When I saw Chuck Klosterman’s Esquire piece The Lester Bangs of Video Games on various linkblogs, I ignored it for two reasons. The first is that I assumed it probably didn’t have anything to say that The New Games Journalism didn’t say a year ago; the second is that I didn’t realize Chuck Klosterman wrote it.
In Lester Bangs, Klosterman writes “video games in 2006 are the culture equivalent of rock music in 1967. … We all assume that these games have meaning, and that they reflect the worldviews and sensibilities of their audience, right?” He is treating video games as, to use his word, consequential. I’m glad that he’s encouraging people to take video games seriously, and I hope people are listening.
What caught me off guard about the authorship of the article was that in his book Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, Klosterman wrote a chapter about The Sims that completely dismissed what he he now refers to as “an art form.” Compare that with this paragraph:
I realize there is a whole generation of adults born in the seventies who currently play Sega and Nintendo as much as they banged away on their Atari 5200 and their George Plimpton-endorsed Intellivision in 1982. I am not one of them. I agree with Media Virus author Douglas Rushkoff’s theory that home video game consolers were the reason kids raised in the 1980s so naturally embraced the virtual mentality–we never thought it seemed strange to be able to manually manipulate what we saw on a video screen–but I’ll never accept pixels killing other pixels as an art form (or a sport, or even a pastime). A homeless man once told me that dancing to rap music is the cultural equivalent of masturbating, and I’d sort of feel the same way about playing John Madden Football immediately after filing my income tax: It’s fun, but–somehow–vaguely pathetic.
The chapter goes on to talk about how great Will Wright is (he is, and holy crap I just found out I share a birthday with him!) for introducing existential angst and non-zero-sum mechanics to video games, but the tone he takes completely ruined that part of the book for me. The rest of the book was fun though, and I still recommend it if you like the idea of reading a cultural critique of Saved by the Bell or what a Guns N’ Roses cover band does off stage.
I don’t want to harangue Klosterman over his flipping and/or flopping. Instead, I want to provide the context to a widely linked story about why his voice is important. I suspect that The Sims opened him up to possibilities, maybe that the violence isn’t why Grand Theft Auto 3 was popular or that Metal Gear Solid 2 was a post-modern triumph. He came to video games thinking they were useless, albeit fun, diversions and discovered an art form.