This was Veblen's beef with conspicuous consumption: It led us down a path of darkness, at the end of which "useful" work became "odious" and waste became a badge of honor. But if today's gamers are lucky, that's exactly where society is headed - and as I said earlier, gamers will be the ones to take it there.
The fact that we have time to waste in gaming marks us as proud members of the gaming class. Like being a member of Veblen's leisure class, this is what marks us as standing apart from the unwashed masses. This is how we know we're cool. And Veblen as much as predicted the rise of the gaming class as standing apart from the rest. In feudal Europe, it was the fact that I didn't have to toil in the fields and could spend my time in more "honourable employments," such as warfare. Back then, it was the lords and knights who were the "in crowd." Doing combat was a luxury. (A Knight's Tale, anyone?) The only difference between then and now is that these days the in crowd fights battles that take place on a computer screen.
Of course, the rest of the world hasn't yet figured out the fact that gamers are the new leisure class, but it's only a matter of time. Our moment hasn't quite arrived yet, but it's right around the corner. We already have our own swell parties and exclusive industry events, it's just that no one cares but us gamers for the moment. But that's already changing. Right now, gaming is on the cusp of a mainstream apotheosis that will make gamedevs and the uber geeks among us as cool as the dot-com boomers were in the late 1990s, as flashy as indie filmmakers were earlier in the same decade, as sought-after as the modern artists of the 1970s and as hip as the rockers of 1960s.
Soon enough, games will be the single most culturally important entertainment medium out there, the yardstick by which we measure our leisure time - and thus our station in society. When that happens, all your cool will belong to us.
Are you ready? Say it with me: Muwahahahahaaa.
Mark Wallace can be found on the web at Walkering.com. His book with Peter Ludlow, Only A Game: Online Worlds and the Virtual Journalist Who Knew Too Much, will be published by O'Reilly in 2006.