Thursday, August 4, 2016

Why I dislike Pokemon ... and all other games

I've spent the last month, or six weeks, or however long it's been since Pokemon reared its bright yellow head again (and yes, I don't really know the difference between "Pokemon" and "Pikachu"), bristling at this new obsession that has taken over our world, which I guess is sort of also an old obsession.

But it's not just the estrangement that comes from not quite understanding something and feeling like you're being left out.

It's that I don't really like video games.

And before you start calling me an old fogey, I know Pokemon Go is not properly characterized as a "video game." I even know that it's something called AR, which stands for "augmented reality." And that's actually a concept that I think is kind of cool.

But still, I don't really like Pokemon because I'm a movie guy, not a video game guy.

Can't be both? Most of you would argue you can. But I have a bit of a counter argument if you'll hear me out.

On a recent episode of The Slate Culture Gabfest, alternately called The Slate Culturefest, the three podcasters gave Pokemon Go a whirl despite none of them really being inclined toward it. Two of them, though -- Stephen Metcalf and Slate's editor, Julia Turner -- seemed to get what it was about and sort of enjoy it.

The third, Dana Stevens, was a stick in the mud. She professed a total mystification about what it was and what value it was supposed to have. She probably purposefully used the wrong terminology to describe it. Her every comment about it was steeped in a sort of disdain -- polite disdain, as Stevens is a gentle soul who plays nicely with others, but disdain nonetheless. In fact, Turner referred to Stevens as having an "aphasia" about games.

That's okay. I get it. I'm Dana Stevens too.

In more ways than one.

See, Dana Stevens is Slate's film critic. And I don't think it's a coincidence that this film lover is not a game lover, because neither is this film lover (imagine me turning my thumbs inward toward my own chest).

And it started to make me wonder if cinephiles and gamers are actually diametrically opposed types of people.

It's certainly easy enough to construct these personalities types as two separate poles on the same spectrum. Both love stories; that's something they have in common. But their relationships to those stories are quite different.

On the one hand, you have cinephiles, who want stories to be told to them. You might almost say they have an endless appetite for listening to new stories.

On the other hand, you have gamers, who want to be involved in the stories themselves. In that sense they want to be the storytellers, rather than the ones who are told the story.

It's active participation in the story vs. passive participation.

And as "passive" is almost always an inferior term to "active," it certainly seems as though the gamer is privileged in this dialectic.

But I also think there's a certain immodesty to being a gamer, if you look at it only in this narrow way. It's basically saying "Hearing somebody else's story doesn't interest me. I'm only interested in my own story. And in fact, I want to be the one driving that story."

By contrast, the cinephile is empathic. Roger Ebert called the movies a machine for empathy, and that certainly seems to be true. The more you call yourself a cinephile, the greater the variety of movies you want to see, and therefore, the greater the variety of people you want to learn about. The cinephile is patient, a listener, and has a long attention span.

The gamer has a shorter attention span -- or perhaps not, if he or she gets herself involved in some kind of epic quest. But let's take the shorter attention span for granted for the purposes of the current discussion. No, the gamer may not want to sit there for two hours watching a movie, because it's not active enough. But if the gamer has a joystick, he or she can make that time commitment. And this is why things like Wii took off with a certain type of gamers, who want physical action to be a part of their entertainment.

Pokemon Go, then, is this kind of gamer's dream. It's not something you can do from your couch at home. You go out into the world, by necessity. You may not be getting a high-impact workout, but you're getting some exercise.

The cinephile not only usually engages in his or her preferred mode of entertainment from his or her couch, but almost has to. Either that or the movie theater seat, the cinema's equivalent of the couch (which is sometimes an actual couch). Walking and watching a movie just doesn't work. (But then again, neither does walking and playing Pokemon Go -- we've heard stories of people walking into ditches and worse.)

Of course, in truth, movies and games are more of a Venn diagram. The amount that crosses over differs by the individual. But I'd argue that the true gamers and the true cinephiles fall outside of that communal space. And the ones who do land in the communal space ... well, they're not particularly passionate about either pastime.

As Pokemon Go is perhaps the most obvious example of a type of game that has captured the zeitgeist like few others, it's also the most extreme symbol of the ways in which I define myself differently from the world of gamers. So it's not surprising I look at it so suspiciously out of the corner of my eye.

Hey, I just like someone to tell me a story. Is that so wrong?

But I guess I'm a storyteller, too. I mean, I'm a writer. I am, in a way, constructing a game when I write, driving my own story. That's especially so on a blog, where I am the main character.

Maybe people who love to be around stories are more the same than people who don't, despite differences that are comparatively minor in the grand scheme of things.

I mean, I'm pretty sure I have more in common with a gamer than someone who obsessively follows the stock market.

No comments: