Hey - Two Brothers Talking James


June 12, 2019

Hey Paul,

It is interesting that you wrote about video games, considering that you are not what I would consider a gamer. You have never been interested in the latest games and you certainly don’t care about ethics in journalism. But years ago I said something online to the effect that I don’t know anyone who does not play video games. I received significant pushback for that from contrarians and liars. I am kidding of course, there may very well people who don’t play video games. I am less convinced that there are people who don’t play any games.

It is an interesting thought experiment to imagine a society that does not play games. Would they even have words for fun. Fun and games are not perfect synonyms, but they are connected. It is noteworthy to think that fun relies on structure just as much as freedom. The setting of a goal, fundamental to the very nature of games, is itself limiting. But there is freedom in deciding which goals to set. Games are just as much about choice as they are about limitations.

I watch a lot of youtube about politics, but mostly I watch vaguely funny young white men that used to be reactionaries argue about politics. They mostly all came from a background of video games. They, the reformed reactionaries and still firmly reactionary, all care about popular culture writ large, but games and gaming lurk in the background of each of these men’s lives. There are plenty of other spaces and places for people to live and talk and have other interests, but I find myself very interested in this space. To some extent, internet culture and gaming are tied together. As such, the increasingly alarming comfort with “lol fascism” is something that I spend a lot of time thinking about.

I am talking about the use of dogwhistle memes like frenworld and kekistan (google that stuff). These and the countless other memes popping up indicate a deep-seeded problem. There are a lot of young men and, less but still some, women out there who feel very bad a lot of the time. Games feel very good. Fascism too feels really good. Fascism has a lot in common with games. The rules are clear in a Fascist society, you feel like you are part of something important, the stakes feel both extremely high and unreal.

To be clear, I don’t think that games lead to Fascism. Nor do they make us violent. But they do cater to our desires. The thing that gives me hope is that there are just as many video game makers making cool and different video games about the medium itself, about being thoughtful or empathetic, or video games set in an open world. There are youtubers that care about completing games 100%. But there are also people interested in breaking games. In speed running or crafting theories around the lore of games. Not only are games expanding in what you can do in them, players are creating their own games out of them. This kind of dialogue between artist and audience, this metagaming, indicates to me that their are just as many people interested in changing the system as there are people intent on having it.

There are people who make a living talking about video games that are also very vocal about corporate greed and video game worker’s rights. Jim Sterling comes to mind. Hbomberguy is one of the funniest political youtubers out there and he recently used Donkey Kong 64 (completing it 100% in a 57 hour stream) to raise $340,000 for the trans charity Mermaids.

I suppose in the end it is more about how thoughtfully we use tools than it is about the tools themselves. It is so hard to be thoughtful, but tell me how were you thoughtful this week?


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