June 19th, 2006

Thanks to the party favor bag that got handed out at last week’s conference, I was recently in possession of a copy of Computer Games magazine–and thanks to our delayed flight back from San Francisco, I actually read it.

While the magazine in general was largely lackluster, I did have momentary hope for a piece on gaming and drugs.  True, the article itself cited little more than some mountain-out-of-a-molehill studies and one drug-crazy forum goer, but the premise got me wondering about how drugs impact our gameplay.

Now, personally, I can’t say I’m a drugs and games kind of girl.  The one and only time I’ve played when not of “sound mind,” I found myself staring into the Halo 2 void, unaware I was even playing a game anymore.  For the first (and last) time, I understood why stoners love laser light shows.

That said, I’ve always thought that video games are, in and of themselves, quite trippy. Maybe it’s because I didn’t start playing non-PC games until I was nearly thirteen.  The idea of being able to control the image on my TV screen was very, very strange.  Of course, in the meantime, I’ve gotten used to things.  But initially, it was almost a psychodelic experience.

And anyways, what defines a drug?  Something that gets in your blood?  Something that you crave?  Or just something that alters your world?

Tags: Blog

14 Responses to “Dude, Look at the Colors”

  1. BrainFromArous Says:

    Lackluster? Computer Games is one of the few good, literate, respectable American games mags left, now that Ziff-Davis has completed the enstupidation of CGW.

    For what it’s worth, I played Ultima 6: The False Prophet, Starflight and the original Monkey Island baked off my ass.

  2. Patrick Says:

    I’m not an addict, yeah yeah yeah…

    http://kingludic.blogspot.com/2005/12/gonzo-gaming.html

  3. Bonnie Says:

    Computer Games is one of the few good, literate, respectable American games mags left.
    I more than willing to admit I’m largely unfamiliar with them: that was the only issue I’ve ever read cover to cover. And I’m always happy to be proved wrong ;-).

    Patrick, as always, you are extensive. The idea of that running in the Escapist does make me smile.

  4. BrainFromArous Says:

    Bonnie, herewith my list…

    Mags I read:
    Computer Games
    Edge (UK)
    Electronic Gaming Monthly
    GamesTM (UK)
    RetroGamer (UK)

    Mags I avoid:
    Computer Gaming World (It just kills me to write that.)
    GamePro
    Nintendo Power
    Official PlayStation Magazine
    Official X-Box Magazine
    PC Gamer
    Play

  5. Bonnie Says:

    You know, Edge has so much potential (and so much prettiness), but I’ve got to say I don’t think they live up to any of it. Don’t get me wrong, as game mags go, they’re good–but it’s honestly a sad pool. What I want is interesting, innovative coverage of game culture, not just reviews, however spiffy. Of course, that’s just me. There must be a market for this other whatnot that keeps all these publications going.

  6. BrainFromArous Says:

    Yes, Bonnie, the market is called “stupidity.”

  7. BrainFromArous Says:

    If I can bend your ear for a moment, Bonnie…

    Years ago on GEnie, Scorpia hosted a head-knocking over what was happening with the gaming press and how things had changed from the early years.

    The case made by myself and others is as follows:

    Computer gaming arose from the artistic, intellectual and leisure interests of three identifiable groups:

    (1) Grognards – traditional wargamers who saw computers as a newer (and possibly better) way to enact military simulations. This category also includes actual military people with a professional interest in computers.

    (2) Roleplayers – the D&D version of the above group. Again, they looked to computers as a better way to do what they were already doing. Avid readers of fantasy and sci/fi fall into this group as well.

    (3) Hackers – unlike the first two, these were people inherently interested in computers, not for the assistance computers might give them in other activities. For them, the computer IS the game.

    There are subgroups, of course, I admit I’m painting with broad strokes. But this is certainly how I remember it… and I was there.

    Note that all three groups are all somewhat socially marginalized – as opposed to people whose primary interests are cars, popular movies, rock music, etc. This made them largely immune to the lowest-common-denominator enstupidation effect of mass culture.

    Also, to put it bluntly, these were (and are) “smart” hobbies. I’m not saying your average D&D group or computer club of the late ’70s / early ’80s was a meeting of Nobel laureates; only that people who are voracious readers, keen programmers, vivid conceptualizers and good abstract thinkers do need a certain amount of mental bandwidth to carry out those tasks. Generally speaking, morons and vulgarians cannot play Squad Leader, learn C++ or close their eyes and vividly imagine a fantasy otherworld. It’s just beyond them.

    The relevance of this to gaming mags is that the gaming press arose, at first, from the ranks of gamers themselves. Since nobody else was doing it, gamers did it, and the early mags (not just for games, but general-interest computing mags) were populated by people solidly on the right side of the IQ distribution curve. On the whole, they were also quite literate, being avid readers of mythology, military history and technology.

