The Times They Are a Changin’

Dropped off my daughter at school today. It was an interesting experience, seeing all those eager faces with their SpongBob and Star Wars and Hello Kitty lunch boxes. It got me to thinking of my school days and how different things are now. At the risk of sounding like an old coot, let me quote a Bob Dylan song by saying, “the time’s they are a changin’.”

When I was a kid, we could expect to have 3 or 4 cartoon shows to watch on weekdays. There were more than that, but they all played at the same time, so your choices were limited. There was no DVD, no DVR, no streaming internet video, no 24 hour cartoon channels. Also, I didn’t have a game system until I was 12, and even then you were lucky to have one decent game (Super Mario Bros.) It all boils down to this: we had to make our own fun. Every kid in my day had some measure of imagination and creativity. You had to, to be a kid. How else could you play with toys if you couldn’t make up a story or conjure at least the most basic of scenarios? Often, I would make back stories to games like Zelda, because the 2D top down graphics left too much to the imagination. It makes me sad to know that all of the imagining these days is provided by big companies. Children no longer seem to be masters of their world … they have been forced to becoming consumers. I imagine the makers of Halo Reach had great childhoods, and I imagine that when they were kids, they imagined something along the lines of Halo (I sure as hell know I did) but what will the children of today make tomorrow? If all the thinking and creating is done for them, what will they, as adults, come up with? Will it be just a rehash of what they grew up with . . . will we see a never ending slew of first person shooter games, or will imagination simply become passe, quietly dying from public awareness?

Of course, I am generalizing. I’m sure someone from Internet land will link me to a video of kids doing incredibly creative things—when one makes generalizations, they must be taken with a grain of salt. I certainly can’t prove my assertions, but this is by no means a scientific journal. But I believe there is truth to what I am saying—and that is, mainly, playtime doesn’t mean what it used to.

Unless something drastic happens in our culture, I can’t imagine too much new thinking in the world of tomorrow. When I was a teenager, I used to get excited about games like King’s Quest, Space Quest, and Dungeon Master. I would argue that there is more creativity in those games than in Halo or Gears of War. I miss being stranded on a planet for hours, looking through a junkyard to find parts to repair my spaceship; I miss the fast food space station where an alien with hypnotic eyes forced me to buy extra French fries; I miss the sad story of the sick child in King’s Quest, who you save with a bowl of magic porridge—something that brought tears to my eyes; I miss how, in Dungeon Master, you actually have to learn to read magic (with its own alphabet)—decades later, I can still remember the words to cast a fireball: FUL BRO NETA!

What do we have now in place of that? More space helmets! Bigger guns! Bigger shoulder pads! Guns with chainsaws! Blood and guts hitting the screen! More things to shoot and blow up! Quickly now, KILL KILL KILL till there’s nothing left to kill. And then . . . game over.

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