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Player 2: Game Over

By Wesley Rossenrode

The fight for equality has been an ongoing one and it’s not over by any measure. And some may feel that, especially in times like now, we need to fight harder. I am happy to report that I have been doing my part for some time and it began with my relationship with my wife.

For many years I have argued that I too should be surprised with chocolates and flowers on Valentine’s Day. I argued how difficult it was to plan a romantic evening when I had no idea how much money we had and that she should know this because I have to put in a request for money for new underwear and some of those underwear have lasted since 99. Be it by a thread. It hasn’t been easy, and for the eleven (or something) years we’ve been together I’ve lost the battle all of those years. This year however, there was a crack of compromise. This year when I inquired about our plans for this romantic love day I was not met with an icy stare, but an, “okay, what do you want to do? Why don’t we make a list?” At first I thought it was a clever trick, so I said, “Dinner?” That was the wrong answer because I was informed we were broke. So, we worked together on the list. To my surprise, a lot of what my smart, beautiful, witty wife wanted to do was play video games together (And order Chinese).  Be assured, I carefully questioned this and it turned out to be a true motive, so I carried on. We began searching for games we could enjoy together. We had some titles we had enjoyed, but we had done all we could do with those games. When we searched for newer titles for the PS4 however, we found very few options and not exactly what we were looking for. We felt hopeless, what else were we doing to do on Valentine’s Day? We took to the internet to find out what the hell was going on. Turns out most game developers are overlooking the couch co-op experience and focusing more on connecting players online. Sadness turned to fury within me. Being so close to the spoils of a long and hard fought war that I could taste it, to now being wrenched away by some pimpled-faced gamer’s desire for virtual commingling, enraged me. Do we no longer desire to smell, feel and bash the brains in of the people we play games with? I should have seen this coming. The signs were already around me back when I was much smaller and fatter. Back when I ran down the streets of a scarcely developed Cathedral City chasing lizards and eating Otter Pops.

I grew up when coin-op arcades were everywhere; malls, laundromats, pizza parlors, movie theaters. They can still be found now if you search, but back then they were more than just nostalgia havens for middle-aged alcoholics with a few more quarters in their pocket. Back then they were like Roman arenas where gladiators/gamers could join in brutal/jolly cooperation. The noob, the young wizard, the lefty Cross-Hander, we were all united by our love for video games. In this environment it was either git gud or go home and steal more quarters from your uncle’s stash of loose change he hid in his dresser drawers. These meet-ups honed us not only as gamers, but also as social athletes. If you found yourself about to get punched in the face by an older kid who couldn’t take losing at Mortal Kombat you couldn’t just log off, you had to quickly get mall security. My arena growing up was The Yellow Brick Road inside the still standing (for now) Palm Desert mall. I don’t think it was quite the scene from Terminator 2 or the Ninja Turtles movie starring Sam Rockwell, full of fashion-minded young punks biding time until their next crime, but it to me it was just as cool. Going to the arcade made me feel like I was out there in the dirty world, letting in shape me, preparing me for the bitter battles video gamers had in store.

But like all things, the countdown to the end of the coin-op arcade began at inception, and sadly, that inevitable end was accelerated by the home console. As soon as Mario drew first blood on that wandering turtle the banners waved and trumpets sounded, but the war was already decided. Arcades, though they ushered us gamers into a new era, their reign was over.

The home console, though inferior to the arcade in the beginning, was quickly starting to surpass their cabinet-confined counterpart and it wasn’t just the exponential growth tendency of technology. I first started to see this change with the release of Street Fighter for the Super Nintendo. It wasn’t equal to its upright predecessor in terms of graphics and speed, but it was enough to keep us kids at home. Now we could play video games in the comfort of our home until our eyes dried up like those salty plum snacks you would get from the Mexican candy trucks that blared nightmare versions of children’s songs out of blown out speakers. At least we got some exercise running toward the deranged tunes of those sadistic pied pipers with promises of sweet treats. I feel the only reason the walkabout ice-cream man lasted so long was because it was the only way to get our grubby hands of the game controller.

We no longer had to brave the urban sprawl to get our fix of pixelated pleasure. Now we were able to play games to our hearts’ content with people less prone to violence. Now we played with selected friends. Warm, breathing, Corn Nut-smelling people we sort of knew. It wasn’t equivalent to the bizarre atmosphere of the arcade with its eclectic gathering of degenerates, but it provided an intimacy the arcade lacked. That lasted for a good amount of years.

Like the railroad, the internet has changed the landscape, creating in its unstoppable march toward the unknown new pathways to connect and interact while simultaneously driving us apart. Today, online cooperative play is what most gamers look for in major titles. Developers, in turn, put the desire at the forefront of their minds when creating the next blockbuster. Playing Call of Duty with someone living in the blizzard-battered northeast US while you’re sweating in drought-stricken southern California is now more convenient than calling over a friend. And, why not? If the home console saved us from braving the depraved and wretched arcade dens of the American shopping mall full of gamer thugs, online play has saved us from face-to-face encounters with so-called friends whose only intention is to eat all our salty snacks and play the newest gaming device they’re too poor to afford. Instead of high-fiving/punching in the face your couch partner for a spectacular victory we now get called a f****t via text message from a thirteen year old girl from the UK. And isn’t that sweeter?

Fresh and innovative social applications seem to be created every day to help us connect electronically. Be it via gaming console, smart phone, vehicle, microwave, or tooth implant, we are set to never again search for ways to maintain our relationships. From the mild acquaintance to the perfect stranger, even friends, we are able to share our lives and opinions with others immediately with the tap of a finger. And we are surely to get some form of reaction; depending on the extent and sometimes earnestness, in our pleas for attention. But sometimes the feeling of loneliness can strike when you’re virtually surrounded by people. Video games' slow shift from physical interaction has left us alone in the dark, screaming insults at an illuminated screen to people that are not really there.

I just want a game that lets me throw my wife into a canyon of bullets when she’s losing interest, like Super Mario Bros Wii let me do.

Wesley RossenrodeComment