The Needles

The Needles
Step Away From The Controller

Andy Chalk | 28 Jul 2009 17:00
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President Barack Obama has been enjoying an extended honeymoon with voters. With no major gaffes in his first six months in office and the world, crumbled economy notwithstanding, maintaining a stable if somewhat tense holding pattern, there's been little reason for voters to begin questioning their pick for the nation's top banana. For gamers, however, the bloom may be coming off the rose.

The problem is that despite being anointed the "first nerd president" by John Hodgman (and if you haven't seen his address at the 2009 Radio and TV Correspondents' Dinner, I urge you to do so at the earliest opportunity), Obama has alienated himself from the gamer crowd by repeatedly suggesting that too much button-mashing is making the kids these days fat, lazy and stupid.

He has urged children to put down the controllers. He has asked parents to switch off the Xboxes. "Turn off the television set, and put the videogames away," he said, "and instill a sense of excellence in our children." The rhetoric isn't new; Obama has been equating videogaming with a culture of underachievement since well before he was elected President. But his comments understandably attract a little more attention now that he's the big dog and some gamers aren't overly happy about it.

All very predictable. But lost amid that reflexive anger over the President's decidedly un-nerd-like stance is this: He's completely right.

Oh, now, don't give me that look. I'm one of you, after all, a gamer to the core. I defend the medium wherever and whenever necessary. I believe that games aren't just entertainment, they're a uniquely immersive form of creative expression. I think that Planescape: Torment should be taught in schools, and I could probably still manually set a sound card IRQ and DMA if I had to. None of which changes the fact that I wholeheartedly agree with Obama: It really wouldn't kill people to get off their asses once in awhile and do something else.

I think a lot of the upset stems from a perception that the man is on an anti-gaming crusade. But at no point has he said that we should gather up our consoles and PCs and take them to the town square to be piled up and burned. He's not saying that games turn children into thick-headed maroons, or that they're the tool of the Devil. He's not claiming that gaming and a happy, successful, productive life are incompatible. He's just saying that we could stand to ease off a bit. What's so offensive about that?

It's very important to recognize that this isn't really a gaming issue at all, but rather an entertainment issue. When I was a kid, my parents fretted over the hours I spent watching television; a few years later and videogames are the bugaboo of choice but it's really just the evolution of a long-standing concern over our penchant for self-hypnosis. We're not fighting gaming, we're fighting an obsession with non-stop, on-demand entertainment: Hundreds of television channels, thousands of songs in your pocket, DVD players in cars and, yes, a near-limitless variety of videogames that becomes more easily accessible with each passing month. Our insatiable demand for easy entertainment is nothing new and the game console is just the latest and most visible manifestation of a habit that's been growing for decades.

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