Why I Stopped Playing Video Games

In Vertigo’s new graphic novel A. D. D.: Adolescent Demo Division media theorist Douglas Rushkoff invokes a childhood fantasy to unleash a prophetic vision of the future.

The teenagers of the Adolescent Demo Division live inside a media-saturated universe. From birth they prepare to star in their own reality television show as professional video gamers and product testers. They live with the dream that if they perform well then someday they can “level up” and graduate to the real world where perhaps they can meet their birth mothers.

However, this immersion in virtual worlds yielded unforeseen consequences their corporate handlers fail to understand. During the time the A.D.D. spent playing video games and giving their opinions on products they developed the ability to “dekh” new interpretations of reality. Their eyes go blue and all of a sudden they perceive hidden connections behind the media narratives:

This vision allows the A.D.D. to see how empty the video game, hyper-consumer lifestyle is. They realize they are in charge of their own destiny and don’t have to live their parents’ dreams.

Not good for the corporate executives relying on the A.D.D. for their bottom line.

But Rushkoff’s comic isn’t firing shots at corporate America.

Read his nonfiction book Life Inc. for the author’s dissection of corporatism’s infiltration of Western culture and lifestyle. I usually hand this one to my progressive friends when they start ranting about corporate greed and the need for government regulations to save us from Mark Zuckerberg. “Yes, I agree with you that corporations do bad things sometimes,” I concede. “But you’re not going to stop them by passing laws and electing Democrats. You need to change yourself and shift the culture if you want to change the world.”

A.D.D. shows us how this actually works in the real world. And don’t let the science fiction props, new media lingo, and thriller plot fool you. This fantastic metaphor of “dekhing” a new reality — similar to the “grokking” of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land — has basis in reality and Rushkoff’s generation points the direction. The late Andrew Breitbart was only one real life example but there are many more.

Rushkoff in an interview about A.D.D.:

Also, I’ve always been interested in gaming from the perspective of the playability of the world we’re living in. Most people don’t seem to recognize that we’re living in a constructed world, that a whole lot of the things we take for granted as the given circumstances of nature are actually very specific creations of people, of man. And they’re playable. The economy can be played with, the media can be played with. These are not laws of nature written in stone. These are very virtual worlds. We’re living on top of operating systems, however much they try to hide that from us. You know, central currency is an operating system. It was developed in the 1200-1300s by specific people with specific goals. Now, we go around thinking this economy is some natural thing, this economy is the way all economies work, and it’s not. Even this idea of free market — we don’t live in a free market. The extent to which this market is free is the extent to which we agree to play by the rules that were set in place by the people who invented the market that we’re living in right now. Gamers, it seemed to me, especially good gamers, are people who have the ability to see beneath the rules to the actual ‘who wrote this game’ and ‘what do they want this game to actually do.’ How is this game rigged, and who rigged it, and why?

From Forbes’s Susannah Breslin, the freelance guru and Gen-X Big Sister to all the real life A.D.D. new media troublemakers panning for gold online:

TIP #3: Act like a child.

Or maybe it’s that when you start doing things that are really easy for you to do, you become successful. For example, my grandfather used to say, when I was a kid, that I should write Hallmark cards. In broader terms, he was talking about being a copywriter. And I make far, far more money now as a copywriter than I do at any other job I have as a professional hustler.

You know why? Because it’s really easy for me to be a really good copywriter. It’s so easy, it’s laughable. At the same time, writing blog posts, finishing novels, and generating traffic for sites populated with content I did not create is harder.

I read some advice recently that said you should remember whatever you did when you were a kid, and do that when you’re a grownup. Because, more often than not, that thing, for you, is play. And play is when you have the most fun.

Imagine if you could get paid to play.

My first Nintendo arrived after I finished kindergarten in 1990 — my “big brother present” to celebrate the birth of my first younger sibling. The Super Nintendo followed a few years later, around about the time when I wore a Clinton/Gore ’92 button on the playground. The Nintendo 64 materialized in the middle of junior high around when Bill made a mess of Monica’s dress. Yet by the time the Nintendo GameCube came out two months after 9/11 my time had passed. As I prepared to head off to college the brother whose coming heralded the first Nintendo sat on his throne as the family’s Gamemaster.

I’d found a new game to play. In his great piece “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Memory Hole” from last week, Ed Driscoll pinpointed when video games met obsolescence:

…for many people, the online world didn’t arrive in full until broadband reached their home, which started to happen around 1999 to the early naughts. (If I’m recalling the year correctly, my Northern California neighborhood didn’t get cable modem access until the spring of 1999, and we were pretty early adopters.)  The political Blogosphere didn’t fully arrive until the arrival of Instapundit in August of 2001, and the rapid growth of blogs on both sides of the aisle in the wake of 9/11.

For many years I fed myself a steady diet of self-serving delusions. Giving up Nintendo meant I was better than those who had not. Now was the time to grow up. I’d given up video games because they were a time-waster.

But were they?

Or did a childhood crawling around the green pipes with Mario and Luigi prepare me for navigating the bowels of the blogosphere? When I was “playing” was I actually learning how to problem solve and decode the biases inherent in a programmed reality? Was I learning the difference between playing in someone else’s program and how to program my own realities? (See Rushkoff’s previous book Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age.)

Rushkoff’s exciting graphic novel will inspire readers to see themselves in the pages and look with fresh eyes at the artificial, programmed media narratives surrounding them. Like his Bible-inspired comic series Testament, A.D.D. rewards with each rereading, revealing new insights and connections.

And a sequel’s premise should be obvious.

What happens when the children of Gen X, raised today on iPads, grow up? How will the world look through their eyes?

*video updated
(Thumbnail on main PJM homepage modified from an image by Steve Reed /