Decades after the advent of video gaming there still seems to be some consternation about children spending too much time playing video games, rather than going outside or joining the army or whatever else the less technologically fortunate generations did with their time.
“How will this lillysquabbling prepare you for the real world?” say the elderly with their wrinkly mouths and squinting, cynical eyes. “What can Sonic the Plumber or Master Chef possibly teach you about the REAL world?” But the truth is that video games are full of viable little lessons we can all benefit from. “The Cake Is A Lie” isn’t just an overstuffed internet meme, it’s actually a fairly astute slogan for questioning authority structures.
In fact, since the golden age of home console gaming, video game companies have been insidiously laying down some sobering home truths about the world, with bitter little nuggets of wisdom such as:
Life is hard. Konami makes no bones about that. The plot of the Contra series revolves around the presumption that, when the entire world is threatened by alien space terrorists, the Earth’s collective armies will put their feet up and say “Get those two guys to do it–you know, the ones that look like backup dancers for the Beat It video.” And now it’s up to you and your pallet-swapped gym buddy to save the world, with nothing but infinity guns and glistening pectorals between you and most certain death.
Fair? Certainly not, but life isn’t fair so suck it up and die like a man. Or you could get some help, maybe just a little something to take the edge off…
For a period of time in the nineties the Konami cheat code was one of the few things a middle-schooler could recite by heart–state capitals be damned. And there was good reason for this, because without the additional lives and fire-power granted by these cheat codes, most Konami games would be dang near impossible. Even the staunchest of moralists, when faced with a seemingly indestructible penis-alien, will soon find themselves reaching for the code, telling themselves that they can give it up any time they like.
It seemed odd, because the wisdom of the time passed down to children was “Winners don’t do drugs” and “Cheaters never prosper.” To have Konami come along and create a situation where you pretty much have to cheat by making yourself superhuman was kind of like a drunken uncle taking you aside and telling you how full of crap your dad was.
There are two types of enemies in classic video games–the minions and the bosses. Much like in real life, minions are easily disposed of and are only a real threat when in great numbers (or unions if you will) but bosses are a very different kettle of robotic fish. They almost always outclass you in terms of the damage they can take and the damage they can give, and most of them are only defeated via the exploitation of a vulnerable spot.
Such a philosophy was most prevalent in Gradius, where most of your combat strategy involved finding a conspicuous weak-spot and then pummeling it relentlessly with lasers. Perhaps this is the most useful and terrible lesson learned from classic gaming–after all “Find The Weak Spot and Exploit It Mercilessly” is pretty much the ethos behind all real-world instances of combat, diplomacy, and romance.
Would a gentler race of human have evolved if video games had chosen a more creative and less brutally straight-forward method of boss disposal? Probably not, but it’s fun to keep an eye out for The Gradius Effect in real life, where the pundits and opinion-makers are undoubtedly making quiet little explosion noises as they tap away at their keyboards.
President Obama’s supposedly questionable birth certificate? PEW PEW PEW!!!
Mitt Romney straps his dog to a roof? PEW PEW PEW!!!
Hilary Clinton is a woman? KA-PEWPEWPEWPEWPEWPEW!!!
YOU SECRETLY HATE YOUR FRIENDS!
Co-op play was, in theory, the greatest thing to happen to gaming ever. Now you could complete your epic quest and prove your manhood with your best buddy watching your back. Look out world–here comes Team Friendship!
Unfortunately, it would only take a brief foray into the world of Final Fight to realize that video games were out to bring home another harsh reality–that you can’t rely on your friends and you secretly want to see them fail. How did they deliver this brutal life lesson? With friendly fire.
“But friendly fire added to the strategy element of the game, you jerk!” you say, because you’re not very polite. And maybe you have a point, but tell me if this situation isn’t familiar:
PLAYER 1: “Help, buddy, this hoodlum is punching my face.”
PLAYER 2: “I’m coming, pal! Somersault Kick!”
PLAYER 1: “What are you doing, friend o’mine, don’t you realize that you just somehow kicked us both in the neck?”
PLAYER 2: “Sorry, man, am I forgiven?”
PLAYER 1: “Yeah sure, dude, just come over and take a look at this lead pipe a second…”
That’s right, maybe it was a mistimed special move, maybe it was a moment of confusion in a desperate melee, or maybe you got sick and tired of your friend hogging all the turkey, but for whatever reason you and your colleague’s attempts to bring righteousness to an unjust world will inevitably result in petty infighting and literal backstabbing. It’s pretty much every tragic political biography in a nutshell. But with more reverse back-knuckles.
Think we’re exaggerating? Then you obviously never witnessed two buddies getting to the final stage of Double Dragon, and realizing–after forging the kind of soul bonds that can only be tempered in the heat of combat–that they were then expected to fight each other to death. Do you think that any of those players put down their joystick and turned to their comrade with a tear in their eye and whispered, with a cracked voice, “I will not fight you, brother.” No. In classic video games, there were no friends, just people who hogged your power-ups.
YOUR PRINCESS IS IN ANOTHER CASTLE!
These days it’s a given that the Princess will be in the last castle you look in. It’s just a fact of life. Once you found her, why would you keep looking in other castles? But before Super Mario Brothers, there was a very good chance your Princess could be anywhere! People were happy in their ignorance, thinking that the Princess, at any time now, could just wander into level 6-2 without a care in the world. Perhaps we’re a harder, more bitter people now that we know our Princess is not only in the very last castle, but that all she really has waiting for us is the opportunity to further imperil ourselves for her own twisted amusement. “Oh, sweetie, would you mind doing all that again, but harder?” is, in fact, what we were hoping she’d ask us, but in an entirely different context.
There has never been a more dark and accurate portrayal of the plight of the proletariate. To work endlessly and be rewarded only with further work, as the colors of the world slowly succumb to the grey wash of bleak routine, and the music in your heart devolves to a maddening dirge, as the power-ups lose their luster and your enemies become your only friends, and your Princess resides, always, forever, in another castle.
And that castle is death…
So the next time you hear someone talk about how kids today are wasting their youth with video games, be sure to remind them that in our games and sports we see the dark reflections of conflicts to come, and that in the games of children we see the blueprints of the games of man. Then kick them in the neck and steal their turkey.
Steve Stevenson is a scarred and warped little man, staring into the pixelated abyss of the unforgiving glitch his life has become. He wears a red cap and has a moustache and children poke him with sticks. You can read his book here.
Steve used all his special cheat codes to turn bread into magic this month with What the Heck is Lammas Day? –>