Thursday, June 07, 2012

Laid Low By The Bro

I've been thinking about this.

Sometimes our reactions to things are more complex than we understand. I've developed kind of an allergic reaction to big-publisher gaming (except you, Bethesda--nothing but love there) over the last few years, and E3 tends to metastasize those feelings.

There are plenty of rational reasons for that, but I think the actual reason is something else entirely.

From the minute I first started playing Ultima IV--my first computer game--I was blown away. It was so incredibly entertaining, so creative, so cool.

I had this other reaction as well, though, and that was a feeling of belonging. I was one of those kids who had good friends but was never part of the popular crowd. I was intensely uncomfortable in almost any situation involving a group of people instead of just one or two.

The guys who were part of that group, and were comfortable in those kinds of situations, were kind of the 1970s equivalent of "bros". Classic frat guys.

I will admit that there were times in college where I felt like bros were doing and having things that I deserved instead, particularly when it came to women. Now, it's ridiculous to think you "deserve" a particular woman, I know, but I would like someone and she would date a bro instead. This seemed incredibly unfair to me, because I thought I was funnier than the bro and generally smarter. Thanks to the low bar of bro-dom, that was usually true.

It didn't matter, though, because the whole thing about being a bro is that you feel comfortable. That's what being a bro is all about, really. And that's attractive, far more attractive then a smart and somewhat funny kid who also was intensely uncomfortable in lots of situations.

The reason I knew that I was going to love gaming was that as soon as I started playing Ultima IV, I felt completely comfortable and relaxed. Gaming was almost perfectly designed for how my brain worked, and how my emotions often didn't.

I wasn't a small-talk guy. I was a drill down seven miles guy, and that's what games like Ultima were. No small talk.

Just drilling.

Even today, that's probably one of the reasons I will always love Dwarf Fortress, because it is a perfect match for my personality.

What's this have to do with E3 and big-company gaming?

When I first went to E3 (2002?), there was certainly a bro element present (Hello, Midway!), but it was almost mocked. Gaming just wasn't about "those guys." It was about "us." It was about guys like Will Wright, who I met, and who seemed just as socially uncomfortable and awkward as I was (and I mean that in a good way).

As gaming became more popular, though, the bro factor increased rapidly. Bros are an unstoppable force--in the U.S., at least--because when they like something, they all like it, and they buy everything that isn't nailed down. That makes them incredible valueable to people who sell things.

What's the most important game today? Modern Warfare. They should just call it "Modern Brofare." And yes, I know that playing Modern Warfare doesn't automatically make you a bro, but you still know exactly what I mean.

Madden? Bro-d out. How is EA expanding their sports portfolio? With an MMA game. Bro-tastic!

There are a few exceptions, thankfully, but there aren't many. It's all about the bros, as far as the eye can see. For amber waves of bros, yo.

It's not just me, either. Everyone I know from that era who are still part of the gaming press hate E3 today. Just hate it.

The war was fought without us, and we lost. Of course, being who we are, if we had been in the war, we would have lost anyway. I kind of like that, really.

Happily, Kickstarter has somehow saved us. Kickstarter projects have an uncannily similar feel to gaming in the late eighties/early nineties period--at least to me. It gives me something to look forward to. It's my new pre-order.

Best of all, it usually involves people who aren't trying to capture the coveted bro demographic. Sure, we'll be extinct someday, but until then, we can enjoy living on this peaceful little island until the meteors strike.

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