Computer gaming is nothing to be ashamed of, says Charlie Brooker

20 11 2006

via the Guardian Guide on Saturday November 11, 2006

“Confession: I worship pixels. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by video games. When I was a child, we’d go swimming each week at a nearby leisure centre, and I looked forward to these visits not because I loved swimming (which involved far too much chlorinated water burning your nostrils out for my liking) but because the pool was overlooked by a small gallery area housing a couple of arcade machines

By today’s standards they were absurdly primitive, of course: hulking great boxes farting out atonal beeps while monochrome blobs representing everything from a Wild West shoot-out to a full-scale alien invasion fl ickered across their goldfi sh-bowl screens.

Still, no matter how crude the audio visual representation, my imagination filled in the gaps. Computer games struck me as the most exciting things imaginable. Perhaps it stemmed from some megalomaniacal desire to stare at a TV set and control whatever action it depicted. Or perhaps I just liked blowing stuff up. Either way, I was hooked, and I’ve stayed hooked ever since.

Early aff airs with Battlezone and Pacman led to a pubescent fi xation with the ZX Spectrum, which in turn begat the Amiga, then on to the Megadrive, the SNES, the PC Engine, the Neo Geo, the 3DO, the Jaguar, the… you get the picture. The moment any new bit of gaming kit launches, my wallet fl aps open. When people ask me which console they should buy, I always answer: “All of them.” Why the hell not? After all, speaking in my guise as a so-called TV critic, I can confi dently state that games are markedly better than television. They’re more immersive. Consistently more spectacular and surprising. The storylines and scripts are almost always utter rubbish, but that’s part of their charm.

Furthermore, as a medium, TV encourages you to switch off your brain and slowly coagulate on thesofa. Video games force you to stay alert. Furthermore, you control them. They start and stop when you like. There’s no continuity announcer jabbering over the credits. Your intelligence is rarely insulted, but regularly challenged. There’s more invention (and sheer joy) in a single level of any Super Mario platformer you care to mention than most TV series manage in their entire lifespan. PC shooter Half-Life 2 is a sci-fi action thriller; it’s 10 times more exciting than the best episode of 24 (which I love). With increased connectivity, games are becoming less isolated, too. Many current titles offer seamless integration with an online world. Test Drive Unlimited, for instance, is an X box 360 driving game that simulates an entire Hawaiian island. It takes over halfan- hour to drive from one side to the other in real time; other players, zipping alongside you in traffic, can challenge you to an instant race just by fl ashing their headlights at you. It’s a futuristic communal sandpit, and piddling about on its roads for an hour or so is far more social than slumping in an armchair watching Top Gear on your own.

Still, it’s not always fun being a 35- year-old games addict. Sometimes I’ll be banging on to some disinterested party about how great, say, Dead Rising is (and it IS great: a George Romero zombie movie realised in hilarious detail) – when I suddenly realise they’re regarding me with genuine pity.

Apparently it’s OK to be a sports buff , a movie buff , or a food buff … but being a games buff still somehow offends society. People prepared to conduct tedious 15-hour analytical conversations about football or Kieslowski or the best place to find balsamic vinegar will have the audacity to call you a nerd for mentioning anything more obscure than Grand Theft Auto. Well, fuck your snobbery. Games are brilliant. Still, since I’m pre-programmed to buy almost every new release – I just have to – even I am sometimes embarrassed when approaching the counter. In a recent deeply pathetic incident, I found myself trying to pretend to a shop assistant that the copy of vomitously cute puppysimulator Nintendogs I was buying wasn’t for me but for a fi ctional nine-year-old child. I could do without the recent spate of violent bling-’em-ups, too; embarrassing gangsta epics targeted at excitable adolescent boys (it’s particularly frustrating when the gameplay itself is appealing; like trying to watch an entire OC box set because you admire the editing).

Overall though, video games, like ridicule, are nothing to be scared of. Anyone who isn’t hopelessly addicted should be regarded with suspicion. Don’t like pixels? Think games are shallow? Shut up and learn to love the joypad.”

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