January 11, 2011

Video games replacing music, indie snob edition

Among young people, video games began replacing music as a personal obsession, means of tribal identification, and so on, during the wussification of society that began in the mid-1990s. By now there's not even a coexistence as one wanes while the other waxes -- young people are just totally unplugged from the music world, and so absorbed in video games.

A commenter at Steve Sailer's blog (I believe named jody) pointed out that now kids line up at 10pm for a "midnight launch" of a new video game, where as late as the 1980s they lined up for tickets to a rock concert. They do the same for gadgets in general, not just video games or video game consoles -- look at the dweebs wrapped around five city blocks waiting for the new iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc. No one did that when Sony released the original Walkman, Discman, or any of their many updates, and only a retard would have camped out to secure the first cordless phone. People used to have a life before 1992.

And then there's the petty grab at status when someone says "I used to like that before it was popular" or "I'm not really into mainstream ____, I'm more into indie." Dude, you were like so ahead of the trend -- you totally called it! -- and a little recognition is only fitting. As late as the mid-'90s, I only said or heard this kind of bragging in the context of music and maybe movies. I never heard anyone talk about video games that way, even though all young males were into them. Nor did I hear or read about games that were "obscure," "underground," "hidden gems," "under-rated classics," etc.

As the 3D era of video games began in the mid-'90s, I tuned out because the graphics looked worse than Super Nintendo, the pace and action level plummeted, and "winning" them became more a matter of having lots of free time to waste rather than a high skill level. That's still true. But it should come as no surprise that this is when video games showed the first clear signs of displacing music from youth culture. The Independent Games Festival began in 1998 and named their first winners for 1999. By 2001, the high-profile website GameSpot featured an Indie Games Week.

A Google search for "before it was popular" and any video game system from the 2000s delivers tens to hundreds of thousands of hits. Sometimes the whiner is talking about an awareness of or liking a particular game or series of games, although sometimes they even refer to using a specific set of weapons or strategies within an already popular game. From the forums at High Impact Halo, this thread on things you liked before they were popular has not only video games but also movies, TV shows, comedians... and more or less no music. So it's not like video games have shoved out all earlier youth obsessions -- just the most Dionysian one. For that matter, you don't hear them talking about other parts of the "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll" culture, like "I was into Christy Canyon before porn became mainstream" or "I was smoking crack and wearing Polo shirts before ghetto blacks took them over and made them declasse."

In a recent episode of the All Gen Gamers podcast, Pete Dorr mentioned that he's getting more into indie or obscure games, using that same tone of voice that my friend used (as late as 1994) to explain to his dad that he was moving away from corporate rock and into underground punk. Dorr is a Millennial, born in the late '80s, and again only the biggest of nerds during the pre-Playstation era would have tried to use "into indie video games" as one of their cultural tribal markers. Only a minority of guys in either time period would have used "indie" as a marker at all, but the point is that this minority went from "unknown bands" to "unknown games" as their tribal badge. And today GameFAQs is running a poll on the Best Indie Game of 2010, which tens of thousands of youngish males will respond to.

One silver lining to be found in the replacement of music by video games among young people is the relegation of indie "rock" to the background of culture. Teenagers and college students today couldn't care less about it, so it's doomed -- either they don't have the indie snob gene in the first place, or they do but are applying it to video games rather than bands. I'd ballpark the primary age group of indie music fans at 30-34, with the rest falling into the 25-29 and 35-44 age groups. That's way up from even the mid-'90s, when I was an indie snob about music. It was probably college-aged then, although that still left plenty of high school and even middle school snobs (I began my obsession with the Dead Milkmen in 8th grade, having seen the video for "Punk Rock Girl" on Beavis & Butt-head, and by 9th grade I bought a record player so I could listen to "obscure" music that wasn't popular enough for the label to re-release it on CD.)

Although I was either not yet born or only in elementary school during the heyday of independent rock music (the mid-'70s through the late '80s), I'm sure I wouldn't have minded the indie snobs back then. At least they were listening to good independent music -- sincere, energetic groups like Talking Heads, Echo and the Bunnymen, R.E.M, Camper Van Beethoven, The Replacements... and not passionless meta-ironics like The Magnetic Fields or The Stills. The only thing worse than a snob is one with dorky taste.


  1. I'm having a hard time with this one. Are kids these really using video games as "tribal markers"? Are there really cliques of kids who each have their own favourite game, and consider the others' games lame, to the same extent that music fans used to?

  2. @samson
    i was never a heavy music fan, so i can't speak to that. in fact, i pretty much stopped listening after they shut napster down, so i have no idea if these tribal markers go to the extent that music markers did.

    but to a certain extent there certainly are tribal markers in gaming. for the major mmo's there's the goliath WoW and then there's everyone else. WoW engenders a certain disdain from many of the players of its competitors.

    farmville and related games on facebook probably engender the most disdain from gamer snobs, while gamers playing minecraft will get the most adulation.

    there's something to be said of good indie and indie-like games. they generally take a bit more ingenuity to finish and/or provide interesting perspectives that games from... say EA or Activision generally don't provide b/c they're made for a general audience. portal and braid come to mind as examples.

    these games don't have the resources of the major publishers so they work to differentiate themselves on mechanics and atmosphere. they won't wow you with unbelievable graphics, but they make you think in novel ways and get you to enjoy doing so.


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