Video games: Entertainment or lifestyle?

While I waited to cross the busiest street in my town on foot (no, it’s not some bizarre form of social protest — this is a somewhat pedestrian-friendly town that just happens to have a busy highway as its “main” street), I stared at the display of a video games shop. NCAA Football ’06 is out! I remembered that it must have been about this time last year that I walked in to buy Madden ’04 for the PC.

“Oh, but Madden ’05 comes out next week,” said the guy behind the counter.

“That’s OK,” I said with a smile. What I didn’t say — as a grown-up (or “grown-ass man,” in the famous words of Eddie Johnson, who was 20 at the time), I don’t have the time to get $39.99 out of a complex video game. But $9.99 for a game that’s going to be “out of date” in a week? Sure, I can spare that. I still enjoy the very occasional game, and I’ll keep playing as long as Michael Vick is still in the league. Then I’ll wait until Madden ’16 is on sale for 15 Euros.

So pardon me while I slip into Grumpy Old Man mode …

In my day, video games were entertainment. You had to go to an arcade to play any of the good games, so only the neighborhood stoners had time to get really good at them.

The games didn’t require much by way of instruction. Move the joystick to avoid those guys? Sure. One button for “shoot” and one for “jump”? OK. One for “pass,” one for “shoot” and then a third option? That’ll take a couple of tries, but I’ll catch on.

I’ve covered this territory before, but in time it takes to get the controls down pat for a game today, you could learn the guitar riff for two or three classic rock staples. You could develop a competent backhand. You could even read a whole freaking book.

And all of these things — except learning the video game — had long-term benefits. You’d get some exercise, learn something or expand your musical skills.

Is that more worthwhile than mastering Madden? Let me put it this way — which is more cool, being able to play Johnny B. Goode while holding the guitar above your head a la Hendrix or being able to find Marvin Harrison in the flat for a 20-yard virtual gain? The answer is the former, which means I’m cooler than a lot of kids today. And if you could see what a geek I was in high school, you’d know how sad that really is.

The lesson here is that life is too short to learn something useless. Guitars are guitars, and the riffs I learned in high school yesterday (OK, many years ago) will entertain my kid tomorrow. That move you learned after 500 hours of playing Grand Theft Auto will be out of date when the next version comes out.

(I say this as someone who has learned many useless things. I’m more likely to remember my sixth-grade locker combination than anything I learned in “symbolic logic,” a math class posing as a philosophy class in college.)

The occasional bit of entertainment? That’s what video games are for. And a simple game combined with a social environment is great — ask the Golden Tee folks.

(Now if only can only convince my kids of this when they’re old enough to demand computer time.)

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