    (Many were also quite… odd, as anyone who frequented a gaming or software store in the early days could tell you. The “geek” stereotype was more true than not.)

    Over time, as gaming moved in from the periphery towards the center stage of pop culture, the enstupidation took hold. This is just how things work; it wasn’t some nefarious plot…yet.

    It’s the old “shallow and wide” vs “deep and narrow” phenomenon we see in pretty much everything. (Look at comedy: For every one person who enjoys a subtle witticism, there are dozens who guffaw when Howard Stern belches on the radio.)

    In a distant past issue of CGW, there was a story told about Dani Bunten’s interest in remaking M.U.L.E. for a newer generation of gamers.

    Sure, she was told by publishers,but only if we add combat. It won’t sell these days without guns and stuff.

    It’s an economics game, not a combat game, she replied. The publishers insisted, and she walked away from it.

    The thing is, the publishers were probably right.

    That’s why gaming mags are the way they are. They’ve changed because gamers have. Whereas once you could write smart copy and not rely on the cringe-inducing spectacle of editors in their mid-30s talking like 12 yr olds to seem “cool” to their readership, now such – pardon the term – “maturity” requires a conscious, almost defiant effort.

    You can actually track this degeneration through the mags. Check out the articles and ads – the literacy of the copy, the nature of the images. Once you zoom out and gain some perspective, the enstupidation fairly slaps you with its blatancy.

    Now here’s where the nefarious plot comes in. Game companies understand that an adult (in the positive sense of that word) audience is harder to sell than is a mob of immature, undersocialized morons who’ll line up like pigs at the trough if you can fool them into thinking they’re part of some cool “g4m3r” subculture.

    There is a saying in marketing: Don’t sell a product when you can sell a brand; don’t sell a brand when you can sell an identity.

    Now, this “identity” has to be constructed in such a way as to have almost no barriers to entry and be easily maintained – preferably by purchasing and consuming. It can’t be defined around things like intelligence, taste and maturity because those are cultivated over time… most people don’t have them and many never will.

    Hence the focus on “extreme” this and “radical” that, with plenty of “attitude,” “edge” and whatnot. Hence the obsession with violence, the vulgar sexualization of females, criminality and shallow materialism. These things are hallmarks of the juvenile male mind. This is the identity we’re talking about: the male teenager.

    Keeping this in mind, what happened to the gaming press "” and gaming itself – becomes all too clear.

  8. Bonnie Says:

    I totally hear what you’re saying, and I think it’s a good break down, but my question is, what do we do? As a game writer, I’m almost desperate for a puplication that can put out intelligent writing and reach a wide audience (The Escapist can’t do it all by themselves).

  9. BrainFromArous Says:

    I wish I knew. Short of the “grown ups” rising up and retaking the hobby press, nothing may work. Most of us retreated online as the Scylla and Charybdis of stupid gaming mags (that would be Ziff-Davis and Future) smothered or Borg’d most of the extant publications.

    Steve Bauman (EIC of Computer Games) routinely laments that he and his staff labor mightily to resist the decay and keep their mag “smart,” yet nobody outside a tiny circle of longtime readers and loyalists seems to give a damn.

    Since Steve holds forth from a pretty robust pulpit – his mag is widely known and respected, commanding the loyalties of most remaining “smarties” – the idea that even he can’t make a difference anymore is depressing indeed. This fight might be well and truly lost, at least in the American gaming press.

  10. Bonnie Says:

    Most of us retreated online as the Scylla and Charybdis of stupid gaming mags (that would be Ziff-Davis and Future) smothered or Borg'd most of the extant publications.
    Wow, sometimes I wonder if I’m not alone in my hopeless, all-around dorkiness. But then I hear sentences like this, and it’s all okay. Scylla and Charybdis indeed ;).

  11. BrainFromArous Says:

    You want dorkiness?

    When I first heard of the EPT Home Pregnancy Test product, my initial thought was ‘Things sure have changed on Tekumel.*’

    *If you get this joke, seek help immediately.

  12. FerrousBuller Says:

    “What I want is interesting, innovative coverage of game culture, not just reviews, however spiffy.”

    Which helps explain why you don’t like 99% of traditional gaming coverage, including CGM. :-)

    I’d disagree a bit with some of what BFA said – e.g., I knew computer gamers back in the 80s who were smart and creative, but didn’t fit neatly into his three groups – but I would say he’s right in general about early computer gaming being…”elitist” or “intellectual” sounds snobbish, but they definitely tended to appeal to people with a certain minimum amount of brainpower and, let’s face it, economic means – computers weren’t cheap back in the day. You were either a grown-up gamer or you had parents willing to bankroll you or friends you could sponge off of. :-)

    Not that games like Choplifter and Prince of Persia didn’t have their simple charms, of course. :-) But the obtuse interfaces, cryptic icons, and complicated rules that governed many games certainly kept some genres, like RPGs and strategy games, away from the general public. Frankly, it was a chore to play most early games, one which few non-gamers would describe as “fun.”

