Much has changed in the year since I last wrote about videogames, still more has changed in the more than five years since I first wrote about videogames and an infinite amount of change has swept the gaming landscape since I first picked up a controller almost 30 years ago. The games themselves – and the experience of playing them – have changed so radically it’s shocking to those of us, the hardcore gamers, who at one point in time believed games would forever be considered our secret passion, unknown and unknowable to anyone not in the club.
And yet, in the early days of The Escapist, that was our mission: to try to explain the secrets of The Secret. In fact, my very first article for The Escapist, written a few months before I became an editor, was an attempt to explain the disorientation of having grown up in a time when nuclear annihilation at the hands of the Russians seemed a near-certainty, and that only by exploring videogame simulations of the end of the world was I able to find some peace. It was a fairly rambling piece, and I’m not sure how well it actually accomplished The Mission, but I had to try.
In those days it was fairly common for an article in The Escapist to drag on for more than 3,000 words, and the website layout you enjoy today wasn’t even a glint in anyone’s eye. The new site bears little resemblance to the original, and the weekly magazine, while still very much alive, is surrounded by content the likes of which we couldn’t have imagined in 2005. Now, four years after the founding of The Escapist and slightly more than three years after I was hired, I’m not just any editor, I’m the Editor-in-Chief, and our readership has grown by more than 600 percent.
Change, it seems, is everywhere. Yet it seems one thing hasn’t changed at all, and it’s perhaps the one thing that really should: After 30 years of videogame evolution, hardcore gamers are still a bunch of reclusive dicks.
Videogames have always been more than just another medium to the hardcore crowd. It’s always been a core tenet of the hardcore gamer creed that videogames are our medium. At the risk of sounding trite, for those of us who grew up with more brains than brawn, videogames were an escape. Perhaps the ultimate escape. Sure, you could lose yourself in a book or occupy your mind with the mindless entertainment of cinema, but videogames have always been about more than either while combining the best effects of both. Videogames since day one have been immersive. And we, who discovered them first, have always believed that immersion was a sacred rite that we alone could experience.
This was partly a result of the difficulty of explaining the pastime to others. Try putting into words the concept of immersion for someone who has never experienced it. There really is no way short of placing the controller in their hand. Videogames allow you to flex the muscles of your imagination while tickling the little spot just to the side of your fantasies and giving your cortex a little something to chew on. The best of them are stories wrapped in puzzles with a side of hero porn. Explain that to your mom.
Two decades ago, the conversation never even took place. The idea of games being anything more than a juvenile waste of time was so completely foreign to … well, just about everyone, that for the longest time trying to justify our passion seemed painful and destined for inevitable failure. Nowadays, grandmothers play Nintendo games, the Wii makes semi-regular appearances on The Today Show and soccer moms have Bejeweled on their iPhones. The passion for gaming is now multifaceted, and we no longer have to try to explain.
There are still full-bore, immersive game experiences the likes of which you and I take to in our darkest hours, when all we need is a darkened room and a digital friend who makes us feel strong. But videogames have recently become much, much more than that. They’re everywhere, and everyone is playing them.
This should be good news. There should be dancing in the streets on this, our Day of Jubilee. Our time has come, has it not? We had a dream, at one point in time, and now, it seems, that dream has become real. So why are most gamers so damned annoyed by this?
The changes to the industry – and the games – aren’t that unusual or unexpected. Change happens. Change is inevitable. And in most cases, change is good. In this case, it’s a change we’ve been waiting for, arguing for, begging would come to pass. People finally understand why videogames are fun and worthwhile. Isn’t that what we’ve always wanted? Isn’t that finally enough to get the monkey of shame and cynicism off our backs?
