This summer was like a video game marking thrill ride for me: E3 in June, Comic-Con in July and PAX in August. Like a hobbit approaching the grandeur of Minas Tirith, Los Angeles, San Diego and Seattle each offered up a convention center which was bubbling over with the hype of fresh games coming out of the oven. Then, like the guards to some geek filled castle, security squads would check my badge before ushering me into a promised land of digitized lights, sounds and swag. And while I loved every new game and nerdgasmic moment of these conventions there was a little ping of discomfort that would run down my spine every time I walked through the convention hall’s front doors.
The reason that this moment so poignantly stood out in my mind is because it was the exact moment when I would leave the world of reality and enter into a marketing driven world of fantasy. In this world everyone could respawn when they died, no one was unclothed because every booth handed out swag shirts, and hunger was defeated by the swath of kiosks in the food court. This may have all been fine and dandy except for the fact that outside of those doors, the real world was a very different place. Homeless men and women rifled through the trash cans outside the convention halls for scraps of food, poverty-stricken kids peddled trinkets to all of the folks from out-of-town, and people who couldn’t afford this months rent quizzically glanced at the gamers who seemed to frivolously heave money into their hobby. Inside, we may have all been brethren, united in the one cause of video games, but outside the divide between the rich gaming crowd and the poor inner city people couldn’t have been more palpable.
This is why that badge scanning moment would haunt me: because it validated the notion that I was there to escape into a rich paradise rather than focus on the issues of the world outside. So what do I do with all of this though? Sure, in an industry that’s wealthier than Hollywood, you would expect a few big bang events throughout the year, even if the money would most definitely be better spent if it went to inner city programs. But the wealth itself is certainly not the problem. We should never look at this excess as a bad thing, we just need to learn to use it responsibly.
Video games are an amazing hobby, career and creative canvass and as such they garner a huge level of respect and power. And while it’s been a blast to see the industry invest that force back into itself to develop into what it is today, it’s time for every gamer to start giving back instead of merely consuming. Every other medium of the 21st century be it paintings, radio, television, movies or the internet have found their own unique ways to call to light the pain of the world and propel a movement to address them. We, as a gaming industry, need to learn to do the same. Obviously a huge part of this will come through the games that are crafted by developers and demanded by the public, but it has to be more than that. The desire to be a force of healing change in the world has to work through our entire industry, from games to marketing to news coverage to retail outlets, if we are ever going to fully mature and be the industry that the world wants and needs us to be.
So like a moth to the flame I’m sure I’ll be drawn again and again to the bombastic festivities of gamedom. I’ll line up for just announced game demos, thrust my hands into the air to catch t-shirts, and stare dumbfounded at the sea of HDTV’s and marketing hoopla. But next time, instead of hoarding my pennies to pre-order one more game, maybe I’ll buy lunch for a few folks outside the convention hall. ‘Cause even though the sights and sounds of the convention can be amazing, it’s these people who are truly real.
(But at least if I still cave and end up buying 7 copies of Arkham City to get all of the Batman skins, there is something productive I can do with them when I’m done.)