Yesterday was a busy day for me: first I helped three drug addled alcoholics kick their habit and then I arranged for the escape of a sex slave from her unfeeling captors. It was unfortunate that I was overwhelmed by a pack of giant, mutated scorpions and killed shortly thereafter, but at least I did some good in the world. Oh, and of course I saved, so all I had to do was load and show those cheeky scorpions what for.
Every day I ask Jeff Bayer if I can write about video games. He finally let me.
Yes, it's all a video game! A wonderful, delicious video game by Bethesda in keeping with the edgy, hyper-realistic genre of life in a post-apocalyptic world. My very first game was Super Mario Brothers, in which I had to worry about flying fish and big man-eating plants springing out of pipes; now, more than a few decades later, I'm in the position of having to decide the fate of a bedraggled, ruined humanity: should I kill Mr. House and try to rebuild on my own? Should I work with Caesar in spite of the fact that he treats women like cattle and keeps slaves? Or should I concentrate on finding enough Sunset Sarsaparilla bottle caps with stars on them so I can qualify for a prize? Weeee!
And it's that disconcerting combination of the harmless trivial within a dystopic nightmare that makes this video game so captivating...as well as disturbing. Arguably, no other company has pulled this blend off so effectively; the Grand Theft Auto series is thoroughly bacchanalian - immoral from the main quest to the side quests (how much can you drink? Bump and grind against sluts in a bar! Rush your needy ex-girlfriend to the hospital after she downs a whole bottle of pills!). When it's uncompromising, unrelenting bad behavior, it's still just fantasy - like a fifteen-year-old boy's wet dream come to life.
Fallout New Vegas is much more psychologically complex. The virtual characters you come into contact with are mostly flawed survivors with their own history and agenda, and you can't save them all. And while you might be asked to find the source of irradiation in a township's water supply, you could also be required to find a child's lost teddy bear. The amalgamation of weary innocence sprinkled lightly amongst the post-war holocaust is a messy head-trip.
It's a tad scary to see the direction games are moving in. Because it's no longer as shocking to a desensitized generation to punch a virtual someone's head off, but now you could face befriending an entire group of people and then have to sabotage their society for the general good of mankind. At this rate, video games are going to morph into bloody, moral dilemmas and that's a much stickier wicket in the debate of gaming leading to adolescent instability.
Although, at this point, I'm resigned to it. It's like that final hill on a roller coaster where you keep climbing and climbing and climbing (tick-tick-tick...tick) and all I can do is grit my teeth and hold on. Because it's fun for me, but I'm not going to snap and take a gun to the mall. It's so important to set up a rational dialogue about the pros and cons of these types of games, while I suspect we're going to continue being polarized and achieving nothing.
It's scary and it's impressive and I think most of us are smart enough to handle it, don't you? It just signals the need for us to stop being passive gamers, so you can stop and remind yourself, "Just because I wiped out a dozen virtual raiders wearing human remains as decoration, doesn't mean I can't let this guy merge in front of me in traffic."
Right, humanity? It's just a game...albeit a game that reflects the dark potential for cruelty and exploitation that exists in all of us. As soon as you feel like your soul needs a vigorous washing, you should probably stop for the day.