So what if a few parasitic sluts are making a living out of your favorite hobby? It’s not as if the rest of our societies were not already infested through and through by loathsome leeches: If porn stars can be elected to parliament (see Italy) why shouldn’t a crackwhore be able to make money blowing journ-lol-lists and spewing nonsense about vidyageams? You want democracy? – there you have it: Suck it up. That’s democracy in action, baby – “Democracy” from Greek demos “the people” + –kratia “power, rule” – the rule of the people, the mass, the mob, the rabble – and that’s what the rabble wants: porn stars in parliament and blond crackwhores everywhere else. … So yes, “cultural legitimacy” for your little hobby does not come when you think it does, it comes far sooner – it comes when vacuous sluts can make a living out of babbling incoherently about it. So if “cultural legitimacy” is what you wanted you should be celebrating – because you’ve already got it.
Judging from the above rant, the title of which should be unfit for printing in any form, it would seem not. The attitude of being “in the club” has so permeated the hardcore audience that, even now, in the dawn of gaming’s greatest era, the time in which the joy to be had playing videogames is no longer a dirty secret – no longer a secret at all, in fact – some are finding it hard to celebrate. Or perhaps it’s something deeper, more insidious.
After all, wasn’t this the plan? Haven’t we all along espoused the kind of near-universal acceptance of videogaming that we’re now seeing right before our very eyes? Haven’t we always dreamed of the day when we could share the experience with, well, everyone? We may have, but, as they say, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. And in this case, it would seem the enemy is us.
The Escapist has spent a good, solid four years delving as deeply into the finer points of the videogame industry as our talents and resources would allow. The result, I’m proud to say, has been the creation of a back catalogue of magazine-quality feature articles addressing the creation of games and their impact on society at large in a way no one has before, all wrapped up in a high-art layout and served with a side of near-masochistic attention to detail. But we’ve all known the magazine has more potential than to be a breeding ground for pseudo-intellectual wankery about “the meaning of games.”
Two years ago, we began to address that, scaling back the pretense and opening our eyes to what you, the readers, have shown us is the evolving world of videogaming; a world in which it’s OK to be hardcore, it’s OK to spend hours on end in the dark playing games; a world in which no one really gives a shit anymore that there are people who like fake people more than actual people. My friends, this has been the trippiest part of the long, strange ride: the realization that while we’ve been preaching to the choir, the heretics have been lining up for baptism.
What we realized in the past two years or so was that, while we of the Old Guard were pacing around in the echo chamber of our own circular arguments, debating with ourselves over how to convince the populace at large that games are important, dammit, the populace at large was figuring it out for themselves – and beating us to the punch.
When we finally clambered out from our cave, what we discovered was something wonderful, awe-inspiring and totally unexpected: Videogames – and videogamers – had become normal. And this is the part that’s truly terrifying to the hardcore; the realization that the videogames, our secret, shared hobby, have moved on without us. That the mainstream doesn’t need us to tell them how important videogames are, because they’re too busy finding that out for themselves.
Don’t believe me? Watch a beautiful, blonde television personality review Wii Fit on none other than NBC’s Today Show and draw your own conclusions.
There are two possible courses of action one can take in this situation. One can either put on blinders, walk around with one’s hands clamped over one’s ears shouting “LALALALA!” and refusing to acknowledge the world has become a more complicated place. Or, more constructively, one can embrace the change and move forward with the understanding that, although this Brave New World of mainstream gaming may not have been entirely of our own making, it is a world in which we can nevertheless find a place for ourselves as leaders, mentors and guides. All we have to do is deign to share.
And so, dear readers, that is what we at The Escapist have decided to do – something we’ve been doing all along, in fact. The Escapist was founded on the principle that we should share our passion; that we should strive to define the era of videogaming and impart our love for the medium to those who may not yet understand. We have done so with aplomb. Now, we’ve opened our hearts to that ever-expanding community of you who do understand, and instead of preaching, instead of leading with the hammer, we’re guiding you with a gentle hand to where you may not yet have known to go – and allowing you to point us to where you want to be led.
We have, in effect, performed the most excruciatingly difficult trick in the media business: We’ve swallowed our pride. We may be the editors of one of the world’s best videogame websites, but without you, the community, the readers, the gamers, we’re nothing at all.
Russ Pitts is Editor-in-Chief of The Escapist.