    Console gaming, OTOH, was all about appealing to the masses: simple controls and simple graphics running on lowest-common-denominator hardware to keep it cheap. A heavy emphasis on pick-up-and-play games, though that by no means made them easy to master: any PC gaming snob who thinks otherwise, please show us your Mario Bros or Metroid skills. :-) Which is a double-edged sword, IMHO: they democratized the world of gaming by making them more accessible to people; but it perhaps inevitably lead to the enstupidification of gaming as well. The trouble with making something open to the masses – be it gaming or voting – is that the masses are generally pretty vulgar and stupid and make bad choices. :-)

    Basically, being a die-hard PC gamer is kinda like being a ham-radio operator in a world full of cell phones. :-)

    It’s not unlike what has happened to the Internet over the last 15 years or so. In the early days of Usenet and IRC, Internet access was largely restricted to colleges and universities, government facilities, certain businesses, and the like: in short, most people online had a certain minimum level of intelligence, by virtue of the means through which they obtained access to the Internet. [Which is not to say they didn’t talk about or do stupid things, of course; just that in general they were not stupid people.] Since then, of course, everyone and their grandmothers has Net access: the net effect being there are a lot more stupid people online now.

    Yeesh, and to think I first went online to get away from stupid people, too.

    Anyway, back on topic: I think there will always be a market for “deep, smart” games – however you choose to define them – but they will always be a niche market. Intellectually and artistically challenging properties, by and large, do not do well in the mainstream marketplace, by simple virtue of the fact that most people don’t want to be challenged or stimulated by their mass-market diversions.

  13. Bonnie Says:

    *If you get this joke, seek help immediately.
    Thankfully I’m still within healthy dork range, apparently :).

  14. BrainFromArous Says:

    Commenting on FB’s comments.

    (1) “Snobbish” is a fair cop. We were that – but part of that self-regard was EARNED. Early PCs and software had pretty significant learning curves and those of us who mastered it felt a certain sense of accomplishment.

    (2) A good deal of our defensiveness was outright denial of how badly built and designed most PCs were. The Atari, Amiga and Mac folks didn’t go through the Sissyphean ordeals (Hi, Bonnie!) the PC crowd did and this PISSED US OFF on the PC side.

    (3) For better or worse, PC gamers got less “techie” with every passing year. A huge step was made with the ascension of the SoundBlaster audiocard standard, for example. Modern gamers have no idea what a pain in the ass such things used to be. Another signal achievement was Windows 95 and even more, Windows XP. So the “tech snob” thing became more and more unjustified as the years passed.

    (4) Good call on the money thing. While Apple’s mythology would have us believe they were the Robin Hood of personal computing, it fell to Commodore and a few forgotten others to bring truly affordable machines to the public.

    (5) There were two mutually-reinforcing reasons for the prominence of pick-up-and-play games on the home consoles. One was the technological limitations of the consoles themselves and the other was the desire to recreate “the arcade experience” for home customers. Recall that it was the Space Invaders cart that saved the struggling VCS after weak initial sales. (Many gamers have a phony folk-memory of the VCS taking off like a rocket once Atari introduced it. Wrong!)

    The arcade games of the pre-Crash period were simplicity defined: run the maze, shoot the aliens, don’t get ‘caught,’ etc. This was deliberate; the whole model of arcade games was to be easy to learn, hard to master. The kids had to be able to walk up to the game, read some brief instructions on the cabinet, drop in a quarter and start playing.

    PCs avoided this almost entirely. More powerful tech and a notably different audience promoted more complicated games.

    (6) I concur with FB’s comments about “enstupidation” of the Internet… to a point. Some Internet nostalgists wax on endlessly about the good old days before it “sold out” by allowing commercial activity.

    To hear these people (often older, bitter Unix dudes) talk about this supposed Golden Online Age, you’d think it was some utopia of cool, tech-savvy people doing smart and clever things – sort of a cross between the Bloomsbury Group and Xerox PARC.

    I was there, in college in the late ’80s; the pre-Web, pre-spam, pre-public days of the NSFnet which was supposedly so exalted over the hoi polloi and their vulgar wasteland of dial-up BBSes, Prodigy, etc.

    Then as now, the ‘Net community was a very mixed bag. All the personal and social pathologies currently on display were already evident.

    But FB’s point is well taken, nonetheless. Apres AOL, le deluge.

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