Video Games Live: review

I’m all for video games graduating into some “serious” cultural form, just like comic books and bubblegum. But I’m not convinced that a poorly organized screamfest is going to convince anyone of video games’ merits.

I had expected to see a sea of excited people–some dressed up, some armed with cameras–to come and see an orchestra play two solid blocks of music describing the 30-year ascendance of video games into popular culture. Instead I found myself crammed into a sold-out Beacon Theater, deafened by 15-year old testosterone translated into uninhibited screaming, provoked by a Disneyfied interpretation of high tech game play. Oh, and if 50% of your show consists of a video screen, make sure the stage lights don’t block the view. N00bz0rs.


Sure enough, “this” generation is all about interactivity and an active experience. My thesis says so, too. But I clearly did not shell out $120 for some high school field trip. If you’re going to charge that amount, then make sure you sell something that’s worth that amount. Instead of hearing a couple of fancy musicians play, it was the hordes of “gamers” that took the center stage.

Now, I understand that gamers are still vulnerable to the suggestion that their ‘culture’ is marginalized. Obviously mainstream media have no interest in labeling it anything other than violent or depraved. But the moment that this sense of marginalization becomes the foundation of a transaction (purchase Che Guevara t-shirt here) it is absorbed by what is commonly known as the culture industry. As the blockbuster brands parade across the stage one after another (why wasn’t there any GTA music?), I’m not entirely convinced that we are witnessing a transition from humble beginnings to a grown-up art form.

Yes, sure, there is always Pong and there is always Space Invaders. Sigh. But do these really describe video games? Where’s Mortal Kombat? Where’s Doom? If you’re playing classical music, then certainly Total Annihilation has something to offer. But clearly absent were the not-so-parent-friendly games that defined the form.


And so as the usual suspects passed the revue (Tetris, Metal Gear Solid, Metroid, yawn), it dawned on me that I was instead witnessing the appropriation of yet another youth culture by self-important corporations. Everything stays clean, there’s no blood, no ripples, no nothing. Disney himself couldn’t have done a better job in dulling the edge of what I always regarded as the razor edge of technological progress. Maybe next year they’ll throw in some Club Penguin. Yay.

I suppose that video games are no exception to the neutering of cultural expression in order to appeal to larger audiences. There’s a Pat Boone in every industry. But if this is video games all grown-up, then I’m not sure I want to have anything to do with it.

Discussion (1 comment)
Janelle May 11th, 2008 (9:03 pm)

I didn’t want to tell you this…but if you wanted to stay for the whole thing, you would have been on the sofa that night.

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